Massa hop­ing for home ad­van­tage


ONLY a few hun­dred yards from the splen­dour of the Hy­att and Hil­ton ho­tels, hun­dreds of Paulis­tas live in a favela – a slum of card­board, wood and cor­ru­gated iron near the road to the In­ter­la­gos Cir­cuit.

With barely enough money for food, they can only live their dream through an­other of their Sao Paulo num­ber, Felipe Massa, who will send the city into party mode if he should man­age to pull off what an­other Brazil­ian driver de­scribed as Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble.

That is how Rubens Bar­richello sees Massa’s chances of stop­ping Lewis Hamil­ton from winning the world ti­tle on Sun­day. He said so yes­ter­day as Hamil­ton sat along­side Massa, posed for pic­tures of them shak­ing hands and ex­changed a few pleas­antries.

Hamil­ton showed no emo­tion when Bar­richello, born 100 yards from the huge iron gates of the old track, summed up the task.

He was clearly think­ing of last year, when a mis­take by him­self and then tech­ni­cal trou­ble com­bined to dis­man­tle his ti­tle chal­lenge and al­low Kimi Raikko­nen – who, like Massa here, was seven points be­hind – to steal the crown.

Hamil­ton kept it low key, while Massa, 27, was more an­i­mated, drum­ming his fin­gers on the desk, of­fer­ing lots of lit­tle twitches ab­sent from the McLaren man.

Brazil has not had a cham­pion since Ayr­ton Senna in 1991 and they want Massa to cre­ate a new leg­end in his home city, in a Fer­rari.

“The po­si­tion is quite dif­fi­cult, but I al­ways have a great time in my coun­try,” said Massa. “This cir­cuit is part of my story. I grew up in this area. I started when I was eight over the other side, at the go-kart track, and I started my ca­reer in open-wheel­ers here in 1998. I love the cir­cuit. It’s a very spe­cial cir­cuit for me.

“I have great mo­ti­va­tion, great en­cour­age­ment from my fans and that’s fan­tas­tic. You go out to restau­rant and ev­ery­body looks at you and con­grat­u­lates you and gives a lot of good en­ergy for the week­end. That’s a great feel­ing.

“It’s a great time to be here, first of all fight­ing for the cham­pi­onship in my home coun­try and, se­condly, in a good po­si­tion in my ca­reer.”

Massa was never quite the pizza de­liv­ery boy leg­end has it, but he did meet the Fer­rari cook when he took food to the pad­dock for his ex-man­ager in days when he had to scrounge a pass.

Massa was a long way from the fave­las, which make it im­pos­si­ble to ac­cu­rately say if this city has 13mil­lion or 20m in­hab­i­tants, but the fam­ily did have hard times af­ter his fa­ther’s busi­ness ran into trou­ble.

In a coun­try where most peo­ple as­pire to a liv­ing wage, Massa is close enough to ground level to be a hero.

“I have a great feel­ing with the Brazil­ian peo­ple. It is a dream come true,” said Massa. “But we al­ways want more, that’s our life.

“When you win one race, you want to win a sec­ond time. I have never won the cham­pi­onship, but I think it’s the same; when you win the first time, you push even harder to win the sec­ond time. That’s part of the men­tal­ity of sports peo­ple.”

It is ex­actly that and it is why Hamil­ton will surely win the ti­tle in a week­end when rain is fore­cast – bad news for Fer­rari, whose car is far less drive­able than the McLaren ma­chine in damp con­di­tions. But, for all his cool, the les­son of last year is branded into Hamil­ton’s brain

Hamil­ton said of that yes­ter­day: “It’s quite a bit dif­fer­ent to last year, sim­ply be­cause we came here af­ter I had had one bad race, so it was all a bit hec­tic and the pres­sure of be­ing at the last race was upon me. Per­haps it got to me.

“This year I feel it’s just an­other race.”



SHAK­ING THINGS UP: Hamil­ton, left, and Massa ex­change pleas­antries but it will be very dif­fer­ent on Sun­day

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