Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson

Everything you need to know for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington

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One of NASCAR’s toughest tests comes this Saturday night, as the venerable Darlington Raceway hosts the Sprint Cup Series for the first time on its new April date.

The 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval is one of the series’ most historic tracks and one of its most difficult as well. Not many cars emerge from a Darlington race without having met up with the wall at some point, giving it a “Darlington stripe.”

And after being repaved in 2008, time has weathered the ‘new’ track to the point where some of its old, abrasive characteristics have returned – adding another obstacle for drivers.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the important numbers and notes you need to know going into Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 – Round 8 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

DARLINGTON-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/ Red Cross Ford)
· Two wins, two top fives, five top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 13.9
· Average Running Position of 10.3, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 107.5, third-best
· Series-high 286 Fastest Laps Run
· 452 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.878 mph, fifth-fastest
· 2,441 Laps in the Top 15 (73.7%), fifth-most
· 291 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), third-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· One win, two top fives, five top 10s
· Average finish of 14.4
· Average Running Position of 9.0, third-best
· Driver Rating of 106.2, fifth-best
· 230 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· 492 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.996 mph, third-fastest
· 2,790 Laps in the Top 15 (84.3%), second-most
· Series-high 337 Quality Passes

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· Three top fives, eight top 10s
· Average finish of 14.9
· Average Running Position of 12.2, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.4, 10th-best
· 547 Green Flag Passes, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.451 mph, 11th-fastest
· 2,277 Laps in the Top 15 (68.8%), eighth-most
· 273 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford EcoBoost Ford)
· Three top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 12.5
· Average Running Position of 12.8, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 93.4, ninth-best
· 151 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· 480 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.593 mph, ninth-fastest
· 2,248 Laps in the Top 15 (67.9%), ninth-most
· 279 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet)
· Seven wins, 19 top fives, 22 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 11.5
· Series-best Average Running Position of 8.1
· Series-best Driver Rating of 111.8
· 194 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 160.130 mph
· Series-high 2,982 Laps in the Top 15 (90.1%)
· 272 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota)
· One win, four top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 5.4
· Average Running Position of 8.6, second-best
· Driver Rating of 108.9, second-best
· 182 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.977 mph, fourth-fastest
· 2,488 Laps in the Top 15 (84.6%), fourth-most
· 266 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 KOBALT Tools Chevrolet)
· Three wins, eight top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 8.8
· Average Running Position of 9.9, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 107.5, fourth-best
· 233 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· 485 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 160.069 mph, second-fastest
· 2,504 Laps in the Top 15 (75.6%), third-most
· 252 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet)
· Three top fives, four top 10s; four poles
· Average finish of 14.2
· Average Running Position of 10.4, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 99.1, sixth-best
· 217 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.655 mph, eighth-fastest
· 2,318 Laps in the Top 15 (70.0%), seventh-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· One win, two top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 16.7
· Average Running Position of 14.3, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.9, 11th-best
· 113 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 469 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.346 mph, 12th-fastest
· 223 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
· Seven top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.3
· Average Running Position of 11.6, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 95.8, seventh-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.708 mph, seventh-fastest
· 2,425 Laps in the Top 15 (73.3%), sixth-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet)
· Four top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 12.0
· Average Running Position of 13.9, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 89.6, 12th-best
· 105 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· Series-high 563 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.535 mph, 10th-fastest
· 2,144 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), 11th-most
· 300 Quality Passes, second-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 11.4
· Average Running Position of 12.4, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.8, eighth-best
· 125 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 510 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.745 mph, sixth-fastest
· 250 Quality Passes, ninth-most

source:

Darlington Raceway Track Data
Season Race #: 8 of 36 (04-12-14)
Track Size: 1.366-miles
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 25 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 23 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 6 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 6 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Race Length: 367 laps / 501.3 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Darlington
Jeff Gordon………………………… 111.8
Denny Hamlin………………………. 108.9
Greg Biffle………………………….. 107.5
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 107.5
Kyle Busch…………………………. 106.2
Kasey Kahne………………………… 99.1
Ryan Newman……………………….. 95.8
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 94.8
Carl Edwards………………………… 93.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 91.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (nine total) among active drivers at Darlington Raceway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light pole winner: Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 181.918 mph, 27.032 secs., May 10, 2013
2013 race winner: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 141.383 mph, (03:32:45), May 11, 2013
Track qualifying record: Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 181.918 mph, 27.032 secs., May 10, 2013
Track race record: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 141.383 mph, (03:32:45), May 11, 2013

Darlington Raceway History
· Darlington Raceway was built as a 1.25-mile paved superspeedway in 1949-1950.
· Darlington Raceway hosted the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history and the first on asphalt on Sept. 4, 1950. – won by Johnny Mantz.
· The track was re-measured to 1.375 miles in 1953.
· The track was re-configured to 1.366 miles following the spring race in 1970.
· The track was repaved in 1995.
· The 2005 race was the first Saturday night race at Darlington.
· The track was repaved again prior to the 2008 season.

