Exclusive with Formula 1 Felipe Massa

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By Jason Gorber

If not for the last few corners in the final race of 2008, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa would have been the World Champion. If not for an errant piece of metal that bounced and hit his helmet, he wouldn’t have lost a year in his prime at Ferrari. And if it wasn’t for World Champion Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement last year, which forced Mercedes to swipe Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and leave an empty seat, we may never have seen another competition featuring this iconic talent.

With Massa, you get a sense that he was not ready to hang up his helmet, as he continued to show the same tenacity and guile both on and off-track that he has exhibited throughout his career. Paired with Canadian phenomenon Lance Stroll, the combination between youth and experience has served the team well. Even if their season has seen its share of ups and downs, it’s all the more thrilling to witness another round for Felipe Massa.

We spoke exclusively to the driver mid-season prior to the Montreal Grand Prix.

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What's it like being back? Did you ever think it would happen?

No, I never thought. I think everything happens in the way that... Yeah, I wanted to stay in Formula One if there was a proper team to race for. Valtteri had another year of contract and Lance was arriving, so I said okay, maybe it's the time to stop. When Nico decided to stop, everything changed completely. So I said okay, why not?

There's two main reasons we know of: you're an exceptional driver and are going to contribute big points to the team, but you're also going to help Lance out as a new driver. I also understand the sponsor really wanted somebody over the age of 25.  

Yeah, I mean, I don't [really] think it's just related to the sponsor… There [were] not many options when Nico decided to stop…not many options to replace Valtteri, so maybe [it] was the name.

What are you doing to help Lance?  

I've known Lance since he was maybe seven years old. It's a pleasure [for] me to help. I mean, I'm not doing that or trying to do that because the team is asking me [to]. I'm doing that because it's my pleasure. So, and I really hope I can be important to help him get better, growing race by race.

Was there a similar driver that reached out to help you?

Oh, I think, nobody wanted to help me!

I mean, was there one driver that put his hand on your shoulder?

For me, the driver that I most learned from was Schumacher. But I mean, he was not doing [it for] pleasure! I was just looking at him like a professor and he was nice to me.

I'm a movie guy. What's your favourite car chase in a film? Is there any movie that you've watched that you think, “This gets F1 right?”

Maybe Rush…and I saw the one with Tom Cruise, what's the name, with the indie car?  

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Oh, Days of Thunder with NASCAR. So, are you a big movie guy or not a big movie guy?

I like movies. I watch [them] on the flight, all of the movies, but I'm not completely crazy for movies… I [just] watch a lot. I like some series as well. So, I watch House of Cards and Designated Survivor. I [watched] all of 24 with Jack Bauer.  

How does Montreal compare to the other courses on the calendar? It's this weird sort of historical street course, but it's got so much tradition. On the other hand, it's not as modern as some of the courses that you go to.

I think Montreal is a challenging track. It is actually more difficult than what it looks like. To do a great lap here, you need to really attack a lot of the corners, over the curbs, very close to the wall, and long straights with an aggressive and strong braking zone. So it is quite a nice track and a difficult track. The place is fantastic. I love to come here. The people really love Formula 1 and the town just stops for this weekend. We're just enjoying great restaurants, great people, so I think it's a fantastic town to race in.

You're either in a cockpit or you're in a hotel room or you're in an event like this. Do you actually get a sense of the real Montreal? When you retire, would you come back to Montreal?

Yeah, for sure, I like it here. Maybe not in the winter for sure! I don't like so much the cold weather, but I like the place. I had one day free, Wednesday, so I went out for lunch, for some shopping. I had a nice dinner on Tuesday evening.

What's your favourite restaurant?

Ferrara, the Portuguese. Today, I'm going to [meet] Daniel Boulud, [who] is a friend and he's here so he will cook... For sure, it's a quick dinner, but you try to go to the good places.  

What's your favourite memory of driving this course?

My best result here was fourth, two times, but I lost so many opportunities. I was a bit unlucky in this race. I remember [in] 2008, I was fighting even for the victory, second place, and I stopped on the pit stop, and the fuel didn't go inside. I [had] to come back, so I lost all of the positions. So, it's definitely a race that I was competitive [in] but not really lucky.

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We always see your son, Filipino, on the course. Do you see him in F1 one day, and is that something you're going to encourage?

I push him [towards] the sport completely, because I think the sport is very good for the kids. You learn a lot. I learned a lot with this sport and he has a big talent. He's playing football really well, tennis. Everything he's doing in the sport, he has a big talent for that. He also shows a good performance, a good characteristic for a driver, but he needs to decide what he wants to do. I'm a father. I help him and I bring him [to] what he wants to do.

You grew up right beside the Interlagos track dreaming of racing one day, and now you get to cherish another season of F1. It’s an amazing story.

My dream was always to be a professional driver. Formula 1 was like, completely outside of the window. I was a big fan, I was watching the race. I was supporting Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, but I was like, for sure, to arrive there is almost impossible. But I wanted to be a professional driver and I always did everything I could to achieve it. I followed my dreams, I had a talent to do that also and I had a result. You need to follow your dreams, you need to believe. And this is what I try to pass on to my son but also to the kids as an example.

When your dreams are fulfilled, sometimes it's not such a bad thing.

Yeah, it's great.