MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Felipe Massa remains hopeful that his friend and former Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher can pull out of an induced coma and return to health.
The retired seven-time Formula One champion suffered severe head injuries when he slammed into a rock while skiing off-piste in the French Alps resort of Meribel in December, and has been in a stable but critical condition in a hospital in the eastern French city of Grenoble since.
Schumacher's agent raised hope this week that the 45-year-old German might revive when she wrote of "small, encouraging signs" in his condition since doctors started lowering his sedation in January to wake him up from the induced coma.
"I keep praying and believe that things can be okay for him and he's coming back," Massa told reporters at Albert Park on Thursday ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
"I always think about him every day, pray for him every day.
"For sure it was a shame to see what's happened, but I keep thinking about him. He's on my helmet."
The 32-year-old Massa joined Ferrari as a test driver in 2003 during Schumacher's heyday and after two seasons with Sauber returned to the team in 2006 for the German's last season at Maranello.
Brazilian Massa spent several days in an induced coma in 2009 after being hit by a bouncing spring from another car and has led the tributes to Schumacher, the sport's most successful driver.
After eight years at Ferrari, largely overshadowed by twice world championship-winning team-mate Fernando Alonso, Massa has been replaced by 2007 champion Kimi Raikonnen at Maranello and moved to Williams, where he will be expected to take a leading role ahead of 24-year-old Finn Valtteri Bottas.
Despite coming off a wretched season in which they managed only five points and finished ninth in the constructors' championship, a revamped Williams arrive at Albert Park more confident after a good showing during pre-season testing.
"I feel the team is really motivated, they want to grow, to get better and get back to the times when Williams was there," Massa said of the once-formidable team that won nine constructors' titles from 1980 to 1997.
"I don't know how competitive we can be, compared to the other teams... maybe we can see ourselves fighting with them and being competitive with the top teams.
"I'm really looking forward and I think it can be a really nice season for us, but how nice I don't know."
Massa said in professional aspects, his new team was much the same as Ferrari, but admitted he was still getting used to the British style compared to the more animated personalities in the Ferrari garage.
"They are much more quiet," he said of his Williams colleagues.
"The Italians - they cannot talk without shaking the hands," he added, gesticulating.
"And I am like that, I'm from Brazil as well.
"Understanding the way they talk (at Willliams), because I haven't lived in England, is also new for me. It's nice. It's a nice experience, but definitely the mentality is pretty different."