SAO PAULO — Ten years ago at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa thought he was Formula One world champion – for 23 seconds at least.
After winning his home race at Interlagos, Ferrari driver Massa appeared to have done enough to become the first Brazilian to win the title since Ayrton Senna in 1991.
But premature celebrations by Ferrari and Massa in his cockpit suddenly ended when Lewis Hamilton, then a McLaren driver, climbed to fifth place on the last turn of the race. That proved sufficient for Hamilton to secure his first title in Sao Paulo in 2008 and overcome his disappointing performance at Interlagos a year earlier which saw the title going to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
A decade later, Hamilton is the newly crowned five-time champion and in pole position for Sunday’s race. Massa is a TV pundit preparing for the Formula E season. The two former adversaries talked about the old days in the paddock and roamed around the track with other drivers in a truck.
“I didn’t lose the 2008 title in Brazil,” Massa said. “I won it (the race), but nothing else depended on me 10 years ago. Winning actually made me less frustrated because I did all I could. Hamilton won the title because of his great season, not because of his fifth place at Interlagos.”
Hamilton remembers that Brazilian fans “were a bit difficult” after that race, with the British driver clinching the title after a last-minute overtake of Toyota’s Timo Glock.
“The relationship with Brazil had ups and downs, but now it is just great,” said Hamilton.
The 37-year-old Massa, who retired from F1 last year without ever winning the title, says personal and team mistakes a decade ago made all the difference at the end of one of the most exciting seasons of the series.
“In Singapore I didn’t get any points, finished 13th. In Hungary I was leading and my engine broke just two laps before the checkered flag. So at Interlagos it wasn’t really that likely I could be champion in the end,” the Brazilian said.
Asked whether he would like to be competing still, Massa joked “if that meant running for Williams once again, I think it is best not to be racing.”
Massa’s former team is 10th in the constructors’ championship with only seven points.