Williams poised to end 24-year USGP podium drought after second row lockout

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AUSTIN – Williams has made it an all-Mercedes top four for this year’s United States Grand Prix, and in no real surprise after emerging at the head of the queue behind the Mercedes factory squad earlier Saturday morning in third free practice.

Both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have been on strong form this weekend, with Bottas finding his comfort level in fewer sessions. He sat out free practice one while Felipe Nasr was in there.

Massa and Bottas improved from fifth and 11th in FP2 – 1.3 and 1.7 seconds off the Mercedes, respectively – to third and fourth in FP3, albeit still 1.1 and 1.3 seconds in arrears.

Once the field went to Pirelli’s soft tire for qualifying, the Williams pair came in even more. Bottas, who was one of the stars this race last year in a then-Renault-powered Williams chassis, emerged third at the end of the session with Massa fourth. The gap to the Mercedes on the softs came down with Bottas within eight tenths and Massa just under 1.2 off.

“I’m really pleased with the couple of good laps I got in Q3 today actually,” Bottas said in the post-qualifying press conference. “It’s been a difficult weekend from my side for some reason, to get in a good rhythm and then finally during the qualifying I could really trust the car, like you should do.”

“But I’m really happy for us as a team. We locked out the second row, which is great for tomorrow’s race. We’re pushing in the Constructor’s Championship.”

Williams is currently 28 points clear of Ferrari for third in the Constructor’s Championship.

After this result, Bottas has now ended in the top three in six of the last eight races, whilst Massas is four for his last eight in terms of ending in the top four.

Bottas discussed how much he improved in qualifying to get within less than half a second of Lewis Hamilton in second.

“Qualifying in general from the practice, I managed to improve myself a lot during every session,” he said. “I could really trust the car a bit better in the qualifying and get those lines right and get every corner right.”

The team is seeking its first podium in the U.S. since, surprisingly, the 1990 United States Grand Prix at Phoenix, when Thierry Boutsen came third in a Williams-Renault behind Ayrton Senna’s McLaren and Jean Alesi’s Tyrrell.

Williams never podiumed in eight years at Indianapolis (2000-2007), including their BMW-powered years from 2000 through 2005, and is currently 0-for-2 at COTA.

With either Bottas or Massa, or perhaps both, perhaps that 24-year drought is poised to end this weekend.

It’s already been a weekend of celebration for the team – Williams played host to a small gathering of reporters Friday to celebrate NBCSN producer Jason Swales’ 250th Grand Prix this weekend.


Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”