Darlington Raceway Notebook
· There have been 110 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington Raceway. The 1.366-mile track has hosted the fourth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races.
· 702 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway; 426 in more than one.
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Darlington with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 33 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 27.
· Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Darlington in 1950 with a speed of 82.034 mph.
· 47 drivers have Coors Light poles at Darlington, led by David Pearson with 12. Kasey Kahne leads all active drivers with four.
· Nine drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Darlington. David Pearson holds the record for most consecutive poles at Darlington with five (1975 – 1977).
· Youngest Darlington pole winner: Kurt Busch (09/02/2001 – 23 years, 0 months, 29 days).
· Oldest Darlington pole winner: David Pearson (09/06/1982 – 47 years, 8 months, 15 days).
· 46 different drivers have won at Darlington Raceway, led by David Pearson with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven.
· Youngest Darlington winner: Kyle Busch (05/10/2008 – 23 years, 0 months, 8 days).
· Oldest Darlington winner: Harry Gant (09/01/1991 – 51 years, 7 months, 22 days).
· Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Darlington in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 14.
· 11 different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Darlington; led by Chevrolet with 40 victories; followed by Ford with 28.
· 19 of the 110 (17.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Dale Jarrett in 1997. NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson has won from the pole four times at Darlington – the series’ most.
· The Coors Light pole starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (19) than any other starting position at Darlington. The outside front row (second-place) has produced the second most wins (17).
· 36 of the 110 (32.7%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from the front row: 19 from the pole and 17 from second-place.
· 95 of the 110 (86.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Darlington have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Six of the 110 (5.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Darlington was 43rd by Johnny Mantz in 1950 – the inaugural NSCS event.
· Buddy Baker and Richard Petty are tied for theseries most runner-up finishes at Darlington with eight each. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in second-place finishes at Darlington with four.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Darlington with 25. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19.
· Bill Elliott leads the series in top-10 finishes at Darlington with 35. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 22.
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Darlington with a 6.758.
· Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Darlington with a 5.375.
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers have an average finish in the top 10 at Darlington: Denny Hamlin (5.3) and Jimmie Johnson (8.8).
· 13 drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Darlington; Dale Earnhardt (1989-1990)and Jeff Gordon (1995-1996)are tied for theseries lead in consecutive wins at Darlington with three each.
· All six active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Darlington Raceway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Among active drivers, Kyle Busch won at Darlington in the fewest previous appearances (three).
· Matt Kenseth competed at Darlington Raceway 19 times before winning last season; the longest span of any the six active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington without visiting Victory Lane at 27.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington Raceway was the (03/16/2003) race won by Ricky Craven with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2011 Talladega race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring.
· There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Darlington Raceway: 2005 (367/370), 2011 (367/370) and 2012 (367/368).
· Eight of the 110 races at Darlington Raceway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the fall race of 2000.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington Raceway five times; most recently was the fall race of 2004.
· Terry Labonte (09/04/1978) made his series debut at Darlington Raceway.
· Ken Schrader (03/29/1987), Kurt Busch (09/02/2001) and Clint Bowyer (05/13/2007) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Darlington.
· Regan Smith (05/07/2011) and Terry Labonte (09/01/1980) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Darlington.
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Darlington with 1,736 laps led in 33 starts.
· Three female drivers have competed at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:

  • Janet Guthrie, Southern 500, Sept. 5, 1977 – Started 26th, Finished 16th
  • Shawna Robinson, Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, March 17, 2002 – Started 42nd, Finished 42nd
  • Danica Patrick, Bojangles’ Southern 500 – Finished 31st  in 2012, Finished 28th in 2013

