With reports of Felipe Massa coming out of retirement already to rejoin Williams, we can’t help but feel a little disappointed.
With Valtteri Bottas seemingly set to race for Mercedes in 2017, Williams are looking to pull Felipe Massa out of retirement to replace him. Incredibly, it seems that Massa is actually keen to race for another year.
I find this a bit disappointing. It basically confirms that Massa didn’t want to retire at all, but when faced with losing his seat at Williams he decided to bow out on his own terms to avoid his F1 career trailing off like his countryman, Rubens Barrichello.
What a way to retire as well. What happened in Brazil was pretty much a unique event unlikely to be repeated ever again; in more than 20 years of watching F1 it was the first event that has genuinely moved me to tears.
It was the perfect end (Abu Dhabi notwithstanding) to his career – in 2008 he went from thinking he was champion to learning he wasn’t in 30 seconds, but the dignified way he dealt with it was awesome. Just awesome. Even though I’m a big Felipe fan I almost think it’s better that he didn’t win it in the end, because we wouldn’t have had that moment.
Brazil 2016 was a near-perfect parallel. Crashing out of his last home race will have been the last thing he wanted but it meant we got to watch him walk back to the pits, draped in his flag, getting a reception from the crowd, the marshals, the teams. Just like in 2008, a negative moment ended up being an overwhelming positive.
But if he came back? That farewell, that moment, those feelings – all of it would suddenly lose a lot of it’s significance and, in all honesty, I’d feel a bit cheated.
But this is Formula 1, a sport, a business. My personal feelings don’t matter. Williams want Massa back because he’s experienced and he knows the team, and with an 18-year-old rookie in the other car and new regulations next year, that’s absolutely invaluable. Apparently.
I see it the other way. F1 is changing next year. The cars will be different. The tyres will be different. Yes, the experience and knowledge of Massa will be a benefit, but he’ll also have to do a degree of learning as well. For almost four months he’s been under the impression he won’t be driving next year. How much interest has he taken into what’s going on next year, not just with Williams, but in general? Even if he does want to race next year, how much motivation can he stir up to drive for a team that wanted to replace him with a teenager and will likely want to replace him with someone else in 2018?
And when they do come to replace him in 2018, how is the situation going to be any better? It’s not like there’s suddenly going to be a fresh batch of fast and experienced drivers around and they’ll have to go with someone young and inexperienced anyway! It’s not like that’s even a bad thing – in 2015 Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz didn’t seem to need an experienced hand in the other car to help them out. They were young, motivated and talented, and they learned how to make things work for them. Lance Stroll will be exactly the same.
For my money it’s better for Williams take a little bit of pain now with two inexperienced drivers and look at the long term. With a solid year of F1 experience behind him and three years in the professional environment of DTM, Pascal Wehrlein seems like an ideal choice. It’s a bit of a risk, sure, but this is Formula 1 – not exactly a risk-averse environment, is it? Then again, what do I know!
Bringing Massa back is a short-term solution. But F1 loves a short-term solution, doesn’t it?