Pity the poor F1 driver in the run-up to a Grand Prix. Felipe Massa must know what the inside of every Ferrari dealer on the planet looks like by now, but fair play to him, that big goofy smile of his rarely slips. Even if he's surely wondering whether he'll still be driving for the Scuderia next year.
We caught up with him ahead of this Sunday's British GP at Silverstone at the opening of Ferrari's swanky new London Atelier, a shiny space at the back of the five-star Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. Ferrari already has one of these in Maranello, and plans to open more in its biggest markets.
Confronted by paint swatches, bits of leather and an options book the size of Tokyo's telephone book, the plan is to get Ferrari owners to ‘personalise' their new cars. And it works. Apparently, London dealer HR Owen hasn't delivered a 458 Italia worth less than £200,000 yet (list price £169,000), and there's one in the UK that cost its proud owner a whopping £270,000. Yes, 101 grand on options. Sheesh.
Massa, meanwhile, owns a black California and a white 599 GTO. ‘I never thought I'd have a white Ferrari,' he told topgear.com, ‘but I just fell in love with the colour. It has a dark grey roof, and my own personal sign on it, too. The California is the family car. My son's 18 months old, and he fits in it.'
As Ferrari struggles to improve this year's intermittently competitive F1 car, and get on terms with Red Bull and McLaren, Massa effortlessly bats away questions about the inevitable pressures.
‘When you drive for a big team like Ferrari, there's always pressure. It's a team that a lot of people are watching and supporting, so it's normal to have this sort of pressure. Most drivers would love to have this sort of pressure, it's a good thing.'
He's a nice guy, is Felipe, and we'd like to see him on form again, if only to put panto villain Alonso back in his box. AND so that we can hear more of his comedy exchanges with his Mancunian race engineer and all-round good guy, Rob Smedley. Massa smiles when I mention that their radio comms have provided endless entertainment for a good portion of British F1 fans. ‘The way we work together is quite deep,' he admits, ‘and we are great friends outside of work. I hope we can have a great weekend, for Ferrari but also for Rob because he's from here.'
Finally, there's a nod of approval for the V6 turbos that will be powering F1 cars from 2014. Massa's boss Luca di Montezemolo, who slated plans for four-pot turbos, has given the new formula the thumbs-up. ‘It's always difficult to say before you've tried it, but it's a good direction,' Massa says, ‘especially to develop the technology of the future.'
But surely a V12 is the way forward, I say, tongue wedged firmly in cheek...
‘Well, drivers always want the strongest engine with the most amount of
Amen to that.