Oct.30 (GMM) When he swipes his paddock pass and enters the Interlagos paddock on Thursday, championship contender Felipe Massa will undoubtedly recall 1999.
Then a teenager, it was the Brazilian's first visit to the circuit's inner sanctum, where nine years later the now 27-year-old local is in contention to succeed Ayrton Senna as the latest Brazilian winner of the drivers' title.Massa, then a Formula Renault racer, earned his 1999 credential by convincing someone to let him deliver pasta and bananas to Benetton's hospitality area."I'll be back in formula one. Remember me," he told Benetton's chef, Felice Guerini. Today, Guerini is the cook at Ferrari, the famous Italian team for whom Massa now drives.It was not a smooth ride for Massa between then and now, however. Some paddock sages still find it difficult to rate the Paulista, given his less than impressive debut season with Sauber in 2002."Because of the first year, my reputation was bad for so many years," he now admits."That was not a great thing for my image and it took very long to recover and change. But, fortunately, I think we changed it," said Massa.He admits, however, that his early days do still haunt him, such as when he has a bad day with Ferrari."I am sometimes massacred by the press," Massa told La Gazzetta dello Sport, "but my team always supports me unconditionally."With just Sunday's race left to run in 2008, Massa is 7 points behind title favourite Lewis Hamilton.