Felipe Massa officially came out of non-retirement on Friday in the 2017 season’s first Formula One session, but his pseudo-reunion with the sport was bittersweet.
The Brazilian, who retired from the Williams team last season only to be recalled to replace the Mercedes-bound Valtteri Bottas in January, had his competitive first practice running spoilt by an electrical fault that prevented from setting almost any laps in the evening.
“The morning was okay, it was fine in the car in terms of lap times and in terms of the long run,” he said about his seventh-place classification in FP1 with a time almost two seconds off Hamilton’s headline pace. “Unfortunately in the afternoon I did three laps.”
“I stopped, I put the ultrasofts on … and I could not use these tyres. I had a problem with — not really the gearbox, because it just went to neutral. I couldn’t change.
“Nothing was working. I guess maybe it could be an electronic problem.”
Both Massa and Williams were caught off guard by the problem after the team ran an extremely successful preseason testing session that had them complete the third highest total of laps and set the third fastest time.
“It’s a bit of a shame because in Barcelona we did so many thousands of kilometres and nothing happened,” Massa noted.
“I think it’s not really serious, so in my opinion this can be positive, but I lost the whole afternoon.
“So the morning was positive, which is the only thing I can say for the moment!”
The 2017 season will be a fascinating postscript to Massa’s long and varied career. Though the Brazilian competed for the championship in 2008, he never again regained the same outstanding form in subsequent years racing for Ferrari or Williams.
Rob Smedley, who has worked with Massa for most of his F1 career, said ahead of the Australian Grand Prix that he expected 2017’s new regulations to suit the Brazilian’s approach in the car.
“I think it suits his driving style perfectly really,” Smedley said. “The cars that we have got now are much more akin to the cars when he had his more successful years.
“[Like] a 2008 car — with a very wide front tyre, very, very good grip all the way from turn-in up to the apex — we’ve been definitely missing that for the last seven years, and he struggled a little bit with that.”
Massa concurred, and said the new Williams indeed lined up with his style.
“I prefer this way, definitely,” he enthused. “The way I drive the car, my driver style, the way I approach the corners — for sure if you have more downforce you can approach the corners in a more aggressive way, you have more stability, you can bring more speed to the corner [and] the tyre works better than how it was for a long time.”
Adding an extra dimension to Massa phony comeback is that he will play de facto mentor to Lance Stroll, the teenager who initially was to replace him.
“I have all the happiness to work with him but also to pass on everything I can,” Massa said. “We are working for the team, together, both drivers, so we need to score as many points as we can.
“It would be nice to work with him and to have a great championship together and for the team, which is the most important thing.”
Given Stroll’s crash-strewn preseason, helping his rookie teammate stay out of the barriers could well be lesson number one.