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Massa: Ferrari was My University

Felipe Massa has graduated from the Ferrari university after being given a Formula One masterclass by Michael Schumacher.

Now the young Brazilian is back at Sauber, ready to show them that the rough-edged novice they let go in 2002 has learnt his lesson.

Massa, who is managed by the son of Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt after a year of testing with the Maranello team, joins Italian Giancarlo Fisichella at Sauber.

"I'm very happy to be back," he said at the launch in Austria of the new C23 car on Monday. "Every year in Formula One you learn. Working with Michael and Rubens (Barrichello) was great for me, I was at most of the races and in most of the meetings and I think it was very important for me. It was like a university.

"Now I am just looking forward. I did 15,000 km at Ferrari and I have to say it was a great experience."

Massa, now 22, was 20 when he arrived at Sauber and he carved out a reputation as a driver with impressive speed but who also crashed a lot. For a small privately-run team like Sauber, with limited resources, the experience was costly and Massa was sent off to continue his education at Ferrari.

"He was very fast with good reactions but he was too young," said Peter Sauber on Monday. "His technical expertise was not good enough for Formula One."

Sauber and Ferrari have a close relationship, with the former using the champions' engines and gearbox and making both drivers available for testing. Massa, seen by some as a possible heir to Schumacher at the team when the six times champion decides to go, said he had benefited from it.

"In Formula One experience is very important," he said. "You learn and grow up year by year. You learn from your mistakes and I think I have learned a lot because last year I made very few mistakes, just spun a few times.

"I saw how they (the Ferrari drivers) worked and talked to their engineers, with everyone in the team. Michael has 14 years in Formula One, he won six Championships, it was great to have this kind of experience. He's a great driver, very technical and very concentrated. He is strong in good or bad situations."

Massa admitted he had been unhappy when Sauber told him he was being replaced for 2003 but now had to agree that the cigar-smoking Swiss had done him a favour.

"I think he was maybe right in one sense," he said.

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