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Felipe Massa Q&A: I'm still hungry - and still in demand

10 Mar 2016

Only eight men in history have started more Grands Prix than Felipe Massa - and the Brazilian will move himself even higher up the list in 2016. He isn't planning to stop though - in fact he insists he's as hungry as ever, and will be in demand in 2017 as a result. As for 2016, what are his targets - and who does he expect to be setting the standard? The 34-year-old discusses Williams' prospects, retirement plans and why he isn't slowing down yet in an exclusive interview with F1.com...

Q: Felipe, you are heading into your 15th season - quite an achievement. You must have some sort of survival philosophy - can you share it?

Felipe Massa: Ha, I wish I had one in place that works in all situations! (laughs) What I do is not exactly a survival philosophy or strategy - every year I want to do better than the past season , and that's probably the secret that keeps me here. When I look back I have to say that my first year in F1 was really about surviving - much, much more than it is now. Because back then I had to convince people that I have what it takes to be here. Now I think everybody knows - and now I want to do another season as best as I can. You always hope it will be the best season of your career. Sure you need to have a good car, a good team - a good package - to excel, but the feeling and the 'strategy' is the same in the end: always do better than the year before. 

Q: So after 15 years, is Felipe Massa still hungry? 

FM: I am. I have the hunger to do better; to eliminate what was not working so well the year before. Because if you do the same as the year before - if you stall - that very likely is the habit that gets you out. So yes, I am still very hungry to be strong and competitive - to be counted among the best.

Q: Are there still things you can learn? You have circled most of the tracks hundreds of time - do you still find things that you add to your experience?

FM: You always learn. There are always new aspects to a track even if you have driven there for so many times. Maybe the tarmac at a certain part of the track where you've usually struggled is different now and that makes it easier for you - and suddenly you have a 'smooth' experience. Or the weather plays to your advantage - so there is always a 'like new' experience.  Okay the rules have not changed this season, but the cars have - you have so many new things in the car. Then the tyres are different again. So closing your eyes on changes - to stop learning - is not good advice for a driver who wants to stay in F1!

Q: Last year obviously didn't go as planned. On a number of occasions it seemed that Williams were running out of steam when looking at your balance sheet: yes, twice on the podium, but also seven times not in the points. Is there anything to be learned from that?

FM: If you look at our results, if you look how we raised our game in the second half of the 2014 season - but not in the second half of the 2015 season - we still finished third. For Williams that was a very important result. If you see the resources of the big teams - how much money they are able to throw at their cars - and then look at us, there is a significant gap. So we have to be hellishly efficient. Let me give you an example: when Red Bull were trying to adopt the short nose, they tried 13 or 14 different noses to pass the crash tests. When we tried, we had three. So finishing third was one hell of a result. Sure we wanted more - we wanted to finish second, to be closer to Mercedes - and we also want it this season. But we also know to defend P3 in the constructors' is difficult.

Q: Ferrari caught up very well over the course of the 2015 season. Were you surprised by their charge, given their form in 2014?

FM: I think Ferrari was the team that improved most in 2015. And I really believe they can improve further...

Q: But they pinched your targeted P2 in the constructors' fight...

FM: Because they improved more than us! Ferrari are probably the team that can fight Mercedes at the moment. When you look at what they pulled off last year, and what they have shown so far in these first two tests, then I would almost risk a bet! (laughs) 

Q: Your young team mate Valtteri Bottas admitted having been irritated by rumours linking him to Ferrari. Did you see that? And did you try and profit from it?

FM: You think so. But let me get one thing straight: the media made up that irritation and insecurity from Valtteri's side. Believe me: I never saw him really struggling. He is not that kind. I think we had a good fight throughout the whole championship. At the beginning of the year I was a bit better - then it became pretty even and we were fighting point over point. I had a few issues - more than him - in the second part of the season and couldn't finish in the points. And my guess is we will fight again this year.

Q: When looking at the coming season, Williams look a good bet for third - particularly as Red Bull and McLaren still have issues. Is that where you also see your team?

FM: It sounds like a good plan - but we must never forget that teams can improve massively from one season to the other. Ferrari is the best example - and Red Bull and McLaren do also have that capacity in terms of money and manpower. Of course we also have the capacity to improve - so yes, it's the start of an interesting season. Our car is very promising and we were able to run all our programmes and collect good mileage in testing.

Q: What was the main focus on your 2016 car?

FM: We had to improve in the slow corners. We need to have more downforce and we need to have a better balanced car in wet conditions. This is what we concentrated on: to make the car stick to the ground more.

Q: At the first test in 2015 Pat Symonds said that he still could see a championship within you. One year on do you find that realistic - also given the team's situation?

FM: Ha, I hope he is still right - one year on. (laughs) It will be difficult though, as Ferrari will be strong, Mercedes will be strong again - so our aim must be to keep the others behind and close the gap to these two. That will be a hell of a task. As for 'the championship within me'... who knows...

Q: There are four drivers who are 34 or over, including yourself. What is your timeframe in F1 - and how much will success and results contribute to your future? 

FM: Age is a number: I still want to be competitive - and others see that I am. If that should change one day - that I don't feel that strong any more, that I don't feel I can make the difference - then it is another matter. But I have not felt that. I believe with the changes that are looming for 2017 I could be someone that could be very useful and make a real difference - for whatever team, Williams or another. Just look back on how Williams were in 2013 and how they have improved - it was massive. And not just the car or the engine: the mentality of the team improved massively. I put myself behind that one hundred percent. I think I was very important for that change - and I want to be in the future too.