NASCAR in South Carolina
· There have been 220 NASCAR Sprint Cup races among 10 tracks in South Carolina. Darlington has hosted 110 of them. The other tracks are: Columbia Speedway (43), Greenville-Pickens Speedway (29), Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds (Spartanburg, 22), Rambi Race Track (Myrtle Beach, 9), Coastal Speedway (Myrtle Beach, 2), Lancaster Speedway (2), Gamecock Speedway (Sumter, 1), Hartsville Speedway (1), and Newberry Speedway (1)
· 133 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as South Carolina.
· 11 drivers from South Carolina have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; eight have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

  • David Pearson – 105 Cup wins, 1 NNS win
  • Cale Yarborough – 83 Cup
  • Rex White – 28 Cup
  • Cotton Owens – 9 Cup
  • Tiny Lund – 5 Cup
  • James Hylton – 2 Cup
  • Johnny Allen – 1 Cup
  • Joe Eubanks – 1 Cup
  • Larry Pearson – 15 NNS
  • Jason Keller – 10 NNS
  • Butch Lindley – 6 NNS

Franchitti praises INDYCAR’s direction with ’18 renders, urges series not to rush Halo

ST PETERSBURG, FL - MARCH 29:  Former driver Dario Franchitti of Scotland stands on pit wall prior to qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at the Streets of St. Petersburg on March 29, 2014 in St Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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BIRMINGHAM, UK – Dario Franchitti has praised INDYCAR’s plans to revamp the bodykits used in the Verizon IndyCar Series from 2018, calling the series’ direction “fabulous”.

Franchitti raced in IndyCar between 1997 and 2013, claiming four championships overall, three with Chip Ganassi Racing (first with Andretti Autosport in 2007) before being forced to call time on his career after sustaining injuries in a crash at Houston. The Scotsman remains heavily involved with the series as an advisor to the Ganassi team.

Following INDYCAR’s release of the first car renders for 2018, Franchitti was quick to praise the series’ officials for moving away from the “ugly” aerokits currently being used.

“The drawing of the rending is just that right now, but the direction they’re going in is fabulous,” Franchitti told NBC Sports at Autosport International.

“I talked to Jay Frye quite a bit about what I felt was wrong with the current body kit.

“And I believe that all the drivers sung from the same song sheet of wanting more underbody downforce, get rid of all this top side nonsense. Make the cars look a bit better again, because the car has got quite ugly.

“I have to say that his team have listened to everybody. They know the direction they want to go in now. I think it’s going to be good.”

Part of INDYCAR’s five-year plan discussed in Detroit included further discussions regarding the introduction of cockpit protection, with the Halo device tested in Formula 1 on the table.

“I think everybody is looking at [Halo], but it has to be done in the right way,” Franchitti said.

“We’re here in the UK, it makes you think of Dan and Justin. We lost both of those guys to head injuries. Would they have survived with a Halo? Who knows.

“But if it’s going to be done, it’s got to be done right. And there are so many unintended consequences when you do that.

“You don’t want to rush into it, but you want to introduce it as quickly as possible.”

Franchitti also previewed the 2017 IndyCar season, set to start in St. Petersburg on March 12, and is intrigued to see how the fight between defending champion team Penske and Honda-returnee Ganassi plays out, as well as how a number of drivers fare with new teams.

“The driver market a wee bit obviously with Sato to Andretti, Newgarden to Penske, the Foyt guys have changed around,” Franchitti said.

“Bourdais has gone to Dale Coyne. Dale Coyne seems to have really strengthened his team.

“And then us with the Ganassi team going back to Honda. There are some big changes there. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

“That’s going to be the interesting fact because last year the two big teams had Chevy. Now it’s split. It’s going to be fascinating how it all plays out.

“We’ve tested the car. I can’t say much about it, but it will be an interesting season.”

Timeline: Tracking six weeks that flipped the 2017 F1 driver market

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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The waiting is finally over. After six or so weeks of speculation, rumors and theories about who might replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas was finally unveiled by the team as its second Formula 1 driver for 2017 on Monday.

Bottas’ arrival from Williams has been expected since about the middle of December, making the news hardly surprising. Nevertheless, it is still highly significant.

With Pascal Wehrlein joining Sauber and Felipe Massa due to return at Williams, the driver market is – for now – complete. We still wait for news on Manor’s future after it entered administration earlier this month.

Can’t remember all that has happened since Nico dropped the mic and walked away from F1? Here’s a timeline of events to refresh your memory.

November 27 – Nico Rosberg clinches his maiden F1 world title in Abu Dhabi, finishing second in the race to win the championship by five points. Felipe Massa makes what was planned to be his final F1 start.

December 2 – Rosberg announces his immediate retirement from F1 in a press conference ahead of the FIA gala in Vienna, Austria.

