"When you stop to remember, it feels like yesterday," said Felipe Massa.
This weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix marks three years since the Brazilian was left fighting for his life in the intensive care unit of a Budapest hospital.
Although his physical recovery was quicker than expected, his journey back to the peak of the Formula One racing field is proving a longer, more twisting road.
It was July 25, 2009 when, during the second free practice session at the Hungaroring, a suspension spring broke loose from the car of Rubens Barrichello, Massa's compatriot and close friend, and ricocheted off the helmet of the oncoming Ferrari driver.
Massa, having immediately lost consciousness, is understood to have instinctively jammed his feet on both the brake and the throttle as his car ploughed head-on into a tyre wall at around 200 kph.
Rob Smedley, Massa's engineer, later spoke of the chilling silence that greeted him when he tried to contact his driver and several Ferrari staff feared the worse for the man they had recruited from Sauber four years earlier.
Yet, despite suffering a fractured skull and being kept in an induced coma for 48 hours, Massa was able to leave the AEK Hospital nine days after the accident.
By March 2010 and the start of the following season, he was celebrating on the second step of the podium at Bahrain International Circuit. Today, cast in shadows and concealed below a scuderia red baseball cap, the remarkably subtle scar that snakes the lower left-side of the Brazilian's brow and curls around his eye socket is the only remaining visual indicator of just how close the 31 year old came to death.
Internal evidence, however, is more substantial. Massa may have required a metal plate to be inserted into his skull, but it is the non-tangible, intrinsic elements of his recovery that are proving the most troublesome for him. Speculation regarding his psychological condition has plagued him since the moment he got back behind the wheel; the five podiums he secured in the 2009 season drifting largely into history.
He has now not finished in the top three for 31 races, while his teammate, Fernando Alonso, during that same period has stood on the podium 17 times and currently leads the drivers' world championship.
So, is it possible Massa has never fully recovered from the crash that almost took his life?
"No," he said confidently, relaxing in the Ferrari motorhome with a glass of San Pellegrino mineral water ahead of tomorrow's race.
"For sure, I have considered this many times because I am a human being and you always think. But I did not only just think: I also made a huge amount of tests with the best doctors and they all said the same thing: 'Forget about it and draw a line. You have nothing; zero'."
Massa revealed he has been seeing a psychologist for much of the past 12 months to help better understand himself. Although the doctor is based in Brazil, weekly sessions are carried out through Skype, he says, stressing recent improved performances are likely not linked to the therapy.
"All I can say is that nothing has changed; the way I go to the car, the way I believe, the way I think about everything," he said. "You need to be clean, 100 per cent in every direction and I don't see this as a negative point. I see it as positive. I went last year and I am still doing it."
Massa, who came within a point of winning the 2008 world championship, retired at the 2012 season-opening race in Melbourne and has averaged an 11th-place finish in the following nine races. He sits 14th in the championship standings, yet continues the same superstitions that have followed him throughout his 10 seasons in F1.
"I use the same underwear and I get into the car from the left side, but put my right foot in first," he said, adding it "maybe doesn't do anything, but it is important to feel OK".
He has, however, found an inner contentment that was not always with him in the past three years. The crash taught him to appreciate life more, he says, and now he understands "anything can happen at any minute".
At times, as he speaks, he emits positivity like radiation. The "family" he surrounds himself with at Ferrari no doubt helps, while this weekend he enjoys the support of a vocal fan-base at a race that holds special meaning to him. With the exception of Sao Paulo and Monza, he arguably has more fans here than any other race.
"People here really have a lot of love for me after what happened and it is even more motivating to come here and race in front of them," he said, conceding an added determination to perform well and put to bed beliefs that the memories of 2009 linger in his mind, debilitating his abilities and hindering his progress.
"Always when I arrive here in Hungary it's impossible not to remember what happened. But I always look to do the best I can; to do a fantastic race, to prove a point that the difficult moments are behind me. This is what I always do when I come back here."
In 2010, he finished fourth at the Hungaroring, while last season he posted the fastest lap on route to finishing sixth. After a season-best fourth at the British Grand Prix earlier this month, the South American is confident his troubled tide is turning.
He, however, stops shy of predicting his performance tomorrow. "Every time I say something, something else happens, so it is best I don't," he said.
Plenty of people are willing to predict the performance of his teammate. Alonso has been performing phenomenally this season, winning three races and extending a momentous run of consecutive points finishes to 22. He is the favourite for this year's drivers' title and is expected to doggedly chase down a 31st career win tomorrow afternoon.
Alonso's achievements reflect badly on Massa, but the Brazilian is philosophical, accepting that his colleague is performing flawlessly. "Fernando is doing everything perfectly; everything," he said.
"It is not easy to do everything perfect in the championship and he is doing it this year. Even when he does not do something quite perfect, he has had the luck - and he has had a lot of luck this year."
Such comments are easily spun into concealed criticism, but Massa means no disrespect to his colleague. "We drivers acknowledge how important luck is; it is a part of sport," he said. "However, you can be the luckiest driver in the field: if you start last, forget it."
The Sao Paulo native is instead more interested in extracting the maximum from his car than he is in drawing comparisons with Alonso.
"I cannot lie: I did not have the first part of the season I expected and I am not happy to see me 14th in the championship," he said. "But Fernando is in the best condition since the three years I have known him at Ferrari and I am happy to see how he is doing as it means I know what is possible with this car.
"When I finish qualifying, I am not just disappointed that I am behind him - you always want to be ahead - but I am disappointed because with my pace I should be close to him or fighting in front of him.
"I know the car is competitive and the possibility of us winning a race this season is much bigger because the gap between the teams is much smaller. If you have a good, clean weekend and your car is behaving well, you have a chance to win. The whole season will be like that, so I'm concentrating on victory and fighting at the front from now until December."
Massa's contract expires at the end of the season and, according to reports yesterday, Ferrari have not taken up the one-sided option to extend it.
At 31, he has said were he to leave the Italian manufacturers, he would not be interested in racing for one of the sport's smaller, embryonic teams.
When asked how he rated his chances of remaining with the Maranello-based marque next year, he replied: "I have a good chance, but we will have to wait and see how things are going to be. At the end of the day, results on track are what counts."
Off track, of course, there are far more important things in life. Every time Felipe Massa looks in the mirror and sees his subtle scar, he can be sure of that.