Felipe Massa powered by thrill of the competition in Formula E

Updated 4:41 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2018

Editor’s Note: Alex Kalinauckas is Autosport’s Plus Editor and Formula E correspondent.

(CNN) —  

He competed in 269 Formula One races, won 11 of them, and for a few seconds at the end of the 2008 season it looked like he was about to become world champion.

Now, Felipe Massa is taking on a new challenge in Formula E.

The 37-year-old Brazilian, who left F1 at the end of the 2017 season, has signed to race for the Venturi team and will make his debut in the all-electric championship when its fifth season begins later this year.

He was on hand in Zurich and New York for the final two rounds of the 2017-18 season and has tested the Gen2 car, a leap forward for all-electric race cars that will be introduced to FE from next season.

“I was always interested in maybe being in Formula E as I said many times when I was still racing in F1,” explained Massa. “So I did a test a year and a half ago for Jaguar, but then I carried on for another year [in F1 in 2017].”

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But Massa ultimately decided FE would be the next stop in a long career which has included eight years with Ferrari and four more at Williams.

“The thing that I miss most is the competition,” says Massa, who enjoyed 15 seasons racing in F1, a more glamorous and storied form of motorsport but one which has been criticized for a lack of overtaking in races.

That is one criticism that could not be leveled against FE during its first four seasons.

“When you’re talking about proper competition, I think Formula E has good competition,” he adds.

Indeed, Massa says it is that close competition that led him to chose FE over the World Endurance Championship, where his former Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso enjoyed success in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race with Toyota Gazoo Racing – which dominated the classification.

“I’m not really a big fan of a championship that maybe has [only] one team racing – like maybe LMP1, which I think is maybe the best car after F1 to race,” Massa says. “This is something that I was not really interested in. All the ideas around [FE], after I finished my career in F1 – it is interesting.”

Thanks to his F1 success, and running Lewis Hamilton so close to that world title in 2008, Massa is arguably the most high-profile driver so far to join FE’s ranks.

Jacques Villeneuve trumps his success status thanks to his 1997 world championship triumph, but Massa is probably a more recognizable name among the younger fans that FE is aiming to attract.

But, at Venturi, Massa has picked a tough place to begin his FE adventure. The team has not won a race in the four seasons held so far and finished seventh in the recently concluded 2017-18 championship, with Maro Engel, who ended the season 12th, the best-placed of its racers in the drivers’ standings.

READ: Why FE is the most exciting motorsport

He will work together will new Venturi team boss Susie Wolff – his former Williams teammate – and is nevertheless confident heading into his new challenge.

“When it is a new season, a new car, it’s a big change for everybody, so it is impossible to say who is going to win the championship next year,” he says. “But if you see everything that the team is preparing, it’s quite interesting and I really hope that we can have a competitive car.

“It’s true that Venturi have never won a race, but they were very close to winning [last] season and they’ve managed some very good results as well.”

Massa is already making his mark at Venturi, with team technical director Franck Baldet, saying he is “a very open-minded colleague”.

“He’s learning as much as possible how to manage the energy, because it’s different compared to F1,” added Baldet. “[But] his background in F1 is also helping us, so we are in a situation where we are all learning from each other and we are making big progress.”

But FE is a famously tough category – Villeneuve lasted all of three events – and its unpredictable nature and street circuit settings means there is little margin for error.

For season five, new brake-by-wire technology may make braking easier and perhaps reduce the number of driver errors, but Massa will still be four seasons behind many of his opponents in terms of race experience.

Crucially, however, he accepts that he and Venturi may not achieve instant success.

“It can be, it can be,” he says when asked if factory FE teams such as Audi, Nissan and in the future Porsche and Mercedes could be too strong for Venturi.

“But the team that is winning this championship [Techeetah, which took Jean-Eric Vergne to the season four title] is not a big team,” he adds. “That’s the only difference in Formula E from other championships – it’s more unpredictable. You never know – when everything is new things can happen in the right way, or may be less than what you expected – it’s true, but let’s see.

“My goal is to be competitive, the best as I can give. My goal never changes in whole my career.”

And this is an encouraging stance. Massa is entering FE because he wants to win, not to simply bank pay checks and make up the numbers.