Massa Ferrari finale beckons lean times for Brazil

22 Nov 2013 16:46

The honour of bringing down the curtain on the Formula One season Sunday falls to Brazil, as has been the case since 2006, but the host nation has endured a season of little cheer and that trend looks set to continue.

Sole standard bearer Felipe Massa will attempt to sign off his eight years at Ferrari with a win before some 70,000 fans at Interlagos.

But the domination of other nations is only too apparent, a punch in the gut for fans demanding the recapture of a glorious past, now sepia-tinted but comprising world titles brought home by Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Emerson Fittipaldi.

The highs of the glory years, a two-decade stretch encompassing three titles each for Senna and Piquet and two for Fittipaldi, seem a long way off today as Massa, eighth in the standings, seeks a final Ferrari flourish before switching to Williams.

Senna completed his hat-trick with McLaren in 1991, three years before his fatal accident at the San Marino Grand Prix.

With his passing, some of the soul seemed to seep out of Brazilian racing, entering first an era dominated by Michael Schumacher and now another by Sebastian Vettel.

Massa agonisingly came within a lap of denying Lewis Hamilton the 2008 title in the most dramatic of climaxes at Interlagos while Rubens Barrichello also finished runner-up twice.

Nelson Piquet Junior proved a disappointment and moved to Nascar, where he remains five years after the Renault crashgate scandal in Singapore.

High hopes were placed on the shoulders of Senna's nephew Bruno Senna when he started at Hispania Racing in 2010 but spells at Renault and Williams were unspectacular -- and he was dropped last November for Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas.

Massa has vowed to drag the spotlight -- for a day at least -- off Vettel, who has crushed the opposition with 12 victories to win his fourth straight world title.

"It will be very emotional racing at Interlagos for Ferrari for the final time. Just competing in the Brazilian Grand Prix is a dream for all Brazilian racing drivers," says Massa.

"We know how important Brazil is in Formula One. We have motor racing in the blood. It is very important to keep Brazilian drivers in Formula One," he said Thursday.

"Winning here in 2006, in my first year with Ferrari, was definitely the most incredible race of my life. For a Brazilian to win this race, it's like winning the world title."

Interlagos has been the scene of some thrilling denouements, not least Hamilton taking the title by the skin of his teeth in 2008, passing Timo Glock at the death to secure fifth place and the points needed to deny Massa the season crown.

Sao Paulo local favourite Emerson Fittipaldi won in 1973 and again in 1974 before fellow local Carlos Pace took the plaudits in his Brabham 12 months later -- the circuit bears the official name of Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in his honour to mark the only career win of a man killed in an air crash two years later.

Piquet won in 1983 and 1986 to provide local cheer but Senna lost out to Alain Prost at a revamped Interlagos in 1990 after hitting backmarker Satoru Nakajima to concede the lead.

In one of the most emotional climaxes at any race, Senna won a rain-hit 1991 epic in a McLaren, crossing the line so exhausted he could hardly get out of his car to lift the trophy.

The man who defined a generation for race fans here won again in 1993.

Rubens Barrichello led briefly in the 1999 edition but engine failure denied him and it was not until Massa closed out Alonso in 2006, when the race was rescheduled to be the prestigious season finale, that the drought stretching back to Senna ended.

If Massa, who hasn't looked capable of winning a race all season, does fail to make it a hat-trick of wins at Interlagos, it is hard to see where the next home winner could come from.

Perhaps the best hope, for some time in the future, is 21-year-old Felipe Nasr, who has enjoyed a solid season in GP2 with the Carlin team and won the British Formula 3 championship in 2011.