FIRE IN THE BLOOD
Mercedes tech boss Paddy Lowe and Peter Windsor go way back – back to when they both worked together at Williams. Here Peter reflects on a life devoted to the fascination of creative engineering A change of scene and a new challenge has rekindled Felipe
Sometimes in high summer, there is a relentless heat in central Italy that is insufferable. Day after day, blistering temperatures and bright sun scorch terra rma. Residents of Maranello and Modena are used to it, but still they yearn for respite from the oppressive furnace.
Contrast that with a fresh, blossom-strewn spring day in rural Oxfordshire. Invigorating and full of promise. Into this ne morning walks Felipe Massa, once of intense, blood-red Ferrari but now dressed in the cool, airy blue of Williams. He crosses the Grove factory car park with a condent swagger, team-mate Valtteri Bottas in tow, ready to be photographed as F1 Racing cover stars.
The change in air – and colours – has given Felipe a new purpose. His duty now, as he sees it, is to lead his team in the way he saw Michael Schumacher successfully galvanise everyone at Ferrari. He has new allies and old friends helping him to achieve this, and despite some bad luck in the opening races of the year, there is a sense of great optimism for the months ahead.
There is a passion for racing that you sense had dwindled for him somewhat at Ferrari. There was a need for a change. And while Grove is a world away from Maranello, it has at its oh-so-British core an engineering-driven team with a racing heart. Here, Felipe can be himself. Here, he can rekindle his passion for racing – and winning.
Felipe has been given the chance to thrive again. And after being reminded, in no uncertain terms, who was faster than him at Ferrari, he now has the opportunity to ght for his own cause and to build a team in his mould. The ame inside burns brightly once again.
“I hope it does,” says Williams chief technical ofcer Pat Symonds. “You can get stuck in your comfort zone. Felipe was at Ferrari for a long time in driver terms – there are some parallels with the time I spent at Renault – so it’s good to get out and do something different and re-invigorate yourself. I think he does see it as a second coming. A chance to press the reset button and go again.” Symonds has also been impressed with what he’s seen of Massa so far. “I know Fernando Alonso as well as almost anyone and if Felipe can race as well as Fernando – which he did plenty of times – then I think he’s got some ability. That, coupled with the way he was treated at Ferrari and the sort of hunger that’s going to bring on, I thought we were getting a pretty good guy. I didn’t realise how good until I started working with him.
“Not only is he quicker than I expected, but he’s such a personable guy and a team player. And his feedback is good; it’s succinct. There are no airs and graces. This is what he thinks and is feeling – get on and x it. That’s how I like to work.” Massa stands in a newly built part of the Williams complex in Grove, which will house Williams Advanced Engineering, the company’s lucrative customer solutions arm. As he talks about his new home, the 33-year-old displays a bubbly, boyish enthusiasm, his delivery energetic. It’s reminiscent of those early days at Sauber. Cast your mind back and recall ashes of incredible speed, offset by wheels in the dirt, or carbon bre ying through the air. Raw pace that needed to be controlled.
But after eight years racing for the most famous team in Formula 1, Massa’s attributes have been bolstered by experience and maturity. This is a man who showed incredible humility following that last-second world title defeat in 2008; a man who still bears the scars of an accident that nearly cost him his life in 2009. Lesser men would have stopped, but within Felipe is a burning desire to keep on racing. This is a different Felipe. A more relaxed Felipe. A Felipe who has escaped the stiing intensity of Ferrari and has found a calm new environment at Williams. And who better to concur with that, than his old mucker Rob Smedley, himself a recent Maranello émigré.
“It’s no secret that I know Felipe Massa very, very well,” says Smedley in his immediately familiar Teesside tones. “I know him inside out and I can tell you he is a very good driver. He’s been given the freedom here – freedom of headspace you could call it – to do just that. Drive. And he’s delivering.” A podium could have been on the cards in Australia if it hadn’t been for that pesky Kobayashi. A podium could also have been a possibility in Bahrain, had the Safety Car not put paid to Williams’ strategy. And in China, things were out of his control during a pitstop tyre mixup (also not helped by a wheel banging courtesy of his old sparring partner, Fernando Alonso). And Malaysia? Familiar territory. Another ‘yourteam-mate-is-faster-than-you’ radio call, but this time the response was different. For too long he has been the obedient number two. This was Felipe stamping his authority on his new team. We’re speaking the day after Felipe’s longhaul ight back home from Shanghai, ahead of the start of the European season. Today and tomorrow present a chance to debrief the early
“Felipe and Valtteri are quite equal. That’s a good thing, because it keeps both of them honest. If you have two drivers who are miles apart, they don’t push. When they are snapping at each other, it’s great” Pat Symonds, Williams chief technical officer
races, to look at developments for Spain and to hone the simulator. Oh, and to have a quick chat about racing with Sir Frank. Then it’s back home to Brazil to relax and celebrate his 33rd birthday with family and friends. His new home is different – but surely not such a bad place to be?
“The mentality of the people here at Williams is quite different to the Italian way. The style in which they talk and the fact they are a lot more organised. But I have worked with many English people before – like Rob [Smedley]. I’m enjoying my decision to move here,” he says, smiling.
“The people here are very intelligent. They’re very good engineers, but there are a lot of new people so there is a lot of work still to do to x the organisation,” he adds. He lists the new faces that now pass through the factory gates each morning: Pat Symonds (chief technical ofcer), Rob Smedley (head of vehicle performance), Jakob Andreasen (head of engineering operations), Craig Wilson (head of vehicle dynamics) and Rod Nelson (chief test and support engineer). They arrive, respectively, from Marussia, Ferrari, Force India, Mercedes and Lotus. A melting pot of ideas and practices to fuse together. “When you bring in new people, you need a bit of time,” says Felipe. “Nothing will be perfect on the rst day, but it’s very good for the future.”
Behind the scenes at Williams, work is under way to bring back fading memories of success to the forefront of everyone’s minds once more. With the ery experience of Felipe and the icy edge of Valtteri, the combination is driving everybody forward. In personalities they are polar opposites, from different continents with different cultures, but out on track they are mighty close. Too close, perhaps?
In Q2 in Malaysia Felipe and Valtteri’s lap times were were identical, to the thousandth of a second. And that, according to Felipe’s new race engineer Andrew Murdoch, is just what the team needs. “It’s better for us when both guys are pushing and are so close. The difference comes down to really small areas, such as the setup with the differential or other electronic controls,” says Murdoch. “And when you overlay both drivers’ telemetry, you notice that Felipe is perhaps a little smoother – but that’s down to experience.”
Their closely matched performances have also impressed Pat Symonds, a man who has guided
both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso to world title success.
“Knowing Fernando’s ability I had a high regard for what Felipe was capable of but, equally, in the short time I’ve worked with Valtteri, I’ve been continually impressed with him. I really didn’t know how it was going to balance out, but the reality is they are quite equal, aren’t they? That’s a good thing, because it keeps both of them honest and I like that. If you have two drivers who are miles apart, they don’t push. One gets comfortable, the other gives up. When they are snapping at each other, it’s great.
“Working with Felipe, he gives feedback the way I like to hear feedback. I don’t want opinions and I don’t want ‘maybes’ I want: ‘I know this is happening. Or I don’t know.’ And that’s what he’s very good at. I think Valtteri is quite a deep thinker, but he suffered last year because in his rookie season he didn’t have the best role model. But Felipe brings a lot of experience – he’s very solid – so things are denitely improving.” Andrew Murdoch also engineered Pastor Maldonado last year and is quick to compare the two South American racers, citing their similarity in character. But behind the wheel, Felipe displays greater renement and smoothness, putting less energy into his steering and pedals.
“Personality-wise, Felipe is very open and very friendly. He’s a typically Latin type of guy,” says Murdoch. “When I take him around the factory he’s always shaking everybody’s hands and hugging them. He’s very open, gregarious and warm.”
Warm. Not a trait often used to describe the racers who come from the Scandinavian nations. So how does Felipe agree feel about his teammate, the ice-cool Finn, Valtteri Bottas?
“We work well together, but we are completely different,” acknowledges Felipe as he stands beside Valtteri under the ashlights. “The way I am, the way he is, we’re really different. It’s the mentality, from country to country. For sure, I talk a lot more than him – and I’m not a guy who talks a lot, but I do talk a lot more than him.
“I am a little bit easier meeting people, getting along with them because I am like that. I have no problem to meet a guy today and within ten minutes have a good relationship with them. I’m like that and I’m sure it’s a little bit easier for me to change the team compared to him…” Rewind a couple of weeks and in the warm, oodlit Bahrain paddock, just a few hours after the chequered ag has fallen, drivers are giving their post-race debriefs to small huddles of journalists. In the paddock, forklift trucks noisily remove the remnants of garages as the F1 circus packs up for another weekend.
Felipe comes over to speak to us, scoops up his four-year-old son (also called Felipe) and plonks him on his lap. As he bounces him up and down it feels more like a Sunday dinner in the Massa household, not the nal few hours of an F1 weekend. Many drivers hide their families and private life away from the spotlight. But that’s not the Brazilian way and it’s signicant that Williams allow Felipe the freedom to enjoy himself – something he says he lost at Ferrari.
“If you are not 100 per cent happy with a job, you are not able to give everything. Now I feel I can. A step back can actually be two steps forward” Felipe Massa
“Well, I think I am able to be myself now and this is very important. The mentality, the motivation… you need to be relaxed, you need to be yourself. You cannot try to be something you are not. You cannot solve the pressures that are not your problem, you know? It’s true, I feel I am really light [he points to his shoulders]. There has been a big weight taken away from my back. It gives me a lot more happiness. “Sometimes you need to remember you have the most incredible job that everybody in the world would like to have. But if you are not 100 per cent happy with your job, as a result you are not able to give everything you are able to. Now I feel as though I can. A step back can actually be two steps forward.”
It’s honest stuff from Felipe. Ferrari was his home for eight seasons, but clearly there was pressure and politics that affected his driving. Imagine the pain of being told to concede the lead of a grand prix on the anniversary – to the day – of the date you almost lost your life on track. Risking your life on behalf of the team and this was the way they thanked you for it. Rob Smedley, a key gure that day, can see the change for the better in 2014.
“What I see now is a very relaxed Felipe,” he says. “He’s incredibly experienced and there is a maturity about him. He understands that the job he has to do here is not just driving the car. It’s about driving the people as well. He knows how to do that. He’s a mature and sensible guy, but he’s able to motivate people in the right direction. He’s had some very good teachers in that area – I would cite Michael Schumacher as being one of them. Now it’s his time to do that, and he’s doing it very well.” Back again at Williams, this talk of learning from others gets Felipe very animated, demonstrating the re that burns in his belly. As we begin to talk about developing the FW36 and building a team, he bangs his hand on the table, as if to emphasis the need for action.
“Yeah, sure. With experience you always learn from all the people you’ve worked with, including Michael. He was very professional, but I didn’t just learn from him. It was from other people as well, other drivers, other engineers. When you go to a team you need to build the new infrastructure, the new mentality as well, you need to try to use everything you have – so that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to apply the little things that I’ve learned in all these years and all my experience.”
He knocks his st on the table again: “This team has potential to be competitive and to ght with Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren. When I came here and I drove the car at the test, we were pretty competitive. We were not 100 per cent sure we had everything correct to ght for the championship, but what counts is developing from the rst race to the last race. It’s not easy to make it happen, but we have the potential to do it. We have to x all the different areas and we will do it. And this team will grow. And things will get back to how they were at Williams before.”
And with that he goes back to work. He heads back inside the factory, to ask questions of his engineers, to embrace the mechanics who work all-nighters on his car, to push the workforce, to demand the upgrades that will drive the team forward. You sense the urgency, the desire and the passion that exist within him. Nothing would give him more pleasure than to take Williams to the top of the podium, and to let everyone else know that he is faster than them.