F1 racer emerged from Schumacher’s shadow and almost stopped Hamilton dominance

For more than 30 seconds, he believed that he had just summited the Formula 1 world – only to have that notion cruelly ripped away.

Felipe Massa went from dreamland to the depths of despair in such a short space of time. But then came the moment which secured his place in the hearts of F1 fans forever, as he accepted the most difficult of defeats with humility and dignity in front of the people who adored him most in the world.

It was in 2008 that Massa had the best shot he would ever have to become the champion. In his sixth full season in the sport and third with Ferrari, he was finally ready to make a real bid for the prize he had been dreaming about ever since he first sat in a go-kart.

The stage couldn't have been any more ideal, even if the job was a tough one. In front of his own people, at the Brazilian Grand Prix finale, the Interlagos circuit the he had grown up living just a couple of hours away from was the staging ground for his assault.

His job was simple – he had to win. And he did it with little fuss, adapting to the changeable weather conditions well to convert his pole position start into the victory he needed. But to become champion, he also needed a young man named Lewis Hamilton to finish outside the top five.

For so long it looked as though he would get his wish. The Briton was running in fifth until he made a mistake which allowed Sebastian Vettel through in his Toro Rosso. It was looking as though the young man from Stevenage would miss out on the final day for the second season in a row, after Kimi Raikkonen's 2007 success.

Massa took the chequered flag with Hamilton still running in sixth. The Ferrari garage went ballistic, and Massa was just starting to come to terms with what he had achieved. But that feeling of ecstasy would last for less than a minute.

Timo Glock, who was still driving on dry weather tyres after the rain had rolled in, made a mistake as he ran wide while exiting the final corner. The German was powerless to prevent the silver McLaren piloted by Hamilton from roaring past and the course of F1 history was changed in an instant.

Massa's elation became agony – a pain so much worse than it would have been had he not, for a brief time, been allowed to believe he was the world champion. But then came that extraordinary display of humility as he wiped away the tears to congratulate his rival and spend time with the fans whose hearts had also been broken.

F1 has seen few moments more emotionally-charged than when Massa completely ignored the podium in the post-race ceremony and instead made his way to the front of the balcony where he could be closer to those who adored him. The gulp as he swallowed the urge to shed more tears and the beating of his chest as he pointed to the Ferrari logo on his overalls created an image that would live long in the memory.

Many people would be speechless, or certainly far less eloquent than the Brazilian was as he faced the media after the race. "I know how to lose and I know how to win. I said before it is another day of my life from which I am going to learn a lot," he said poetically.

Learning from Michael Schumacher

When it comes to learning how to perform at the highest level with a big team, there are few better people to learn from than possibly the greatest driver ever. That's what Massa was able to do after earning his shot with Ferrari, spending his first year with the Prancing Horse racing alongside seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.

It helped to transform him from the tidy but relatively unheralded driver he was with Sauber to a bona fide star of the sport. It also yielded that memorable first victory at the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix, as he upstaged both his team-mate and the other title challenger Fernando Alonso to lead from start to finish.

Despite missing out on the chance to gain ground in the title race, Schumacher was there on the podium to be the man pouring the champagne on the Brazilian as he experienced an F1 victory for the first time. The same things happened at Interlagos at the end of the year, as Massa became the first home racer since Ayrton Senna to win in Brazil.

After retiring from the sport, Massa spoke of Schumacher as both a great team-mate and as a "teacher". He said: "Michael was always very friendly to me, in every situation. And he gave me a big chance by deciding to quit after the 2006 season – that was unbelievably nice of him."

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