Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why Felipe Massa's (Potential) Retirement U-turn is Not as Bad as it Seems

It's been a little more than a week since Felipe Massa announced his agreement to return to Williams in 2017, contingent on Valtteri Bottas' move to Mercedes. Since then, some journalists, fans, and even Brazilian faithful (go to 9:08 here) have criticized Massa for this decision. Massa, of course, announced his retirement from Formula One in September before Williams signed young Canadian Lance Stroll to compete for the team in 2017.
To be honest, I understand the criticism. This isn't like Michael Jordan coming back to play for the Wizards after taking a few seasons off, nor is it like Michael Schumacher's return to Formula One with Mercedes in 2010 after retiring from Ferrari in 2006. It's not even like Jeff Gordon's return to the NASCAR cockpit this season after Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s concussion issues, which drew some criticism from ESPN's Ryan McGee.

This is a situation where the athlete won't even miss a single game (or, in this case, race) after coming back from his "retirement."

However, I'm not entirely convinced Massa actually wanted to retire. What virtually none of the mainstream motorsport journalists are talking about is that Massa told in March of this year that he wanted to keep driving "for two to three more years." The article also noted how Massa was "adamant" he still had what it takes to stay in Formula One.

But Stroll's promotion was imminent, and of course, Williams were right in thinking it's smarter to keep Bottas over Massa, given the former's youth and the fact that the latter is beyond his prime. In my opinion, Williams gave Massa the opportunity to retire before they had to let him go, with both parties knowing the odds of him finding another (semi-)competitive ride in 2017 were slim to none.

So after Massa made his announcement, he was given a wonderful sendoff, including an emotional pit lane tribute in Brazil and a gift from Williams themselves.

And then, in a move no one saw coming, Nico Rosberg announced his own retirement, breaking Twitter and shocking the motorsport world in the process.

As I noted in a previous blog post, Bottas is a strong candidate to replace Rosberg. So what should Williams do in this situation?

They should do the same thing Rick Hendrick did when he needed a fill-in driver.

Sorry Ryan, but Gordon was one of the best possible options to replace Earnhardt. He knew Hendrick Motorsports better than any other driver and was obviously comfortable with the team. Why shouldn't he be at the top of Hendrick's list when it comes to the replacement search?

Massa's situation is virtually identical. A surprise opening (may have) just occurred at the team he recently "retired" from. He's still familiar with the team and personnel. What's the problem with Williams wanting him back? Furthermore, what's the problem with him accepting their offer?

To me, there is none.

Keep in mind, Williams can't just sign another young development or test driver, for multiple reasons. Most importantly, they need one with experience to mentor the young Stroll. Autoweek writer Sam Hall also points out Williams' need for at least one driver over the age of 25 since Martini is their most notable sponsor.

Also, here's the obvious disclaimer: the entirety of the post I've just written is completely irrelevant if Mercedes choose to sign someone other than Bottas. The deal isn't even close to official yet; it's all contingent on Bottas' move to Mercedes creating a need for a second driver at Williams. If Mercedes go with someone else, Massa doesn't come back. As nothing has been confirmed just yet regarding the Mercedes seat, the FIA's provisional entry list still has Stroll and Bottas as Williams' 2017 drivers.

If, however, Mercedes do sign Bottas, Massa has an offer to drive a Formula One car in 2017. And given what he said back in March and what he's given to the sport the last 15 years, he has every right to accept it.

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