© Getty Images

F1 2016 Driver Review: Felipe Massa

1 Comment

Felipe Massa

Team: Williams
Car No.: 19
Races: 21
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Australia, Russia)
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 53
Laps Led: 0
Championship Position: 11th

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Felipe Massa’s swansong Formula 1 season failed to offer any headline results, with the Brazilian appearing off the boil compared to Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas. Sure, the Williams FW38 car tailed off in the development race during the middle of the season, but Massa still struggled to match the Finn for pace.

Like Bottas, Massa enjoyed his best results in the early part of the year when the Williams car was at its strongest. P5s in Australia and Russia were solid results, but the middle of the season offered a barren spell. From Canada to Malaysia, he scored just four points.

A late upturn followed, the highlight being seventh in Austin, but Massa’s time was already up after he announced over the Monza weekend that 2016 would be his last season racing in F1.

Massa got the chance to say an emotional goodbye to his home fans in Brazil, even if it came in rather unfortunate circumstances; being met by a standing ovation after crashing out has the makings of an oxymoron.

Alas, they were evocative images that really did sum up Massa’s career: class, grace and gratitude. No, he was never World Champion, but he did capture the hearts of a nation. Obrigado, Felipe.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Felipe Massa bows out of F1 at just the right time, where it appears he was if not entirely still at the top of his game, he was still close enough to it. You don’t want to be a driver that hangs on a year or two too long, where past glories got further away and you’re found languishing at the back of the field.

Admittedly the magical Massa moments he’d delivered in spurts in 2014 and 2015 were harder to find this year. Massa scored 36 of his 53 points in the first five races through Spain, all finishes in the top eight, while he only broke through into the top eight once in the final 16 races (seventh at Austin). That lack of production hindered Williams in its goal of hanging on to fourth in the Constructor’s Championship, and ultimately saw them fall behind Force India.

That said, Massa got his thoroughly deserved moment in the sun – or rain, as it were – on home soil in Sao Paulo after his accident just prior to pit lane. We don’t get many genuine emotional tear-jerkers like that these days, but the admiration the paddock has for him was special to witness. And with that out of the way, Massa delivered a near perfect final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi with no pressure whatsoever, defending brilliantly against his old Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso for ninth.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne