Smedley: Massa has more freedom at Williams

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Williams’ head of vehicle development Rob Smedley has explained how Felipe Massa is feeling more relaxed and has more freedom at the British team than he enjoyed at Ferrari.

Smedley worked as Massa’s race engineer at Ferrari from 2006 until the end of last season, when the team opted to replace the Brazilian driver with Kimi Raikkonen. However, he found refuge at Williams, and Smedley followed suit ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix after being placed on gardening leave by the Italian team.

The two have forged a great friendship over the years, with Smedley treating him like a little brother, and the Briton thinks that the move away from Ferrari has given Massa a new-found freedom.

“He’s a very, very good driver and he’s been given the freedom of head space here to do what he’s paid to do, and he’s delivering,” Smedley explained to Autosport.

“I see Felipe now very relaxed, incredibly experienced, there’s a maturity about him and he carries that very well.”

For the first time in his career, Massa can be considered as the ‘team leader’ after spending his Ferrari years in the shadow of Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.

“He understands that the job he has to do here is not just about driving the car, it’s about driving the people as well,” Smedley said.

“He knows how to do that. He’s had some very good teachers in that area – I would cite Michael Schumacher as one – and now his time has come. He’s picked up the baton very well.”

However, Massa is by no means having it all his own way at Williams. Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas is certainly holding his own, scoring 24 points so far this season.

It all marks a drastic turnaround in fortunes for the British team which scored just 5 points in the entirety of 2013.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.