It’s not quite an alignment of the planets, but in the 19th year of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne it might be worth taking a close look at the car and driver carrying number 19.
Felipe Massa is part of the quiet revolution taking place at Williams, the team with 16 world titles to its name – but none in the 21st century to date.
Massa has ended a decade-long association with Ferrari to throw in his lot with Sir Frank and it’s a safe bet that the Brazilian, who will turn 33 in April, will lift the spirits around a camp that is determined to arrest its recent decline.
“Part of the regeneration of the team” is how Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds, himself a key player in this revolution, describes Massa, who has 191 Grands Prix under his belt and has won 11 of them.
The last of those was an emotionally-charged win in Brazil, which made him World Champion-elect for all of 39.907 seconds – the time it took Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren to follow him over the Interlagos line in fifth place and steal the crown away.
That was one of three body-blows to the Brazilian in the last five years: the other two were his frightening accident in Hungary which nearly cost him an eye and his career, and the wrench of leaving the Scuderia after seven years of yeoman service.
Massa compiled a string of points finishes with Sauber in 2004-05 but his first race win came in 2006 in Turkey in the scarlet of Ferrari. “I own this track!” Massa would say after three straight wins on the spectacular Istanbul lay-out.
He has taken a familiar face with him to Williams in Rob Smedley, the race engineer whose coded – and occasionally uncoded – messages to his driver have been a feature of F1 telecasts in recent years.
Also on board is his compatriot Felipe Nasr as reserve driver, while Massa’s recruitment has helped Williams attract backing from Banco do Brasil and energy giant Petrobras.
To a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve, however, the Brazilian presence that matters most will probably be the one on the left-hand side of the FW36’s nose cone this season.
That’s Ayrton Senna, whose time at Williams was tragically cut short when he was killed at Imola 20 years ago. The Williams cars will carry a special anniversary variant of the famous double-S Senna logo this season.
“It is nice to remember that some of the best Brazilian drivers raced for Williams and cemented a strong national link with the team,” said Massa, who also follows Rubens Barrichello into the Williams line-up.
“A real fighter on the race track” is how Sir Frank describes the small but feisty Brazilian, who doesn’t boast a strong record at Albert Park – his one and only podium came when he was third here in 2010.
On the other hand, it’s time for Williams to renew acquaintance with success here as well – they won the first-ever AGP at Albert Park with Damon Hill in 1996 but they haven’t won here since.
With front-running Mercedes engines, a backroom staff bolstered by multiple signings from other top teams, a new title sponsorship from iconic racing name Martini and Massa in the cockpit, the #19 car just might kick-start that regeneration process.