Felipe Massa will become the latest figure from the Formula 1 world to try his hand behind the wheel of a Formula E car when he tests for Jaguar. The team released a press statement to that effect last week: “Panasonic Jaguar Racing received a request from Formula E to give Felipe Massa the chance to experience a Formula E car. We are happy to provide this opportunity.”
Massa, 35, previously expressed an interest in entering Formula E when he was poised to retire from racing in F1 at the end of 2016, having lost his seat at Williams to 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll. However, Massa was granted a reprieve when Mercedes snapped up Valtteri Bottas to replace Nico Rosberg, who shook up the sport’s driver market by retiring from F1 immediately after winning the world championship.
While it was reported that Massa did have a Formula E contract in place, there’s been no confirmation about which team that might have been. It’s a pretty easy line to draw, however, from Massa’s time at Williams F1 to the Williams-run Jaguar Formula E team (though that remains just our guess).
Despite now having at least another season in F1, Massa appears to still be preparing for life in Formula E after it was confirmed earlier this week that the diminutive Brazilian would be testing for Jaguar.
The question then arises: if in-season testing is not permitted in Formula E (which it isn’t), then how can this test take place?
There are three options, as far as we’re aware. The first is that Jaguar will use one of its allocated filming days. Every team has six days per season; the current season car must be used and no more than 50km covered. This is not likely sources close to the team tell us that Massa will not be using a current car. (We’re not sure what the rules around using an old car but, even if there is a loophole there, Jaguar doesn’t have any season cars as the team only entered this season).
The second option is that the FIA grants some sort of special dispensation, viewing it as a sort of promotional event. This can also be ruled out as we’ve been assured by a Formula E spokesperson that this is not the case.
The third and therefore most likely option is that Jaguar will use one its manufacturer test days and will put Massa in a season four car. Each manufacturer has a specified number of such private test days (previously 15 days per season); these must be used in an allotted time period, which expires by the time collective preseason testing rolls around. The evidence points towards Jaguar installing Massa in the team’s season four development car and using of its allocated private manufacturer test days.
The timing fits, too. Manufacturers will have their season four powertrains ready around this period of the year for testing. It’s probably a little earlier than has been the case previously, which indicates that Jaguar’s designers have really got the bit between their teeth for the next season. Good.
The test is a big responsibility to place in the hands of the F1 ace. While undoubtedly a highly-accomplished racer, those private test days are critical to the engineering team to collect as much data as possible to optimise and tweak the powertrain prior to it being homologated (and therefore unchangeable) for the season. With no prior experience of a Formula E car, Massa will have no comparisons to be able to draw on and will likely need to rely heavily on the team’s other drivers and engineering squad to meet the goals of the test day.
Still, the day will give the driver a feel for a Formula E car, which is no bad thing considering that he reportedly had a contract in place for sometime this year. Massa is highly unlikely to enter Formula E so long as he is racing in F1 with Williams, which rules him out of joining a Formula E team such as Jaguar until the end of 2017. It’s thought that Formula E’s fourth season will start in December 2017, which would fit well for the Brazilian. By then, Massa will have finished what is likely to be his final season with Williams in F1, culminating at the Abu Dhabi race at the end of November. So he could be available to contest the entirely of Formula E’s fourth season.
Massa would become the latest in a long line of former F1 drivers to make the switch across to Formula E should he secure a full-season drive, but is arguably the most marketable and recognisable name yet to test one of the all-electric series’ cars. Massa came within one lap of becoming F1 world champion in 2008, only to be denied by Lewis Hamilton, and has remained one of motorsport’s most popular figures throughout his career.