Massa endured a terrible first race weekend of his third year at Ferrari. The team, surprisingly, looked off the pace as Massa qualified fourth and his race was even less successful, spinning off at the first corner of the first lap, on lap 26 he collided with David Coulthard and eventually retired due to engine failure.
Things brightened up in Malaysia as he qualified on pole, half a second clear of Räikkönen in P2, but the race itself didn't go as well. Massa led from pole in the first 16 laps but was jumped by Räikkönen in the pitstops. He was still in contention for the victory battle and was chasing Räikkönen until he spun off on lap 31 while in second and retired.
After these two races people began to speculate that Massa had returned to his mistake-prone ways of when he first entered F1, and that he couldn't handle F1 cars without the help of traction control (which had been outlawed from the start of the 2008 season), but the next race put those thoughts on hold.
Massa went into Bahrain (where he won in 2007) with no points. He dominated the weekend, but Robert Kubica beat him to pole in qualifying. In the start, Massa beat Kubica even before the first corner. Räikkönen soon got up to second but he could not do a repeat of Malaysia. Massa was quicker and easily won by 3 seconds to open up his account.
In Spain, Massa qualified third behind Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso. He passed Alonso at the start and got up to second behind Räikkönen. He stayed on his teammate's shadow for the whole race, but there was no way he could pass or get ahead in the stops. He had to settle for second.
Massa took pole position at the next round at Turkey. He led from the start, and maintained the lead during the round of pitsops, but was passed by Lewis Hamilton's three-stopping McLaren at the start of the second stint. Hamilton pulled away, but he did not have the pace to take the lead that was needed to make his third stop and still come out ahead of Massa. Massa was a full 7 seconds up the road by then and took his second win of the season, and his third consecutive at the circuit.
At Monaco Massa qualified on pole, to his surprise (he had mentioned prior to the weekend that he did not like the circuit) and built up a 15-second lead over Räikkönen in the rain, before that advantage was wiped out by the safety car. Soon Räikkönen was out of contention with a drive-through penalty. After the safety car went, Massa again started pulling away from Robert Kubica, but he ran up an escape road and lost the lead. Massa did jump Kubica in the pitstops but Lewis Hamilton's one-stopping McLaren was by now way ahead of both of them. During the pitstops, Massa was fueled to the end of the race and was struggling, holding Kubica up. The track dried out and Massa had to pit for dries while Kubica took his second fuel stop at the same time and jumped him. Massa thus finished third behind Hamilton and Kubica.
In the Canadian Grand Prix, Massa qualified down in 6th place. In the race there was a safety car due to an incident involving Adrian Sutil. All drivers pitted, but Massa had to pit twice due to a delay with his fuel rig, which put him down to 17th. Massa then staged a fightback, charging back up to fifth place by the end of the race. Two of Massa's title contenders failed to finish after Hamilton collided with a stationary Räikkönen in the pitlane, allowing Massa to equal Hamilton and jump ahaed of Räikkönen in the driver standings.
In the French Grand Prix, Massa qualified 2nd on the grid behind his teammate Räikkönen. Massa stayed some 3 to 4 seconds behind his teammate for the first half of the race. However, Räikkönen had a developing problem in his exhaust system, which allowed Massa to overtake him and win the race. This win gave Massa lead in the championship, 2 points ahead of Robert Kubica, 5 points ahead of Räikkönen and 10 points ahead of Hamilton. Massa was the first Brazilian to lead the championship since Ayrton Senna in the 1993 Formula One season.
In the British Grand Prix, Massa set the quickest time in 1st practice but immediately crashed. Things did not go any better during the rest of the weekend, as he had his season's worst qualifying down in 9th. In the wet race, while Hamilton dominated and Räikkönen finished fourth, things made a turn for the worse as he spun an embarrassing five times and finished last in 13th, over a lap down behind both his rivals. And so, at the end of the halfway stage of the season, Hamilton, Massa and Räikkönen were deadlocked on 48 points, with Robert Kubica only 2 points behind them.
The tenth round of the season was in Germany. Massa qualified 2nd behind Hamilton. He stayed second and was set to finish there until a crash involving Timo Glock brought out the safety car. Due to a miscommunication, Hamilton stayed out while the others, led by Massa pitted. However, when all the stops were over, Massa was behind Nelson Piquet, Jr. who had already pitted as he was on a one-stopper. Then, when a charging Hamilton came at him in the last 10 laps, Massa could not hold him off and subsequently finished third. After the race, Massa was 4 points behind Hamilton but 3 ahead of Räikkönen.
At the Hungarian Grand Prix, the McLarens who were looking dominant locked out the front row, and the best Massa could get was third. However, in the start itself, Massa passed both Heikki Kovalainen and pole sitter Hamilton on the run down to the first corner. He had the race in control from that point, and built up a five-second lead over Hamilton. When Hamilton suffered a puncture, Massa was left 20 seconds in front and seemed to have victory in the bag, but with 3 laps remaining he suffered an engine failure and so retired.
The twelfth round of the season, the European Grand Prix was in Valencia, Spain. Massa took pole position comfortably at this new circuit, and led right from the start. However, during one of his pitstops he was released early and almost touched wheels with Adrian Sutil who was already coming down the pitlane. Massa let Sutil go ahead so it only cost him a second, he won with ease, including setting the fastest lap. After the race, the stewards decided to fine Massa €10,000 for the incident with Sutil, but the victory stood and he was only 6 points behind Hamilton as well as being 7 ahead of Räikkönen.
