F1 2016 Driver Review: Felipe Massa

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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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.