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Massa could give new Formula E series a boost in Brazil

By: MAURICIO SAVARESE, Associated Press
November 10, 2017 Updated: November 10, 2017 at 9:23 am
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photo - Williams driver Felipe Massa, of Brazil, attends a press conference ahead of Sunday's Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix, at the Interlagos racetrack, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Williams driver Felipe Massa, of Brazil, attends a press conference ahead of Sunday's Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix, at the Interlagos racetrack, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) 

SAO PAULO (AP) — The new Formula E series needs a boost, and it's likely to get one from Formula One veteran Felipe Massa.

Massa will step away from Formula One after the final race of the season in two weeks in Abu Dhabi. He hasn't confirmed it, but the Brazilian seems almost certain to join the new electric-powered car series.

Brazilians have been dominating the Formula E circuit, but have been largely ignored at home. Nelson Piquet Jr. won the first title in 2014, and Lucas de Grassi is the defending champion.

That could soon change.

Massa has a high profile. He won 11 Formula One races with Ferrari and came within one point of winning the season championship in 2008, losing out to Lewis Hamilton.

"When I won this year's title not a single local paper cared," Di Grassi told The Associated Press. "Now that Massa could join and a race will be held here, the interest is growing. More Brazilian drivers see Formula E as a real alternative and the future for electric cars."

A Brazilian Formula E Grand Prix is likely to be held in March on a street circuit about 30 miles north of the traditional Interlagos track where this year's Brazilian Grand Prix takes place on Sunday.

Formula One is struggling in Brazil. The country won't have a driver on the circuit next year for the first time since 1969, the race's future in Brazil is in doubt, and television ratings have been so-so the last few seasons.

Massa has yet to announce his decision to join the electric-powered series, but said Thursday that he would like to.

Piquet Jr. said financial backing for Brazilian drivers to race in Formula One is not happening, partly because of the country's three-year economy crisis. That makes Formula E an attractive alternative.

"You see a lot of (Brazilian) drivers fighting for the available seats," Piquet Jr. said. "Drivers are not making a secret that they are working to get to Formula E. When I heard about Formula E I thought it was a really interesting concept and the technology involved is the future. I knew I wanted to be involved and I worked really hard to get there."

Massa was seen early in his career as a possible heir to three-time champion Ayrton Senna. That was an impossible standard that Massa never quite reached. But his Formula One credentials are solid and he is widely respected around the track.

"I have to see what is best for me. I cannot join a series without fighting for victories and titles," Massa said. "Formula E has grown. There is great development in their technical aspects. But you cannot compare it with Formula One."

Just as Formula E sees Brazil as an opportunity, Formula One officials have hinted that the Brazilian Grand Prix may not have a strong future.

Governing body FIA has put the future of the race at Interlagos into question, despite having a contract through 2020. Further concerns have cropped up since Sao Paulo city hall opened talks to privatize the track and its surroundings.

Di Grassi said he has no doubt that the future is not in Formula One.

"I am sure that in 10, 20 years Formula One and Formula E will have to be one series," Di Grassi said. "Racing will be in a severe crisis in the next few years. It won't disappear, even when autonomous cars are out. But the process has already started."

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