The next race was Belgium, Massa qualified second behind Hamilton. He lost a place at the start to Räikkönen and stayed in third till Lap 42 of 44 when Hamilton passed Räikkönen for the lead, just after cutting a chicane. The two had more battles throughout that lap, which resulted in the Finn crashing out, promoting Massa to second. Hamilton crossed the line first, but was penalised 25 seconds by the stewards after the race for cutting the chicane, and so the win went to Massa putting him only 2 points behind Hamilton.
At Italy Ferrari's home race, the weekend was wet throughout, and Massa was off form too, qualifying only sixth, but he had a great chance to take the championship lead as Hamilton was down in 15th. During the race, Massa got up to third, but dropped back down to sixth after he pitted once more than most others. He finished there, but as Hamilton only finished seventh, there was only a 1 point gap now between them.
Massa took pole position for what was the first ever F1 night race and inaugural Singapore Grand Prix, beating Hamilton's best time by six tenths of a second. He maintained the lead at the start and after 14 laps, was over 5 seconds ahead of Hamilton. However, a crash for Nelson Piquet, Jr. brought out the safety car, bunching up all the cars. It was then time for the first round of stops and during his stop Massa was given the green light to go, but the refueller was still refuelling the car.
Massa left with the fuel rig attached and so had to stop at the end of the pitlane. The mechanics ran the whole length of the pitlane and finally removed the rig, but Massa was now last. He was then given a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release, and was 15 seconds behind the rest of the field. His race ruined, he finished 13th and Hamilton who finished 3rd was now 7 points ahead of him.
At the Japanese Grand Prix Massa struggled in qualifying, having to settle for 5th on the grid. Meanwhile, Hamilton, his main rival took pole position. t the start there was an incident between Hamilton and Räikkönen, dropping the former to sixth. Massa stayed fifth, a place in front of his rival. On the second lap, as Massa was stuck behind the slower car of Jarno Trulli, Hamilton tried to pass him. The result was a collision, with Hamilton spinning down to the back, and Massa dropping down to seventh. He was given a drive-through penalty for the incident, and found himself down in 14th. He made a charge up the order, setting the fastest lap on his way to getting 8th and one point. This became seventh after a controversial 25-second time penalty was issued to Sébastien Bourdais, who was judged by the stewards to have caused a collision with Massa whilst exiting the pitlane.
At the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix the following week Massa and teammate Räikkönen, despite strong performances at Fuji, struggled for pace the entire weekend, a situation which Domenicali (Ferrari team principal) could not explain. Massa qualified 3rd behind Räikkönen's Ferrari and title rival Hamilton. Following the pattern of the weekend Massa struggled to keep up with Hamilton, who raced away and maintained a comfortable margin. Whilst he eventually found some speed after the graining period on the medium compound tyres, he was unable to catch Hamilton. As Räikkönen yielded second place to keep Massa's title hopes alive, Hamilton pulled his lead out to 7 points in the Drivers championship.
Massa remained optimistic stating "For sure we are in a difficult position but we know many things can happen in one race" and "Always when you play at home you usually play better", as the last two years he finished strongly at Interlagos (a 1st in 2006 and a 2nd in 2007). At the last race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix the situation for Ferrari was: Felipe Massa was seven points behind Lewis Hamilton, meaning that Massa had to either finish first or second to win, and Hamilton had to be outside the top 5.
Qualifying went well, Massa qualifying on pole, while Räikkönen qualified 3rd, just ahead of Hamilton. There was a rainshower just before the start of the race, and thus all drivers started on intermediates. Massa maintained the lead, and after 10 laps everyone had to change to drys on a drying track. Although the order was shuffled, Massa still led. He dominated the rest of the race, set the fastest lap and won by 13 seconds even though everyone had to change to intermediates after a late rainshower. Hamilton, meanwhile, struggled for pace. He was lying fourth for most of the race until the late shower, behind Massa, Alonso and Räikkönen.
During the late shower, Timo Glock gambled on staying out on drys. He was fourth with Hamilton fifth. With three laps to go, Massa still led with Hamilton 5th. If the race stayed as it was Hamilton would win the Championship. Then Hamilton, having made a mistake, was passed by Sebastian Vettel, demoting him to 6th. Going into the last lap, if the order stayed as it was, then Massa would have been champion. Massa crossed the chequered flag and thought that he had won the championship. Hamilton was still sixth as he came up to the second-to-last corner, but then passed Glock who had just been overtaken by Vettel and who was struggling for grip on his dry tyres, and so this moved him into 5th place. Crossing the line Hamilton won the Drivers title by a just a single point. If he had tied points with Massa, by virtue of 6 victories to 5 in the season, Massa would have won the title.
Following the 2008 seasons F1.com called Massa "no more the nearly man" and emphatically stating he is "No more the Ferrari number two, Massa is now a contender". is maturity was also praised by Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo, commenting "I can only imagine how painful that moment must have been for him. However, I would like to give him my very special compliments, not only for dominating the running out there on the track in front of his fans, proving he is worthy indeed of the world title, but also for his maturity and sportsmanship off the track. He's a great champion and a great man."
During the course of the season, Massa had 6 pole positions - at the Malaysian, Turkish, Monaco, European, Singapore and Brazilian Grands Prix. He had 3 fastest laps - at the European, Japanese and Brazilian Grands Prix. He had 6 wins - at the Bahrain, Turkish, French, European, Belgian and the Brazilian Grands Prix.
Massa driving for Ferrari at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix