Viewers of the 2018 Spanish GP tuning in for Martin Brundle‘s grid walk over the weekend saw, in a not at all preplanned interview, Felipe Massa discuss the prospect of him joining Formula E in the not too distant future. Having tested Formula E machinery last year, Massa has an understanding of the category and clearly sees a future for himself in the championship.
Season five of Formula E will see the launch of the Gen2 car. With it comes increased power, the removal of mid-race car changes, and increases in the application of aerodynamics. This coupled with huge OEM support makes the championship more compelling than ever for drivers at any stage of their career. That being said, I find Felipe Massa’s interest in the championship curious. Formula E is a championship made up of street circuits, looking back at Massa’s track record around the streets of Monaco, city circuits on the face of it are not his strong suit.
Speaking to senior team members on the topic of the Gen2 machinery, significant concern raised has been around the size of the rear diffuser, the extent to which it is exposed and that with current designs it forms part of a single piece floor panel. Repair costs in Formula E are expected to increase dramatically in Season five, with this in mind teams should be looking for Street Circuit Specialists.
Nevertheless. The prospect of a Former F1 driver with a huge Brazilian following possibly heading to Formula E serves as sufficient justification for a quick-fire look at the Formula E silly season rumours and paddock gossip.
First to remove from the list of potential homes for Massa has to be the big hitters from Germany. Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi have a huge pool of drivers at their disposal. They are highly unlikely to offer a seat to Massa over a contracted driver. With a fantastic showing from Abt in Season four and a season plagued by technical failings for current champion Di Grassi, expect Audi to maintain their current line up into S5 and beyond. For S5, Mercedes have opted for a soft launch to their entry into Formula E via longterm motorsports partner HWA with customer technology from the Venturi Team. Through S4 Mercedes loaned out works drivers Engel and Mortara to the Venturi Team presumably with the plan for them to graduate to HWA in S5. Mercedes departing DTM at the end of 2018 also free’s up the likes of Paul Di Resta and Pascal Wehrlein. I expect HWA and Venturi to field works Mercedes Drivers for Season five of the Formula E championship.
Having said that with Venturi being a Monaco based entry, arguably there are some links to Monaco resident Felipe Massa. It is possible the team could be a home for the Brazilian in Season 5.
Moving to BMW, Season five will see the Bavarian Marque step up its commitment and investment in the championship, Felix da Costa will likely retain his place with the team operated by Andretti Autosport, BMW future participation in DTM will likely determine the driver in the second seat. Porsche will step into Formula E from season six, with in-house driver, André Lotterer set to be retained by Techeetah for Season 5 he will be well placed to take the lead position with Porsche upon their arrival. Alongside the German, Porsche have options on a number of WEC championship winning drivers.
On the subject of Techeetah, Massa is unlikely to find a home for season five with the current championship leaders. Jean-Eric Vergne has shaped the team around him, he is unlikely to find a more amiable seat on the grid. Lotterer having now found the form that escaped him in the first half of the season will more than likely be retained by the Chinese team as they look towards a full works status future.
On to mid-season championship favourites Mahindra. Team Principle Dilbagh Gil will be doing everything in his power to ensure Felix Rosenqvist remains with the team for Season 5 and well beyond. With Felix, Mahindra has a future champion in their team, they simply need to give him a consistent car in which to deliver. Nick Heidfeld’s season with Mahindra has been a challenge, his knowledge in setting up a car a maximising potential continues to prove invaluable to the team, but could his skills be best placed in a role similar to Pedro De La Rosa’s with Techeetah? Freeing up a seat with Mahindra for a young talent, perhaps in the form of Jehan Daruvala?
Jaguar Racing is another team which to my mind could offer a seat to Felipe Massa. Season four has seen the team improve dramatically after a challenging first year in the championship. Essentially operated via Williams F1, Massa has strong links to the structure of the team. However, Piquet is understood to have a long-term agreement with the team, and Mitch Evans has more than proved his worth this season. The team would do well to retain their line up into S5.
Then to Dragon Racing. The team have struggled this season, and don’t appear to have any short-term solutions in sight. Massa would only look to move to Formula E if he had a chance of winning races. Dragon are unlikely to be able to offer this until the Blue Oval comes on board.
Renault Nissan eDams, Vigin Envision Racing, and NIO Formula E team, All of whom I believe are the most likely candidates for Felipe Massa in Formula E. The Renault eDams team will become Nissan in Season five of Formula E. As the most successful team in Formula E with 3 constructors championships they offer the levels of success Felipe Massa is likely to expect. With Alain Prost recently selling his stake in the team it can be expected Nico, after a very difficult season, will likely leave the team ahead of Season five. Buemi is understood to be under an agreement, and Nissan seemingly doesn’t have an issue with him representing Toyota in WEC alongside his commitments in Formula E with them. Whilst my first choice for the seat alongside Buemi in the Nissan Formula E team would be Nissan EV ambassador Margot Robbie, a more likely candidate should Massa not be considered would be Jann Mardenborough.
In season five Virgin Racing is expected to lose it works manufacturer status, it is expected the team, the majority shareholding of which was recently sold to Chinese Energy group Envision will switch to a customer Audi partnership moving forward. Current driver and championship contender Sam Bird will likely remain loyal to the team with whom he entered Formula E, teammate Alex Lynn’s place seems less secure. Massa could be attracted to a race winning Power Unit in Audi and Race Winning team set up with the Virgin Racing Establishment, but the reduced testing opportunities offered to a non- works team will make getting up to speed with the intricacies of Formula E a real challenge as evidenced by André Lotterer in this season.
Finally, to the NIO Formula E Team, the team who in my opinion are most likely to offer the conditions Felipe Massa might expect from a Formula E team. They are well funded, they have delivered a world championship, with Nelson Piquet in Season One, and continue to prove on occasion they have the pace to run at the front. Oliver Turvey will likely retain his seat with the team for Season five and continue to maximise the potential of the car at every opportunity, running Massa alongside him would bring much-needed media coverage to the team and offer a face to the broader NIO EV global rollout.
Time will tell if Felipe Massa makes the move over to Formula E for the launch of the championships Gen2 machinery. Perhaps his following in Brazil will bring the championship to the country and facilitate the World Championship status Formula E management are working to secure. I’m not convinced Formula E needs Felipe Massa, and Felipe Massa’s bank balance is unlikely to need Formula E. In my opinion, the championship should not become the home for drivers coming to the end of their career in Formula One, rather the pinnacle for young drives proving their worth in the future of motorsport.
Following recent news regarding another arrival to Formula E for the Berlin ePrix this weekend I have to say I have a similar opinion about the commentary box.