New York City E-Prix: Former F1 drivers say competition is key to Formula E's success

Felipe Massa is still looking for his first Formula E victory. He finsihed third in Monaco.

The first race was the first of a four-year run of races that mandated car switches midway through the race — racing for 45 minutes on one charge was unheard of. Now, on the weekend in which the series wraps up its fifth season and its first with the Generation 2 car, Beijing seems a lightyear away.

And, no, drivers no longer swap cars at the hallway point of the race. Instead, it’s 45 minutes of competitive racing.

D’Ambrosio, a three-time winner in the series, and teammate Pascal Wehrlein, are more than happy to underline that word competitive. D’Ambrosio, who is one of just four drivers to start every Formula E race (Lucas di Grassi, Sam Bird and Daniel Abt are the others), never had much of a chance to win races in his brief 20-race F1 career with Marussia and Lotus teams.

Jerome D’Ambrosio has started every Formula E race in the series five seasons.

“I think the championship is doing a good job,” D’Ambrosio, 33, said. “You have everything really close – the powertrains are all close in efficiency and you can really make a difference. If you work well with your engineers, if you get everything right, you’re going to get a good result. It’s very satisfying.”

The 24-year-old Wehrlein is also a survivor of a failed F1 marriage. He failed to get anywhere near the podium in 39 starts with Manor/Sauber in 2016 and 2017.

“I don’t miss it,” Wehrlein told Autoweek. “The emotions and the feelings you get in the Formula E car is unique. The g forces and everything is very high.

Pascal Wehrlein drives for Mahindra in the Formula E series after a two-year Formula 1 stint.

“I’m enjoying more this season than my two seasons in Formula 1. I hadn’t been in competitive teams, and you are always enjoying it more when you’re fighting for wins. In Formula 1, we would turn up for the weekend and the mindset was, ‘OK, we are fighting for P15 so if we can beat another two or three drivers from other teams it would be great’.  That’s not satisfying for a driver.”

The new kid on the Formula E block, is series rookie Felipe Massa. While Massa is a rookie in the all-electric racing series, he has started more F1 races in his career (269) than any of the 10 F1 veterans in this year Formula E standings.

Massa won 11 races in a F1 career that spanned from 2002 through 2017. His transition has been a little more difficult than many imagined when he signed on to race for the Venturi team prior to the start of the 2018-19 campaign. He’s managed one podium in 11 starts.

“It’s very different from Formula 1,” Massa said. “You need to sometimes switch off what you had in your mind before and learn it again. The types of the track, the cars, the tires — to drive a Formula E car is completely different than a Formula 1 car. You have so many different things that you need to change completely — the way you drive in Formula 1 to Formula E.

“That’s why experience in Formula E is quite important.”

The 38-year-old Massa is enjoying his all-electric ride in a series that saw eight different winners in the first eight races of the current season.

“I think that’s what everybody wants to see, especially if you compare it to Formula 1,” Massa said. “There, you know who is going to win the race, which is a shame because you want to see cars fighting until the last lap — which happened in the last race in Formula 1.

“That’s exactly what you have in Formula E.”

Felipe Massa wraps up his first Formula E season this weekend in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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