After retiring from Formula One in 2017, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa simply could not stay away from the racetracks. One year later, he joins the Venturi Formula E team, making him the most recognizable name on this season’s lineup. We caught up with Felipe to find out why he chose Formula E to make his racing comeback, and why Brazil produces so many racing drivers.
Emerson Fittipaldi. Nelson Piquet. Ayrton Senna. Brazil has been producing racing legends for decades. The popularity of Brazil’s racing champions rivals that of any ‘futebol’ star: just go to any motorsport event in Brazil, and you’ll see countless children – born long after Ayrton Senna’s untimely death – wearing Senna T-shirts or hats. According to Formula E newcomer Felipe Massa, “Ayrton Senna is maybe the greatest sports hero in our history, and having all of these drivers helps to get young kids interested in the sport.”
The Brazilian invasion
Of course, Felipe has also enjoyed a successful career his own right. Like many of his peers, he caught the racing bug at the age of eight in kart. He eventually found his way to Formula One, where he became the first Brazilian since Ayrton Senna to win the São Paulo Grand Prix on home turf. And following a one-year hiatus, Felipe Massa now joins two other Brazilians on the Formula E grid – Lucas Di Grassi and Nelson Piquet Jr (yes, Nelson Piquet’s son) – each with a Formula E championship title to his name. So the stage has been set, as Felipe puts it, to continue “to show the Brazilian flag on the top of the podium,” and attract a whole new generation of Brazilian racing fans to the fastest growing series in motorsport.
A new challenge
With 16 years of Formula One experience under his belt, one might assume that Felipe Massa would have an advantage over the younger drivers in the Formula E championship. But he’s quick to point out, “I have so much to learn! I don’t know any of the city tracks.” Not only that, but he also has to contend with a completely different type of car than he’s used to. “There’s no downforce, Formula E cars use road tyres, and we have the battery.” Then there’s also the matter of having to learn how to manage energy use throughout the race. Perhaps he is merely trying to manage expectations. But knowing one’s own limitations is the mark of a true champion. Either way, he says he’s definitely looking forward to this new career challenge.
I have so much to learn!
So why Formula E, exactly? Good drivers, big teams, city circuits in amazing countries – what else could a driver ask for in a racing championship? But for Felipe, perhaps the greatest appeal of Formula E lies in just how competitive it really is. Apart from the engine, the gearbox and the inverter, all teams have essentially the same car. This means that drivers, supported by their teams, can have a greater impact on the outcome of the race compared to other racing series.
The gap between the fastest car and the next one can be as little as six-tenths of a second, so it all comes down to the driver’s skill and the team’s race strategy and execution. “Everything is much closer and that gives many different drivers the chance to win races, instead of just one or two drivers, which is what happens in Formula One all the time,” he says. Ultimately, he’s looking forward to enjoying himself on the tracks. “I think when you are competitive, you do the best you can and you have the result, that’s where the pleasure of racing comes from.”
Racer with a cause
Formula E’s contributions to electric mobility are not lost on Felipe. “Mobility is important in every country. It’s important in big towns,” he says, “to help solve problems like pollution.” Of course, he’s no stranger to big-city challenges like congestion and pollution. After all, he comes from São Paulo – a crowded megacity whose metropolitan area is home to almost 20 million people and 8 million motorised vehicles.
It’s clear that electric cars will be a big part of the future.
But he also understands that some countries may choose to focus on other more pressing issues before tackling their mobility challenges. “It’s clear that electric cars will be a big part of the future. But maybe this will happen earlier in some countries, and in other countries, later.” Still, Felipe is optimistic that by staging Formula E races in places like China – or perhaps even Brazil, in the not too distant future – more people in those countries will become interested in e-mobility. Regarding his personal goals for Formula E, all he’ll say is: “I’m really happy to be part of the Formula E championship and keep doing what I love most, which is racing.”
Video production: Scott McNamara / Daniel Dearing