KEY ROLE: Felipe Massa could play a pivotal role in how the 2017 F1 grid may look. Image: AFP / Paulo Whitaker
London - Felipe Massa has played down reports that he is definitely cancelling his retirement plans in order to stay at Williams for 2017.
Amid Mercedes' mad rush to replace its suddenly-departed Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg, it is reported that Williams has now agreed to release Valtteri Bottas, but only on the condition that the experienced Massa comes back.
Ready to returm
Mercedes' Niki Lauda, for one, thinks Massa is ripe for a comeback.
Lauda said on Austrian Servus TV: "My question is this: didn't Massa cry in Brazil?. His wife and child embraced him, the whole nation was crying, so I ask: why did he cry? When you stop, you laugh! I'll call him and ask him."
It's a big hint that Mercedes has cannily negotiated the Bottas deal, but Massa told Brazil's Globo by phone while holidaying that nothing is decided.
Massa insisted: "I have nothing to say. I'm very calm here and don't want to participate in it (the speculation). Everything that has been said so far is not official."
READ: Could Williams lose two stalwarts by the end of 2016?
However, the reports about Massa's return are specific, with Italian television Sky saying the new Williams deal is for EUR 6 million.
And Lauda is even answering questions about what will happen when Bottas joins Mercedes, because the fact the Finn is managed by his future team boss Toto Wolff creates a conflict of interest.
Lauda, Mercedes team chairman, said: "It's easy. If Bottas comes to us, Toto cannot be his manager anymore."
What about Pascal?
But Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko thinks Mercedes should have chosen from its driver development programme, "namely Pascal Wehrlein. If you do not take him, it means you don't trust your own programme."
Lauda hit back: "I want to clarify. You (Marko) rightly point out that we have a youth programme, but its purpose is to give drivers experience. Of course, we can discuss the Wehrlein option, but I want to point out that Max Verstappen was initially in Toro Rosso."
READ: Wolff - 'Three names' on Mercedes F1 shortlist'
Marko, meanwhile, said that he at least sympathises with Mercedes' situation as it heads into Christmas.
He said: "With Rosberg going, Red Bull Racing has clearly the strongest drivers. That's why Mercedes does not want to take the risk with a young driver and will use Bottas as a predictable asset."