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Formula E

Hong Kong ePrix can show Formula E is catching Formula One, says champion Di Grassi

Brazilian turns attention to defending his crown when the new season kicks off at Central Harbourfront on December 2-3

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 9:41am

Reigning FIA Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi has declared it’s no longer a matter of if electric cars will knock Formula One off its perch at the top of motor racing but when.

“In terms of teams, of driver levels and interest from manufacturers Formula E is already a clear second-most important series in the world and we are getting close to Formula One very quickly,” Di Grassi said yesterday.

The Formula E series boasts the presence of Jaguar, Mahindra, Renault and Audi while motor racing giants BMW (2018), Porsche and Mercedes (2019) are poised to join the fray.

“The world is turning electric and Formula E is the place to be,” Di Grassi said.

The Brazilian ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver put two seasons of disappointment behind him in thrilling fashion at the double-header in Montreal in July that brought the 2016/17 Formula E season to a close.

Coming into the races in Canada, Di Grassi was 10 points behind his rival Sebastien Buemi.

When the weekend came to a close, he was 24 points in front of the Swiss driver. And the championship was in the bag.

“Consistency, team spirit and hard work won us the championship,” Di Grassi said during a conference call on Friday.

What makes Di Grassi’s effort over the season more impressive is that after six of 12 races he was 43 points behind Buemi in the championship.

In Mexico he was racing dead last during the early stages before storming home for victory.

And then there was Berlin in June where Di Grassi raced twice over the weekend with a leg he broke while taking part in a charity football match at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.

20,000 fans to get free tickets to eVillage for this year’s Hong Kong ePrix

The Brazilian shook off the pain, and he finished second and third in the two races to pick up a vital 36 points.

“The feeling of winning the title is hard to put into words,” Di Grassi explained. “It’s like a release of energy, and the sum of all the effort I have put through my motor sport career.

“A lot of dedication and a lot of effort. A lot of teamwork. It all exploded in one moment so it was very emotional and it was a moment I will never forget.

“It was the least expected result for the season because we didn’t have the fastest car.

“I broke my leg in the middle of the season and it was very difficult to drive. But I am Brazilian. I am obliged to play football.

“We had good fortune and took advantage of that at the right time. And we had the best team.”

The 2016-17 title was just reward for the 33-year-old Di Grassi, who was the first driver to sign on with the fledgling Formula E circuit – and its third employee overall – and the winner of its first race in Beijing in 2014.

Spectacular surroundings, grand race ... but no home driver again for Hong Kong ePrix

Such is the Brazilian’s faith in the rise of electric racing technology it was just announced this week he will become chief executive of the Roborace initiative which plans to supplement the Formula E circuit.

“The Robocars are not only to generate technology but to generate talent,” Di Grassi said. “We can use the Robocar and the Roborace to showcase to the public autonomous driving capabilities.

“I will be on a mission to help this series just like in the beginning I was on a mission to help Formula E.”

Now his attention has turned to defending his crown with a team in transition during the off-season as Audi makes more changes in its operations.

It all kicks off around the Central Harbourfront on December 2-3 and Di Grassi has warm memories of an inaugural Hong Kong ePrix where he finished second to that man Buemi and his e.Dams-Renault.

But the Brazilian believes it was a race he could well have won – and he wants to set that particular record straight.

“We are in transition but we are working already to ensure the team arrives in Hong Kong in good condition,” said Di Grassi.

“Hong Kong for me is one of the most stunning places we race throughout the season. When I won the Macau Grand Prix in 2005 I spent a week in Hong Kong and really enjoyed it.

“But the racetrack is really well built. It’s challenging technically. It has everything that a track must have. I can’t wait to return, and to win.”