Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Jenson Button and Felipe Massa prepare for emotional farewell
Williams Martini Racing's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, holding his country's flag, greets fans after his final appearance at Interlagos circuit before retirement, at the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 13, 2016. Nelson Almeida / AFP
Two Formula One stalwarts will bring the chequered flag down on their illustrious careers at the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.
Button will be replaced at McLaren by Stoffel Vandoorne next year, but will remain involved with the team as an ambassador and reserve driver.
However, it is widely understood that despite McLaren suggesting that he could make a post-sabbatical return in 2018, Button’s 16-year F1 career has come to an end.
Massa, meanwhile, will definitely call it a day after his landmark 250th Grand Prix on Sunday.
Button, the 2009 world champion, is the most experienced driver currently on the grid — the Abu Dhabi GP will be his 305th Grand Prix start. He made his debut in Australia in 2000.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend, and have been for a few races now,” said the Briton, who has won 15 Grands Prix and who lies 15th in the 2016 drivers’ championship with 21 points. “It marks a very special chapter in my life and I’ll have my friends and some of my family out in Abu Dhabi with me, which I’m very excited about. It’s going to be a hugely emotional weekend and I hope with the support of the fans, the team and the people that are closest to me, we can go out there and give it our absolute maximum and enjoy the weekend.”
He added: “It’s not the end of my career with McLaren-Honda, but it’s the start of a new phase that I’m incredibly positive about. This race marks the culmination of a huge amount of hard work, dedication and passion for the sport that I love and I’m immensely proud of everything I’ve achieved in the past 17 seasons, and the fantastic progress we’ve made over the past couple of years with McLaren-Honda. It’s been an amazing project to work on and my involvement certainly won’t end here.”
Massa, who debuted at the 2002 Australian Grand Prix and who has notched up 11 race wins, was forced to retire from his penultimate and home Grand Prix in Brazil two weeks ago.
As he walked back to the pits, he carried the Brazilian flag proudly in front of his adoring fans and is preparing for more tears on Sunday.
“It’s going to be another emotional one,” said the 35-year-old, who is currently 11th in the driver standings with 51 points. “You try not think about it too much when you’re in the car; you just try to do as good a job as you can.
“It’s a really nice track to drive, as there are lots of fans who really enjoy themselves at the track and outside of the track and it is, of course, a twilight race which is interesting for us and everyone watching.
“I really hope the final, and 250th race of my Formula One career, can be a fantastic one. We will, of course, have a big party. Hopefully we can celebrate with a great result.”