x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Massa tries to put a brave face on his struggles

The Ferrari driver returns to the scene of his near-fatal accident last year, but the Brazilian is more coy about bein second to teammate Fernando Alonso.

BUDAPEST // Friday morning, Turn 5 - an uphill right-hander. In essence it is a hairpin, but drivers hit the apex at about 150kph and accelerate relentlessly thereafter, sliding wide onto the exit kerbs before the laws of physics spit them back onto the asphalt. All except one, that is: he is not so much on the kerbs as halfway to Slovakia.

If ever a driver appeared to be on a mission, it was Felipe Massa right then. One year earlier, he had suffered life-threatening head injuries in an accident at the Hungaroring. Did he have any qualms about returning to the venue? "For sure not," he said, reprising one of his favourite phrases. "To be honest, I don't remember a single thing about the accident, even though I've watched it many times. Now, when you're sitting in the car and you close your visor, you don't think about these things."

Rubens Barrichello, whose Brawn GP-Mercedes shed the suspension component that hit Massa and inflicted the damage last summer, was confident his compatriot wouldn't be fazed. "I don't think he'll fear anything," he said. "Three or four months ago we were back in Brazil, playing poker. He said: 'I have a surprise for you' and put the helmet from the accident on the table. He had fun with it, but it completely destroyed my night and I started losing money."

There are more pressing reasons, though, for Massa this weekend. Following his enforced capitulation to Fernando Alonso, his Ferrari teammate, during the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim only a few days ago, does he feel he is now a de facto No 2? "For sure not." His car's body language underlined those sentiments rather more eloquently, but raw commitment could not mask an awkward, predictable truth: he has been several 10ths slower than Alonso throughout the weekend, a margin that has been typical for much of the campaign. They will start fourth and third respectively, 0.344secs apart.

Barrichello, who suffered with team orders during his tenure at Ferrari, said his old team should not have denied Massa the win at the expense of Alonso's title hopes. "If you don't win the championship by one point, so be it," he said. "But if you take the championship by one point because somebody lets you win, what's the point? That's my view. If I had to be the bad guy to win the world title, I wouldn't care for that. I will teach my boys the same way my father taught me and I'm happy with that."

Laudable, cuddly sentiments, in many ways, but they perhaps also highlight the absence of a ruthless streak that separates the truly exceptional from those who are just exceptionally good. sports@thenational.ae