Williams Martini Racing Head of Performance Engineering, Rob Smedley, believes the new regulations introduced for 2017, have made this year’s cars the perfect fit for Felipe Massa.
The Brazilian retired from the sport at the end of 2016, truly believing that would be the final time he would get behind the wheel of a F1 car, but all that changed when Williams asked him back to Grove after releasing driver Valtteri Bottas to the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
It was a no brainer for Massa, who jumped straight back into the action for one last throw of the dice. Moreover, it seems his luck may well be in, as the new cars really suit his aggressive driving style.
The 2017 machines are much more akin to the cars of 2008, the year Massa very nearly won the world championship, according to his Williams’s colleague and good friend Smedley.
“I think it suits his driving style perfectly really.
“The cars that we have got now are much more akin to the cars when he had his more successful years.
“So [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.
“The more front end you can give Felipe, as long as you have a solid rear, then the more he will be able to deliver from his driving style.
“And from what we have seen at the minute, he’s very, very comfortable.”
It is clear to see from his strong performance during pre-season testing, where he posted one of the fastest lap times across the eight days, that Massa has a confidence, which had perhaps alluded him since returning to F1, following his near fatal accident in 2009.
Smedley definitely believes this season could be the Brazilians year, having already witnessed how confident and error free the 35-year-old’s driving has been this week, which he puts down to the extra downforce and grip available from F1’s 2017 machines.
“I think with Felipe, you always know if you are on to a winner with the amount of mistakes he makes the first time he gets into a new car.
“I think that over the course of however many thousand kilometres he has done over the past few days, he has perhaps run wide twice and has made hardly any mistakes on new tyres. So he is obviously extremely comfortable with the car.
“When we put a different compound on, when we perhaps increase the engine or reduce the fuel level to a lower level, he delivers exactly what you expect him to.
“It shows that ultimately he is very, very comfortable.”
If Massa has rekindled that pace and passion from nine years ago, then the rest of the grid may well have to count him as a driver to be very much feared in 2017.