Williams Formula 1 deputy team boss Claire Williams says she felt bad asking Felipe Massa to backtrack on his decision to retire from racing and return for the 2017 season.
Massa announced in September that he would be calling time on his 14-year F1 career at the end of 2016, making what was expected to be his final start in Abu Dhabi.
Massa’s departure freed up a seat at the team for 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll, who was due to partner Valtteri Bottas through 2017.
Bottas was released from his Williams contract after being approached by Mercedes to replace Nico Rosberg following the world champion’s shock decision to retire, announced in December.
With Williams keen to hire an experienced driver to partner Stroll in his rookie year, the team turned to Massa and asked him to come out of retirement.
“We are never going to put a driver in the car who we don’t believe can deliver,” Claire Williams told Sky Sports.
“As everyone saw even in his last race last year, he delivered for this team. He has lost none of his motivation.
“I know there’s a lot of talk out there ‘let the guy retire, leave him alone’ – he wants to come back.
“Little-known to me, I didn’t actually realize that he didn’t really want to retire and so I think Felipe is going to do a good job this year.”
Williams said she felt bad asking Massa to go back on his decision following the fanfare and tributes surrounding his final few races, but her fears were allayed when the Brazilian was receptive to the offer.
“Bless him, Felipe had announced his retirement, we had a whole fanfare around it, and then to have to phone your ex-driver up and say ‘would you mind coming out of retirement?’ you feel quite bad about it,” Williams said.
“But I’ve never heard anyone so happy and excited, so it was a big relief for us.”
Massa will return to on-track duties with Williams next month, taking part in the first pre-season test in Barcelona on February 27 alongside Stroll in the FW40 car.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.