SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Felipe Massa said farewell to his home Brazilian Formula One fans in the way he wanted on Sunday, thanking them from the Interlagos podium after a seventh place that felt like a victory.
The Williams driver, whose last win was at the same circuit in 2008 when he finished runner-up to Lewis Hamilton in the championship, savored every minute of his final grand prix on home soil.
There was a lump in many a commentator’s throat, and fans around the world, as the 36-year-old’s son Felipinho hailed his father over the team radio after the checkered flag.
“Daddy I am so proud of you,” said the seven-year-old, whose father is retiring from Formula One after the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi.
“Wherever you go I will support you. I love you. By the way, I loved your start.”
Father and son were then ushered onto the podium, after the top three had celebrated, with his old friend Rubens Barrichello presenting him to the crowd flooding onto the track.
“I am really emotional today,” Massa said in the understatement of the afternoon.
“To be honest I am so happy for my race. I did the best that the car could achieve.”
One of the most popular racers in the paddock, with 11 victories for Ferrari, the little Brazilian also retired at the end of last year to make way for Canadian teenage rookie Lance Stroll.
He was back in the line-up within months, after Valtteri Bottas moved from Williams to Mercedes to replace 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, but there will be no coming back after this season.
”It’s so difficult to explain my feelings today,“ he said. ”Amazing start, then managed to overtake a few cars, managed to overtake (former Ferrari team mate Fernando) Alonso... managed to keep him behind.
”It was a very difficult race for me. It was like many victories that I took.
“I drove a perfect race from the beginning to the end... today definitely was like a victory and it was so amazing to finish and feel the emotion of the people.”
Last year, Massa had crashed out of a wet race and walked down the pitlane in the rain with his family to say a tearful farewell to mechanics and fans.
He had produced the national flag as he stepped from the car that time, wrapping it around his shoulders, and this time it fluttered from the car as he did his slowing down lap with his family watching.
“Last year I had so much love and emotion from the people, but I didn’t finish the race like I wanted,” said the Brazilian.
“Today I finished the race like I wanted. That’s why I did another year.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar