Williams double podium caps phenomenal comeback season

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Williams has put a period on a phenomenal turnaround season with its first double podium finish in nearly a decade in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

After scoring seven podiums between them this season, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finally made their first trip to the rostrum together with second and third behind race winner and 2014 Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

It’s the first Williams double podium since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, when Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber came second and third behind race winner Kimi Raikkonen.

It was another 2000s era year – 2008 – fresh on the minds of observers today as Massa mounted a charge reminiscent of his stirring drive to win the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, on the same day Hamilton was poised to clinch a World Championship.

Unlike that day in his home country though, Massa came up short of the victory.

Massa started fourth but was quickly up to third off the line, while Bottas had something of a shocker from third on the grid and fell to eighth.

By Lap 9 though, order was restored with Massa and Bottas back to third and fourth, Bottas having carved through a number of runners and also seizing the advantage as others peeled off for their first pit stops.

The win possibility for Massa began to simmer mid-race once Nico Rosberg had his ERS failure, and the beginning of his slow, prolonged agony that slowed him for the rest of the race.

Massa took the lead past Lap 30, once Hamilton pitted. Massa later stopped again for Pirelli’s supersofts, which while it cost him the lead at the time would allow him to close the gap back to Hamilton on fresher tires.

But while Massa started out closing about or more than a second per lap from the original 10-plus second gap, he was unable to catch Hamilton and ended 2.5 seconds in arrears.

“It was an incredible race. I didn’t expect to have this pace,” Massa told Martin Brundle on the podium. “Then I was able to keep the tires, but run through a long part of the race. We tried the option late, we thought ‘Why not.’ We tried, but unfortunately Lewis was too far. I wanted that victory too much. I hope this is a start for next year.”

The rapid degradation of the option tires meant Massa’s charge went off about four laps into his final stint.

“With 10 laps to go, I was a bit more than a second per lap faster,” he said. “If the tires stayed like that I could win, but they degraded. The last four laps I didn’t have the gap anymore to catch like I was catching him before.”

Bottas – whose race settled into a form of normality after his start – was happy to be back on the podium for the sixth time this year, if now frustrated considering he wants to become F1’s next first-time Grand Prix winner.

“I always like to be here,” said the Finn. “The higher the step, the better it is. But for this season it will do. It shows how strong we are getting. I’m expecting a lot for next year. I’m really thankful to be part of this team and to drive this car.”

The result brought Bottas back to fourth in the Driver’s Championship, after coming into the race sixth. Massa ended seventh, only one spot behind Fernando Alonso and a full five spots, and 79 points clear of his Ferrari replacement Kimi Raikkonen.

The two podiums brought Williams’ season total to nine, and the points accumulated (66 for the 36 for second and 30 for third) brought Williams’ final tally to 320. That’s good for third in the Constructor’s Championship, a year-on-year growth from ninth with just 5 points.

It’s in a different points-scoring system and era, but the 320 points smashes the old record for Williams in its illustrious 35-plus year history as an organization. The previous best had been 175, set by Damon Hill and Jacques Villenueve in 1996, en route to a 1-2 finish in the Driver’s Championship.

For another form of perspective, this marks Williams’ first season north of 100 Constructor’s points since 2003, when Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and Marc Gene scored 144.

It’s obvious having a Mercedes power unit was a key part of the turnaround, but the people involved and the leadership from both Sir Frank Williams and daughter Claire in particular have helped contribute to this incredible comeback.

Massa, who just arrived at Williams this year, summed it up best.

“I’m so proud to be on this team. You guys are my heart. We can do so much more next year,” he said.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.