December 3 – Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda says he has received calls from half the F1 grid enquiring about Rosberg’s seat.

December 4 – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel dismisses the suggestion he could leave Ferrari and take Rosberg’s seat for 2017. Lewis Hamilton claims he’s not chasing number one status at Mercedes following Rosberg’s departure.

December 6 – Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff admits the team has to consider Fernando Alonso for the vacant seat, but hints a deal for 2017 would be unlikely.

December 8 – Mercedes posts a tongue-in-cheek advert in Autosport magazine regarding its driver vacancy for 2017.

December 9 – Former manager and long-term confidante of Alonso, Flavio Briatore, says that the Spaniard will not take Rosberg’s seat.

December 11 – Hamilton and Wolff enjoy an “amazing” meeting regarding plans for the 2017 season. Hamilton says Mercedes will have “the strongest partnership” to defend its titles. BBC Sport reports that Valtteri Bottas is Mercedes’ prime target and has already tabled an offer for the Finn.

December 13 – Alonso tells the entire McLaren team at its base in England that he remains committed to the project, ending speculation about a possible move.

December 14 – Williams’ Pat Symonds says that keeping Bottas is “crucial” to the team’s future success.

December 15 – Mercedes confirms that it will make no announcement regarding Rosberg’s replacement until January 3 at the earliest. Claire Williams says that Williams was open to letting Bottas leave, relying it could find a suitable replacement.

December 16 – Red Bull F1 chief Christian Horner says he would not allow junior driver Carlos Sainz Jr. to take Rosberg’s seat.

December 20 – Reports suggest that Massa has agreed to come out of retirement and return to Williams for 2017, paving the way for Bottas to leave the team.

December 30 – Massa posts on Instagram that he is back “training hard” in America.

January 3 – The earliest date for an announcement from Mercedes passes.

January 4 – Mercedes confirms it will launch its 2017 F1 car, the W08, at Silverstone on February 23.

January 6 – Manor – the team Wehrlein raced for last year – enters administration, raising doubts over the team’s future and place on the 2017 grid.

January 15 – Claire Williams says she expects to make an announcement about Bottas’ future within a week.

January 16 – Pascal Wehrlein is officially announced by Sauber; photos of Bottas in Mercedes team gear leak online; Williams confirms Massa will return; finally, Bottas is announced officially at Mercedes.

Valtteri Bottas joins Mercedes F1 for 2017 season as Rosberg’s replacement

Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City, Mexico.
Sunday 30 October 2016.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams Martini Racing.
Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Williams
ref: Digital Image _X4I0171
© Williams Martini Racing
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Valtteri Bottas has officially joined Mercedes AMG Petronas ahead of the 2017 Formula 1 season, replacing World Champion Nico Rosberg.

The long-expected announced was made by Mercedes on Monday, putting an end to six weeks of speculation in the wake of Rosberg’s decision to walk away from F1.

It followed two other announcements made the same morning, with Pascal Wehrlein going to Sauber and, more importantly for Mercedes’ case, Williams Martini Racing’s release of Bottas to Mercedes and confirmation Felipe Massa would come back for one more year.

Mercedes still managed to have fun with the now worst-kept secret in F1, building up the “suspense” on Twitter:

And then Mercedes made it official, via a live video from its factory in Brackley.

Bottas joins Mercedes for his fifth season in F1, having raced with Williams since 2013 and recorded a best finish of fourth in the drivers’ championship in 2014.

The Finn led Williams to third place in the constructors’ championship in 2014 and 2015, scoring nine podium finishes during his time with the team.

Mercedes had been due to field an unchanged line-up of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in 2017, only for Rosberg to announce his immediate retirement from racing five days after winning his maiden F1 title in Abu Dhabi.

The news sent the F1 driver market into a late flux, with Bottas appearing towards the top of Mercedes’ shortlist alongside its in-house junior driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Mercedes decided against promoting Wehrlein due to his inexperience, having only completed one season in F1, leaving Bottas as its prime target.

Bottas had re-signed with Williams for 2017, rejecting a move to Renault, and had been set to partner 18-year-old Lance Stroll during his rookie campaign.

Mercedes’ first approach for Bottas included Wehrlein as part of the deal, only for Williams to reject the German on account of his inexperience and the need to have at least one driver over the age of 25, as per a requirement for title sponsor Martini.

Williams found a solution by luring Felipe Massa out of retirement, the Brazilian having raced for the British team since 2014.

