SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Felipe Massa was Formula One world champion for 40 seconds in 2008, before Lewis Hamilton snatched the title away, but even as he prepares to say farewell to Ferrari the little Brazilian has not given up hope of a second chance.
Looking back over his eight seasons racing for the most successful and glamorous team on the grid, and the highs and lows of being a team mate to three world champions, Massa says he harbors no regrets.
Nor, with five races remaining and nothing fixed for his future, does the 32-year-old think his best days are necessarily behind him.
“I am a very happy man,” he told British reporters at the Japanese Grand Prix, where last year he finished second to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in his best result since that epic 2008 season.
”I have zero frustration in my career. I had an incredible career that I never believed I was going to have. And I am looking forward to getting even greater results and to fight still for victories and for the championship.
“I don’t believe it is the time to stop yet. I believe in myself and I believe I can do a lot more and fight a lot more.”
Massa is vying with Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg for the Lotus seat left vacant by Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion who is returning to Ferrari in place of the Brazilian.
That team, which won titles as Benetton and Renault, are currently fourth overall with Raikkonen winning the Australian season-opener.
“I am very optimistic that something will come. Very,” he said. “I think we are going to find the direction. I don’t know where, but I am really confident that something will come and it can be good, interesting.”
With big changes next season, and the introduction of a new turbocharged V6 power unit, there could be a shake-up in the pecking order and Massa felt his experience could count.
“I am sure I can give a lot to another team. I am happy to change, I am happy to start something from zero,” he said.
“Many things change for next year, everything starts from zero so I know I can be very important for a team. A team that is able to do something, to build a strong car. For sure, a team that is not able to do that, I‘m not interested in,” he added.
Massa won 11 races with Ferrari and missed out on the 2008 championship to McLaren’s Hamilton by a single point after the Briton seized a crucial fifth place in the final race in Brazil at the last corner of the last lap.
The race winner from pole position, and with the home crowd rising to acclaim him, Massa had crossed the line 39.907 seconds earlier.
“I would prefer to be world champion forever, not just for 40 seconds. But it’s like that,” he smiled. “Maybe I had also the most incredible final race of the championship ever as well. I‘m sure people will remember me.”
That race was a standout moment of his career, one as defining as the race in Hungary the following year when he suffered a near fatal head injury after being struck on the helmet by a bouncing spring shed from compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn.
The Brazilian says he has no hard feelings, only a sense of pride that he did everything possible on the day. It is the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix that leaves the bitter taste.
He had secured pole by a hefty margin and was dominating the race when compatriot Nelson Piquet crashed his Renault, bringing out the safety car. From the chaos, Piquet’s team mate Fernando Alonso emerged as the winner.
Only a year later did it emerge that Piquet had crashed deliberately on team orders, to help secure victory for Alonso, in one of the biggest scandals the sport has had to deal with.
“What happened in Singapore is unacceptable,” said Massa.
”It was a situation that no driver likes to pass through. Something you really feel. Not just me but the team. It’s part of life. We cannot go back.
“What happened there is like in football where you have some matches that they pay the referee. It’s the same situation.”
As Schumacher’s team mate, and with Alonso since the Spaniard arrived in 2010, Massa has found himself playing the loyal sidekick.
It is a position that has not pleased Brazilians, who had already chafed at Massa’s predecessor Rubens Barrichello being cast in a supporting role at the Italian team, but one he defends.
“It’s not nice to read some of the things coming from your people in Brazil, criticizing you,” he said. “When you are at home and watching, it’s easy to say (bad things). So many people who criticized me are doing similar things in their companies, but nobody sees.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Patrick Johnston