Inaugural Formula E race in Saudi Arabia is start of an 'exciting' era
The first staging of the Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia takes place on Saturday in Diriyah
The inaugural Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia is the start of an "exciting" new era of motorsport in the country.
That is the belief of Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, vice-chair of the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority, as the event, which is the opening round of the 2018-19 Formula E season, prepares to begin on Friday.
"Formula E for Saudi Arabia is more than an exciting race, it is bigger than a single sporting event, it’s legacy reaches beyond the track into the community," he said of the event, which is the latest part of the country's Vision 2030 plan.
A 2.5km street circuit, winding around the roads of Diriyah, will test the 11 teams and 22 drivers, who will race for 45 minutes in Saturday's race, which begins at 4.05pm UAE time.
The championship, which has existed since September 2014, sees a field of cars powered only by electricity compete.
A 10-year deal for the race to be held in Diriyah has been agreed between the championship, the General Sports Authority and the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) meaning it is set to become an established part of the sporting calendar in the years ahead.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal Al Saud, president of SAMF, said: "Formula E is more than just a race to be the best – its mission is to be a competitive platform to test and develop road relevant technologies, it helps to refine the design and functionality of electric vehicle components and it wants to accelerate the transition and uptake of clean transportation on a global scale.
"We embrace this vision and we will be working closely with the championship to inspire the next generation of technicians and engineers within Saudi Arabia."
Saturday's race is part of a new era for Formula E as well. New cars, named Gen2, boast double the battery range of the previous model, meaning the past situation of drivers having to change cars midway through an event is now consigned to the history books.
The sport's chief executive Alejandro Agag told Reuters in an interview ahead of the action: "Season five is the moment of truth for Formula E.
"Now people are coming, assuming that this is a long-term venture that is going to be playing a really huge role in the motorsports industry and in the car industry.
"And we cannot fail. We have new manufacturers, new sponsors. It's great, but it also means more responsibility."
Jean-Eric Vergne is the defending champion in the series and the Frenchman starts his title defence with his team Techeetah in Saudi Arabia.
A familiar face in the world of motorsport who will make his debut on Saturday is Felipe Massa.
The Brazilian raced in Formula One between 2002 and 2017, winning 11 races as he drove for both Ferrari and Williams.
He never won the championship during his in F1, finishing as runner-up in 2008, and he believes that he can be a champion in Formula E thanks to the closeness in performance between the teams.
"I think what makes things interesting in Formula E, and I really hope it happens with me, is that many drivers are able to win the race," he told the BBC.
"Maybe many drivers can win the championship. I think it is a lot more closer compared to the cars in Formula E and cars in Formula 1."
Massa is driving for the Venturi team and he will partner Edorardo Mortara.
Stoffel Vandoorne, who raced in the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month at Yas Marina Circuit, is another fresh face on the grid.
The Belgian has joined Formula E full time from F1 and will race for HWA Racelab.
Friday will see the drivers have a first sighter of the Diriyah track in a shakedown event. Free practice starts from 8am UAE time on Saturday, with qualifying running from 10.05am to 12.55pm.
Updated: December 13, 2018 07:34 PM