Noor Nugali Riyadh: Felipe Massa cannot wait to get behind the wheel of a Formula E car and jumpstart his new career when the spectacle of speed storms into Riyadh for the season opener on Dec. 15.
The Saudi Arabia capital was named as the newest stopping point for the sport in May, with it being the first race of a 13-race season, which sees the electric-powered cars tackle street circuits across the globe.
Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut, having left the Formula One paddock for the growing sport. And the 37-year-old told Arab News he is excited about the prospect of tackling the streets of Ad Diriyah, the oldest part of the capital, in one of the electrically powered speed machines.
“I am ready for the race. It’s a fantastic feeling driving around the city, the town, it’s historical. It will be a big event,” Massa said at press conference to announce Saudi Arabian Airlines’ new long-term partnership as official airline partner of the all-electric series.
“I’m really happy to be a part of this new challenge for my career. In a new place and country, it’s motivating.”
Having won 11 Grands Prix during an illustrious career in F1, during which time he raced for Ferrari, some might think Massa would not be daunted by the move to Formula E. The Brazilian, however, is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s a big challenge for me to change categories, to Formula E,” he said, having got a chance to put some early practice in as he took a Gen2 car around the streets of the capital.
“Learning everything is a challenge. It’s different cars, different tracks and a different way of driving. I need to learn and grow to understand but I like new challenges.”
Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation” and it is hoped that the Ad Diriyah race helps the changing face of Saudi Arabia by inspiring more women to get behind the wheel in the Kingdom — something not lost on Massa.
“I heard that women are driving (in Saudi Arabia) now and that’s fantastic — hopefully in the future there will female racers,” he said.
“We are racing in a country (whose main export is oil), and we are racing with electric cars. I think it shows that this country wants to change its mentality and its thinking of the future. It’s really positive and I’m so happy to be a part of this.”
Thanks to the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the Middle East has long been associated with motorsport, and it is well known that the region is awash with petrolheads. The Riyadh Formula E race, however, will be international motorsport’s first move into Saudi Arabia.
But rather than look to bring F1 to the country his Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice-chair of the General Sports Authority, revealed that Formula E was the only format they wanted to see in the capital.
“This is a truly game-changing moment for Saudi Arabia and one that we can share with the world,” he said. “It is very fitting that the such a futuristic and sustainable sport as Formula E is pointing to the future direction of our country.
“Saudi Arabia is home to literally millions of passionate young fans of motorsport, many of whom simply cannot believe that Felipe Massa took the Gen2 car around the streets of the capital today and that they now have a ‘home race’ on the Formula E calendar. So already the excitement is building, especially since we’re adding live music concerts to the weekend line-up.”
The track Massa and Co. will be tackling this December was revealed at the press conference. At 1.76 miles long, the first road circuit in the Middle East features 21 corners, a number of which are long flowing ones taken at high speed. It is hoped that the race will get both Saudi Arabia’s entry to the sport and the season itself off to a spectacular start, and in doing so inspire a new generation of speed demons.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said: “Something we haven’t announced yet, is that there will be a support race for Formula E.
“It’s the Jaguar I-Pace trophy, it will race around the world with the Formula E circuit.
“Saudi Arabia will participate in that championship as a national team with two Saudi Arabian drivers and we will announce the names soon.”