There was a valedictory atmosphere at the Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday, as Jenson Button and Felipe Massa prepared for their last outings in Formula One. Instead of being overcome with sentiment both drivers looked forward to a brave new world in the sport, one not dominated by a single team, which has been the case with Mercedes this year.
Massa, who bid an emotional farewell after his final race in his native Brazil two weeks ago, said: “To be honest I hope what everybody hopes, to see Formula One more competitive, to see more than one team fighting for the championship and to see more drivers winning races. That’s what everybody has hoped since a long time in Formula One.”
The Williams driver added: “That’s what I hope to see when I am watching television, to see these guys fighting, not to see only one guy winning the races or maybe only one team. So that’s what I hope.”
As he spoke, Button, who confirmed he expects Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to be his last in F1 even though his contract with McLaren continues until 2018, could be seen nodding in agreement. He too wants a better show, even though he won’t be around to take part.
“I totally agree. Basically Mercedes are doing too good a job and nobody else is doing a good enough job right now,” the 36-year-old said. “We are all working hard to catch up but it’s tough, because they are very competitive. I think what is going to attract people more next year is if there are more teams fighting at the front, different drivers winning more races.”
Warming to his theme, Button added: “At the moment, if nothing goes wrong with Mercedes, if they don’t have any issues, they win the race and a bad result is finishing second to your team-mate. That’s something that needs to change.
“Hopefully the rule changes, which are very big, will help other teams find a new direction and close the gap, because that’s exactly what we want to watch, as Felipe said, and it’s the only reason I’ll be watching Formula One next year.”
Confirming his decision to retire, Button said: “I go into this weekend thinking it is going to be my last race. That is the best way to be at this moment of time. Beyond this, I don’t want to be racing in F1 – that is the whole idea. I think of this as my last race and hopefully everyone else does.”
He added: “It is true I have a contract for 2018 but at this moment I am not going to be racing in 2018. It has been a long journey – from eight years old until now I have been racing in motorsport.”
Sebastian Vettel will not be retiring just yet, despite a difficult season with Ferrari. The German won three grands prix last year but the team of the prancing horse have not had a victory this season. Ferrari, he said, could not be proud of their year – he did not mention whether or not they were proud of Vettel.
“We are working very hard, we are very committed,” said the four-times champion. “Of course we wanted something else this year, for many reasons it didn’t happen.
“Overall the car has been a good step from last year. Our performance was actually better than the results showed at times but circumstances weren’t always the best. Nevertheless, we can’t be proud of this year. We’re not, because we went into this season wanting to fight for the championship.”
He added: “The target for next year is very clear. It’s an enormous challenge for all of the teams and ourselves to get the cars ready because there are so many changes.”
Fernando Alonso, who is under contract to McLaren until the end of next year, has played down recent remarks that he has a future in the World Endurance Championship. The Spaniard, twice an F1 world champion, said: “I’m committed to F1 100% next year here with the team, and then in the future it’s no doubt that it’s a very attractive challenge, and very attractive thing to do, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I like the category, I like the cars, and as I said, it’s a good challenge.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010