The 2016 Italian Grand Prix saw the announcement that we are to lose two of the longest serving and most loved drivers for the 2017 Formula 1 season. Felipe Massa has decided to leave the championship after 14 seasons, whilst Jenson Button will take the year out but could possibly return for 2018.
Brazilian Massa started his F1 career at Sauber in 2002, before he was replaced for the 2003 season but then reinstated for the 2004 and 2005 rounds. After scoring well and earning points for the Swiss team Felipe was a sort after character and in 2006 he began his 8 year spell at Ferrari, partnering 7 time world champion Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and finally Fernando Alonso. Massa achieved all of his 11 Grand Prix wins at the Italian team and in 2008, he agonizingly missed out on the championship by only 1 point. After an incredible season, the title went down the very last corner of the final race. The race was held at Interlagos in Massa’s home country Brazil, which he won to the joy of his team and home supporters, who began celebrating. Lewis Hamilton of the McLaren team amazingly overtook Timo Glock in the wet conditions at the very last corner to snatch the 5th place finish he needed. Confusion filled the pitlane, with both teams celebrating until the official result was confirmed, to the agony of Massa and Ferrari. The following year, both Massa and Hamilton couldn’t compete with the front running Brawn GP cars, and at the Hungarian Grand Prix, a terrible accident in Qualifying nearly saw Massa loss his life. A spring fell from the back of fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn, striking Massa who was traveling a few seconds behind just above his left eye, knocking his semi-unconscious before slamming in the tyre barrier at over 150mph.
Amazingly returning to the cockpit in 2009, Felipe qualified 2nd and finished 2nd at the first round of the 2010 season, only being beaten by new team mate Fernando Alonso. In the following years, Massa achieved a handful of podium finishes but never hit the stop spot again and in 2014, he moved to British team Williams where he has continued to score well and take the team nearer the top of the standings.
After much speculation, Jenson Button announced he was to take a year out of the sport in 2017, but will still be at McLaren ready to jump into the car if needed. He will have the option to return to the grid in 2018 but only time will tell Button will take this option up. Jenson joined the grid in 2000, driving for the Williams team, where he showed glimpses of his talent, out qualifying experienced team mate Ralf Schumacher twice in the first 6 races. A point in Brazil made him the youngest driver to score at an F1 event, at the age of only 20. A dip in form, and the arrival of a promising Columbian called Juan Pablo Montoya, saw Button move over to Benetton, but struggle in the uncompetitive car. Button was retained for the 2002 season, with the now re branded Renualt team and scored a seventh place finish, 5 points ahead of his team mate, Jarno Trulli. Button moved again in 2003, to the BAR team where he spent 3 years before the team went through a re brand to Honda from 2006. Just like Felipe Massa, Jenson took to the top step of the podium for the first time in 2006, winning the Hungarian Grand Prix after starting 14th on the grid. It was his 113th Grand Prix start. Button’s career didn’t hit these high notes until 2009.
In late 2008, Honda pulled out of F1, leaving both Button and Rubens Barrichello without a race seat of the upcoming season. At the last minute, Ross Brawn bought the team, branding the team as Brawn GP, powered by Mercedes engines. During pre season, testing it was apparent, the car was more than competitive, and when the season started in Australia, Button cruised to the win. Win after win followed and Button began to run away with the championship. Midway through the season, a dip in form from the car saw the chasing pack catch up with the Brit but after an epic Brazilian Grand Prix which saw Jenson climb his way through the field, he was declared world champion. In 2010, the champion moved to McLaren, where he has won many races and scored plenty of podium finishes. His last win was in Brazil in 2012, and has since struggled with driving an un-competitive car.
It is clear that both drivers will be sorely missed next year, but with the young drivers starting to come through, we hope they will bring the exciting driving we have come to expect from the Formula 1 world championship.