Massa said an emotional farewell to F1 in Abu Dhabi, but is now set to return for at least one more season to help the team develop its new car, the FW40, during a period of regulation change.

With Massa agreeing to return for 2017, Williams gave the green light for Bottas to join Mercedes, ending the six-week waiting game that had played out.

Having missed out on seats at Mercedes and Williams, Wehrlein is now due to race for Sauber in 2017, replacing Felipe Nasr at the Swiss team.

The only remaining seats on the F1 grid for 2017 are at Manor, which is yet to confirm either of its drivers amid ongoing takeover talks with American-Mexican investor Tavo Hellmund.

2017 Formula 1 driver line-ups

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton/Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo/Max Verstappen
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel/Kimi Raikkonen
Force India: Sergio Perez/Esteban Ocon
Williams: Felipe Massa*/Lance Stroll
McLaren: Fernando Alonso/Stoffel Vandoorne
Toro Rosso: Carlos Sainz Jr./Daniil Kvyat
Haas: Romain Grosjean/Kevin Magnussen
Sauber: Marcus Ericsson/Pascal Wehrlein
Manor: TBA/TBA

Felipe Massa backtracks on F1 retirement, confirms Williams return for ’17

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 13:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams stands with a Brazilian flag for his last home Grand Prix with his son Felipinho on the drivers parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 13, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Less than six weeks after making what was set to be his final start in Formula 1, Felipe Massa has confirmed his return to the grid for 2017 with Williams, on a one-year deal.

The news was announced by the team on Monday, completing its line-up for the 2017 campaign ahead of the season-opener in Australia on March 26.

“Firstly, I am very happy to have an opportunity to return to Williams. I always intended to race somewhere in 2017, but Williams is a team close to my heart and I have respect for everything it is trying to achieve,” Massa said. “Valtteri has a great opportunity, given the turn of events over the winter, and I wish him all the best at Mercedes.

“In turn, when I was offered the chance to help Williams with their 2017 Formula One campaign, it felt like the right thing to do. I certainly have not lost any of my enthusiasm for racing and I’m extremely motivated to be coming back to drive the FW40. The support from my fans over the last few weeks has been a huge boost and I’m grateful for that. I also look forward to working with Lance; I’ve known him for many years and seen his talent develop during that time, so I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.”

Claire Williams, deputy team principal, added the experience Massa will bring should help the team this season.

“I’m delighted that Felipe has agreed to come out of retirement to be a part of our 2017 campaign. With Valtteri having a unique opportunity to join the current Constructors’ Champions, we have been working hard to ensure that an agreement could be made with Mercedes to give Valtteri this fantastic opportunity,” she said.

“Valtteri has been part of the Williams family since 2010 and in that time has proved a huge talent, securing nine podium finishes. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him on behalf of the whole team, and wish him a successful season as he joins Mercedes.

“Felipe has always been a much-loved member of the Williams family, and having the opportunity to work with him again is something we all look forward to. He was always going to race somewhere in 2017, as he has not lost that competitive spirit, and it was important that we had a strong replacement in order for us to let Valtteri go. Felipe re-joining us provides stability, experience and talent to help lead us forward. He is a great asset for us.

Massa, 35, announced in September that he would be retiring from F1 racing at the end of the 2016 season, making way for 18-year-old Lance Stroll to take his seat alongside Valtteri Bottas at Williams.

Massa made what would have been his final start in Abu Dhabi, having said an emotional farewell to his home fans in Brazil two weeks earlier in some of the most powerful scenes of the 2016 season.

However, following Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to retire from F1 just five days after winning his maiden world title, Mercedes identified Bottas as its primary target to replace the German.

Williams was offered a discount on power units and the services of Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein in return for releasing Bottas from his contract for 2017, but rejected the proposal.

Williams stressed it wanted a racer more experienced that Wehrlein – an F1 sophomore for the coming season – to aid the development of its new car through the change in technical regulations for 2017. The team also requires at least one driver over the age of 25 to satisfy sponsor Martini, an alcohol brand.

Williams instead turned to Massa and put together a deal to bring the Brazilian out of retirement for 2017 that was accepted in the lead up to the holiday season.

Following Jenson Button’s decision to step back from an F1 seat for 2017, Massa will be the third-most experienced driver on the grid for the forthcoming season, with Australia due to be his 251st race start.

Of the active drivers racing in F1, only Fernando Alonso (278) and Kimi Raikkonen (251) have made more appearances than Massa.