Formula E can challenge F1 popularity, says Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa will be driving for Venturi, seen here in a 2018 Formula E race. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2018
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Formula E can challenge F1 popularity, says Felipe Massa

  • The Saudi capital of Riyadh will host the first Formula E race in the Middle East
  • Massa believes Saudi Arabia’s arrival on the Formula E starting grid can help accelerate the all-electric car series

LONDON: Felipe Massa believes Saudi Arabia’s arrival on the Formula E starting grid can help accelerate the all-electric car series’ ambitious drive to challenge Formula One’s global popularity.
The Saudi capital of Riyadh will host the first Formula E race in the Middle East — and Massa’s debut in the four-year-old championship — on Dec. 15.
It is the 2018/19 season-opener, which will be staged in Riyadh’s Old City of Ad Diriyah, the first of 13 races the electrically powered cars will tackle across the globe.
Massa ended his illustrious 15-year career in F1 in 2017, so is well placed to assess how Formula E compares to motorsport’s premier championship.
His Formula E bow coincides with the arrival of next-generation cars, and Massa admits he has been astonished by the level of interest in his new discipline as it prepares to take the Kingdom by storm.
“Can Formula E challenge Formula One in popularity? I think so. You never know. Everything is possible,” Massa, who won 11 grand prix, told Arab News.
“Things change really quickly and electric cars are the future. Maybe in a few years, most of the cars on the road will be electric. I would say maybe I have more sponsors now than I had with Williams. The number of companies interested in Formula E now is unbelievable.
“If you see how much the season is growing with new cars, it shows the level of the championship and shows how much it is growing. I think that’s really amazing to see that and amazing to be part of that.
“I think it will be a championship that will grow more compared to other championships.”
The Brazilian ace, who will be racing for the Monaco-based Venturi team, hailed Saudi Arabia’s arrival in Formula E as “a great thing” both for the Kingdom and the fast-growing sport.
He says the Kingdom can profit hugely from the international recognition it will gain — just like Bahrain and the UAE, which held their first Formula One grands prix in 2004 and 2009 respectively.
“Nobody knew much about Bahrain before their Grand Prix but I think F1 helped Bahrain to grow and improve, get bigger and get more internationally known,” said the 37-year-old, who raced for Sauber, Ferrari and Williams in F1. “The same thing happened in Abu Dhabi and I think more or less the same (can happen) with Saudi Arabia. Everybody knows how strong the country is, but (not many people) go there. This will be a great experience to go there to develop the sport in the country.
“I know that Saudi Arabia is investing a lot to develop the country, inside the country, to promote itself as more international. Sport is the best thing for that and I am really looking forward to racing there as I really enjoyed all the races I did in the Middle East.”
It is understood that activities for women will be a feature of December’s ground-breaking race, much to the delight of Massa.
He described this as “very important” in the year that Saudi has lifted its ban on women and, when asked whether a female motorsport star could ever emerge from the Kingdom, he replied: “Why not? Definitely. I support ladies in motorsport. It would be fantastic to be fighting (on the track) with a woman. I had Susie Wolff as my teammate when she was a test driver at Williams. We did fantastic together and now she’s my team principal (at Venturi).
“I really hope some other ladies can have an important future in motorsport and one day we can have a great driver coming from Saudi Arabia.”
Massa, racing alongside the Swiss-Italian Edoardo Mortara, has not set any specific targets for his first season in Formula E.
“For the moment, my target is to do my best all the time on the track. I need to learn the tracks as I don’t know any of the tracks I’m going to race on.
“I prefer to keep my feet on the ground, keep learning and keep understanding and hopefully have a good season. I want to be competitive and fight for some podiums and maybe (secure) victories.
“That would be fantastic if we can achieve that and I hope to stay in this championship for a long time.”
Massa’s longevity in Formula One is laudable given that he competed against all-time greats such as Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
His best performance came in 2008 when Hamilton pipped him to the championship by just one point, but Massa has no regrets overall.
“I really have nothing to regret and I am really proud of everything I did. At the end, I am looking forward.”
Massa is lavish in his praise of the all-conquering Hamilton, who is all but assured of a fifth world title this season — just two behind the record haul of Michael Schumacher.
“Can he beat Schumacher’s record? I think so,” he said of the Mercedes maestro. “To see his age (33) and see the car he’s driving now, how competitive it is, I think he will definitely be fighting for the championship in the next years. I don’t think big changes will really happen next year or the year after.
“He will be already five times world champion this year and for his age, everything is possible to beat the number of championships that Michael Schumacher won but also the number of victories as well.
“He can have every record. He deserves it. What he did in the second part of the season is amazing.
“For sure Ferrari and [Sebastian] Vettel have made many mistakes, but Lewis did an amazing job.”
Massa expects Vettel to be Hamilton’s greatest challenger again next season and reckons Charles Leclerc of Sauber can “be a big future champion.”


Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019
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Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”



ROGER FEDERER

Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”



RAFAEL NADAL

Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”



MARIN CILIC

The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.



ANGELIQUE KERBER

Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.