Lebanese-Brazilian Felipe Nasr anxious to wheel into F1 history in 2015
ABU DHABI // With a theme park next to Yas Marina Circuit and a cultural cachet no other team can match, Ferrari have been the local favourites throughout the six years of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
That could change next year.
For the first time, the Formula One grid will offer the Arab world, host of two annual grands prix, a driver with roots in the region.
When he gets behind the wheel at Sauber in 2015, the Lebanese-Brazilian Felipe Nasr could become the favourite driver for many in the Middle East. It’s a role, he says, he can’t wait to fill.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “I have it on my helmet, on my car: my Lebanese name written in Arabic. I expect to bring the fans closer into Formula One and, of course, I call for their support next year and onward.
“It’s good that they will see a name there, Nasr, and they will look for it.”
For the moment, he is still a Williams reserve driver who is preparing for his final GP2 race of the season, this weekend.
Nasr’s Lebanese roots run deep. His grandfather was born there and emigrated to Brazil in the 1960s, Nasr said. His grandmother, whose family name is Bitar, is of Lebanese heritage, as well, and cooked Lebanese meals for the family every Saturday. He said he relishes the Middle Eastern races on the calendar because, “first of all, I enjoy the food”.
He added: “And I have to say Dubai and Abu Dhabi is the best you can find – the quality of life, the weather, everything is perfect.”
His grandfather, he said, arrived in Brazil from Lebanon to start a new life.
“He took a ship from Lebanon to Brazil, so it was nearly three months overseas to come to Brazil and then he started a family.”
They settled near Brasilia, in a small city called Anapolis. His grandfather became involved in a range of business ventures to provide for his family in his new country.
Taking up motorsport was not unsual in the Brazil of the 1970s and 1980s, the time of Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. Nasr’s father was interested in the sport, and that enthusiasm was handed down.
Nasr, 22, began driving go-karts when he was seven and in 2008 began his career in Formula BMW Americas, before stops in Formula BMW Pacific, Formula BMW Europe and British Formula Three brought him to GP2 in 2012. He finished 10th with Driot that season, improved to fourth the next year with Carlin and is second with the same team this season.
He says he is ready for the jump to Sauber and F1.
“The plan is to get a good run in Formula One. I did the first thing now – to get in. I have two years to learn at Sauber, do the best I can.
“But the other thing is to be successful in Formula One, which is another step I’m looking forward to. Of course, still a lot to learn, but I’m ready after a year here with Williams, a few years in GP2 as a driver. I feel a lot more prepared to take this challenge and I want to do the best I can in Formula One.”
It is a confident stance from a driver who, perhaps even more than what he will represent to the Arab world, will be taking the weight of Brazilian expectations on his shoulders, especially with Felipe Massa, 33, unlikely to remain in the sport for many more years.
“Of course, we had a lot more Brazilians in Formula One in the past and were always thinking if another one is going to come,” to join Massa. “I finally made it; it’s been good news.
“It’s been positive from a lot of fans, a lot of support from Brazil when I was back there when the announcement happened. A lot of good things are happening at the moment.”
Said compatriot Massa: “This is his chance and now we will get to know how is his talent.
“He has shown a good thirst to learn while at Williams and now we will see just how good he is.”
Nasr will test with Williams before joining Sauber, no later than January.
This weekend, even as he focuses on sealing second place in GP2, he seems aware of just how different things will be when he is back in a year’s time with a seat in F1.
“It’s special, a unique moment and I will always thank these guys at Williams for the opportunity, because the team has history I had a great relationship with everyone.
“From the first moment I stepped in the car it was a very neat sensation.”
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Updated: November 21, 2014 04:00 AM