This weekend is Brazilian Formula One driver Felipe Massa’s last Brazilian Grand Prix after 248 races. Williams team sponsor and iconic-livery-haver Martini gave their name-space on the Williams cars to Massa to thank one of the longest-running faces on the Formula One grid for many years of racing.
Formula One is a somewhat fickle place to land, despite being the world’s top open-wheeler series attracting the world’s top talent. Making it there is a feat in its own right, however, few drivers who do get the kinds of opportunities necessary in the right seat on the right team to really make a name for themselves as an F1 driver.
Massa’s quiet gift to the sport hasn’t been a championship, but rather, ample experience. Massa has been racing for Williams since 2014, and he has had an incredible long career in F1 going all the way back to 2002. Massa started in F1 at Sauber, and then raced at Ferrari alongside world champions Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen. However, during that time—in 248 races—Massa only won eleven grands prix.
On this weekend’s car, “Massa” takes the place of “Martini” in the big logos on the engine cover of the car, and “obrigado” (which means “thank you” in Portuguese) is atop the rear wing. It’s a “thank you” meant for both Massa as well as his Brazilian fans, according to Williams’ press release on the livery change.
Those fans—always sticking by their man despite Formula One’s cut-throat world of second drivers and less competitive teams—certainly deserve their fair share of recognition. It can be heartbreaking to have a favorite driver or a countryman almost win the championship, as Massa did in 2008.
Massa also no doubt appreciated the outpouring of fan support after sustaining a serious head injury when a spring came loose and struck his helmet in 2009. Massa never quite saw the same level of success when he returned from that injury, but many of us still root for him anyway, because he’s just this sort of humble journeyman guy who always seemed willing to help out, and who doesn’t like that guy?
This weekend, Massa was surprised and humbled by the surprise commemorative livery change, as he said in Williams’ press release:
I’ve always said that I drive the best looking car on the grid, but this takes it to a whole other level. I’ve never known a sponsor to do this for a driver before. It’s an honor and I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit emotional about it.
Personally, I’m glad Massa’s stuck around in the series so long, and I wish more Formula One drivers would find the same kind of longevity today. He’s been a loyal teammate to some of F1's biggest names, on some of F1's biggest teams, and when he does speak on important topics facing the series, you know he’s speaking from a place of knowledge and experience.
Sure, he didn’t win so many races, and no one will mention his name in the hall of F1 greats, much like no one really sings the praises of Michael Schumacher hype-man Rubens Barrichello anymore. (Admit it, in your list of F1 legends, it doesn’t go “Fangio, Moss, Stewart, Senna, Schumacher, Rubens Barichello.”)
But it’s good to know that someone is, and they should.
We all remember the top F1 drivers who stay in the headlines dominating the front of the grid. I’m glad someone’s finally thanking one of the sport’s longest running almost-champs.