Williams Martini Racing has confirmed that Felipe Massa will leave the team – again – at the end of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship season.
The Brazilian has raced for the Grove outfit since 2014, helping secure the team third place in the Constructors’ Championship standings that year and in 2015. He was initially dropped from the team’s line-up and announced his retirement from F1 at the end of 2016 when Williams opted to secure the services – and sizable financial backing – of Lance Stroll.
The decision was U-turned in the off-season when newly-crowned World Champion Nico Rosberg suddenly announced his retirement days after winning the title, paving the way for Mercedes to poach Valtteri Bottas from Williams.
With Williams’ title sponsor Martini requiring the team to have a driver in its line-up older than 25 and Stroll’s backers requiring he have an experienced driver to pit himself against, Massa was offered and accepted the opportunity to return to Formula 1.
Although Stroll has outscored Massa 40-36, the Brazilian veteran has generally proved to be the quicker and more consistent driver in a poor car flattered by its Mercedes powerplant.
“I have now enjoyed four great years with the team, but my career in Formula One will finally come to an end this season,” Massa said in a Williams media release.
“I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this time: my wife and my father, my whole family, my manager Nicolas [Todt] and all my friends, colleagues and sponsors. I would also like to add a huge thank you to all of the fans who have been incredibly supportive and passionate over the years.
“I take so many great memories with me as I prepare for my final two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, and although they will be emotional, I am looking forward to ending on a high note and preparing for a new chapter in my career.”
Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal, added: “I would like to thank Felipe for all he has done for the team over the last four years. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with him.
“We are especially grateful that he agreed to postpone his retirement from Formula One for a year, after Valtteri joined Mercedes, which demonstrated the depth of the relationship we built during our time together. We appreciate that it wasn’t an easy decision for him to return, after having such an emotional send-off at the end of last year. On behalf of Sir Frank, and all the team, we give our very best wishes to Felipe for the future.”
The team is yet to announce its 2018 driving line-up, which will now be the focal point of the slim driver market.
With the well-funded Stroll at unbackable odds to remain with the team, the question for Williams will be whether it needs more money given it will finish no better than fifth in this year’s Constructors’ Championship standings and have reduced prize money payments to count on in 2018.
The former World Champions have privately tested reserve driver Paul di Resta against Robert Kubica in recent weeks, and both should be considered possibilities on its shopping list even though neither brings significant commercial backing.
With the Sauber team almost certain to become a Ferrari feeder outfit by confirming Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi for 2018, Williams could consider either Pascal Wehrlein or Marcus Ericsson as well. The former could carry the sweetener of a reduced engine bill given he is a Mercedes protégé, while the latter is armed with plenty of sponsorship from his Swedish homeland.
A late contender in the mix is Daniil Kvyat, recently dropped by Red Bull after a disappointing 2017 season.
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