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Massa ready to be a leader at Williams

Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil drives during the second practice session of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 23, 2013. REUTER
Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil drives during the second practice session of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 23, 2013. REUTER

By Alan Baldwin

GROVE, England (Reuters) - Williams might be seen as a step down for Felipe Massa after eight years at Ferrari but he sees it more as a chance to step up and become a leader, as well as following in the footsteps of illustrious compatriots.

The little Brazilian has been a loyal sidekick to a string of Formula One champions since he first arrived as a race driver at Maranello in 2006.

Massa was there alongside seven times champion Michael Schumacher, helped Kimi Raikkonen take the 2007 title and has made way for double champion Fernando Alonso more times than he would care to remember.

On Monday, the 32-year-old - casually dressed after flying in from Italy with his father - was presented to the assembled Williams factory workforce as the former champions' new signing for 2014 on a multi-year contract.

"I know I have a lot to give to this team and I am really ready to lead," he told Reuters in the team museum, in front of grand prix cars bearing the names of Brazilian greats Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, as well as Rubens Barrichello and Bruno Senna.

"I definitely see myself coming here as a leader for the team. A leader for a very important change inside this team, to put this team in a good position in the championship," added Massa.

"I am really ready for that, happy. I feel very motivated. I hope we can do a fantastic job."

Massa has 11 wins with Ferrari to his credit and missed out on the 2008 championship by a single point to Britain's Lewis Hamilton.

Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams told Reuters that Massa was just the man to drive on a team fallen on tough times and struggling to reclaim its place among the elite.

"I think Felipe is looking for that new challenge, to lead the team into success," she said. "We firmly believe he can do that for us.

"We don't have a team leader per se....(but) in the psychological sense, he will be the team leader in that he has the most experience to bring to the team next year."

HEAD INJURY

While he has not won a race since 2008, the year before he suffered a near-fatal head injury at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and has stood on the podium only once this season with a third place in Spain, the Brazilian believed he had plenty to offer.

"I believe I can win races, I believe I can do a great job together with Williams," he said. "When I don't think that any more, I will not race any more.

"I think I can achieve a lot with this team because Williams is a big team...they have all the infrastructure to do a good car," continued the Sao Paulo driver, whose final race for Ferrari will be in his home city this month.

"Williams wants to have me inside the team and that's really important. It gives me a lot of motivation to start something from zero."

The regulations are changing significantly next season, with a new V6 turbo engine and energy recovery systems, and Williams are switching to Mercedes power from Renault.

The winners of nine constructors' titles between 1980 and 1997 have a lot of ground to make up as well.

Massa replaces Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, with Finland's Valtteri Bottas staying, at a team whose ranking has fallen so low that this year is their worst ever season with just one point on the board.

Where others might see a struggle ahead, the Brazilian - whose Ferrari seat has gone to the returning Raikkonen - saw only potential and had no doubt he had made the right choice.

"It's very nice to be in this team, a team that was very important for Brazil and I hope will be again very important for Brazil," he said.

"This year is not a good year for Williams but looking at how the rules will change for next year...I think it's a good time to come here.

"It's a very important team which wants to grow and go back to what they were before in the past. I am really excited for that."

Next year will be the first time Massa has raced a Formula One car without a Ferrari engine in the back of it and he said he was eager to get started.

"It will be a big change but I am really convinced that the new engine we are going to have next year is good and they (Mercedes) know what to do," he said.

"We need to work on the car now."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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