F1: Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton look back 10 years to Brazil title thriller

Felipe Massa. Photo: Getty Images
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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.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.