Felipe Massa ended ninth in today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the only Williams Martini Racing to make the points and the finish in the 2016 Formula 1 season finale after Valtteri Bottas retired from the race.
But it’s Massa’s retirement from the sport after his 250th Grand Prix start that stands out as the key takeaway for him this season.
And after his emotional exit from his home Grand Prix in Brazil two weeks ago, Abu Dhabi afforded the 35-year-old an opportunity to race for fun, with no pressure, nothing to lose, and really soak up the heat of competition for the final time in F1 without the backdrop of a home race.
After the race, Massa almost spent more time thanking the rest of the field than he did reflecting on his own day, thus showcasing the class that’s been a hallmark of his career.
“To be honest I feel really happy. Proud,” Massa told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “Fighting to the last lap, same as my first laps in my career. I am definitely emotional for this moment, but very proud of everything I did.
“I cannot forget Nico – he won the championship. It’s a nice story. He’s really deserving of it. I cannot forget Jenson. He’s a fantastic gentleman as well. He didn’t finish it the way he wanted, but it was great for him like it was for me in Brazil. I’m thankful and happy for all of you guys.
“I’m proud of my career, of everything I managed to achieve. A lot of dreams and results. But I’m also proud I respected people… and got that as well,” he reflected.
Massa was also awarded the race chassis from Williams he raced in Brazil as a retirement gift, which as it turned out was the same one he raced in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s the same one I raced today, so I’m really happy and proud. I took a lot more care today when I knew it was mine! A fantastic gift from the team. This team will stay in my heart.”
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”