FRob? Smassa? What to call one of Formula One’s most loved bromances?
With the news that Felipe Massa is to leave Ferrari after eight years comes the possibility that it could also be the end of Massa and Rob Smedley’s relationship as race engineer and driver.
Rob Smedley has worked as Massa’s race engineer since 2006, when the Brazilian’s relationship with Rubens Barrichello’s former race engineer did not quite work out. Since then they have been through a lot of memorable moments together – some good, some bad – and have obviously become good friends outside of the race-engineer/driver relationship. They have also enjoyed a number of wins, pole positions and podiums together. In a feature on Sky Sports F1 over the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix, Smedley revealed that he referred to Massa as ‘Philip’. It is just one of the terms of endearment given to Massa by Smedley. He is often heard over team radio saying “good lad”, “good boy”, or as was case at the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix “Felipe baby”.
“Felipe baby” is still a fan favourite four years on. When the Malaysian Grand Prix was red flagged due to monsoon-like conditions, Massa got on the team radio to ask for a white visor. He sounded quite urgent about it and what was Smedley’s response? “Felipe baby, stay cool – we’re bringing you the white visor”. At the next race Massa was forced to rebuke the name, stating he was not a baby. In a feature with the pair at the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix, Massa revealed that he was always called baby in China.
From the funny to the emotional now. When Massa lost out on the 2008 world championship by the narrowest of margins, he shared an emotional moment with his race engineer over the team radio.
Smedley: “I think you’ve done, what I can only say is, a very good job. You’ve done a very very good job. Well done son, I’m very very proud of you.”
A tearful sounding Massa replied: “I am very proud of you anyway. I would have been even more with the championship but anyway, thank you”
And who can forget the infamous, and very pointed, “Fernando is faster than you” message from Germany 2010? “Can you confirm you understood that message?” Smedley asked, after clearly stating the above. When Massa resisted defence and let Alonso pull a move on him Smedley came back on the radio. “Ok mate, good lad. Stick with him now. Sorry”.
In the feature broadcast by Sky Sports F1 over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Smedley referred to things that annoyed him about Massa but said, like having a wife, you just get used to them. He also recalled Massa’s horrific accident during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Smedley called that the “darkest moment of [his] career. What you’ve seen is, you’ve nearly seen your mate get killed.” The pair recalled a time Smedley had gone to visit Massa in hospital. “You were asking about Valencia, which was going to be a week after that,” Smedley revealed. “It was kind of like when you go and visit a very old relative who you kind of just have to appease by going ‘yes, yes that’s right, we’re going to do that’.”
What is clear is that the pair have become very close during their time working together. What is unclear, is what is next for the pair of them. They still have seven races left together at Ferrari, when they can hopefully provide more moments like “Felipe baby”. But after that… who knows? Will Smedley become Kimi Raikkonen’s engineer? Will he move onto another team? He has been with Ferrari for ten years, having previously worked for Jordan F1 and the Williams British Touring Car team. Of course there is also the possibility that Massa gets a drive elsewhere and Smedley joins him, and the Massa/Smedley story continues for a while yet…