“You can clearly see the scar on Massa’s face” ”
The dried blood is still there. Sitting in his Sao Paulo apartment, Felipe Massa is holding the helmet that saved his life at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.
“I’ve never cleaned it,” says the Brazilian on the eve of his last ever home race. Across the top of the visor is a gash that looks as though it’s been struck with an axe, the blood clearly visible. It’s a startling reminder of how close Massa came to losing his life, when an errant spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn bounced down the track and struck him on the side of the head.
In the adjacent room, his eight-year-old son Felipinho is playing with some toys. Felipe’s wife Raffaela enters and reaches up to a shelf to bring down a large Perspex box. Inside it is a reconstructed model of Massa’s skull – and there, clearly visible – is a 20p sized hole above the left eye. She explains that the surgery involved screwing a small metal plate on to his skull to patch up the hole.
As Felipe continues his guided tour of his apartment, overlooking the Morumbi park – and not far away from Ayrton Senna’s grave – you can clearly see the scar on the side of his face. He admits that in the weeks and months after his accident, he thought his career would be over. Instead he recovered to drive for both Ferrari and Williams and spent another seven years racing in Formula 1.
The season-ending Abu Dhabi GP will be his 250th, and final, F1 start and at Interlagos last weekend, there was a series of events to honour his last start in front of his home fans. Martini had the logo changed on the Williams to read ‘Massa’ and he wore a bespoke helmet and overalls in the race itself.
After we left his apartment last Wednesday, he took me to the little kart circuit where his motor racing career began. The track is within the confines of the Interlagos facility and sits the other side of the straight-linking turns three and four.
Massa first started karting there when he was eight and he spent the next nine years trying to emulate his idols Ayrton Senna and Rubens Barrichello.
“All the time I was karting, I dreamt of one day being able to race the other side of that wall and to compete on the grand prix circuit,” he says, while standing on the Tarmac of the kart track. “It was everyone’s dream and I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to achieve so much in my career.”
Lucky too, that his life wasn’t cut short in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian GP. Now 35, Felipe Massa has brought his grand prix career to a close. Formula 1 will be poorer without him.