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Massa could give Formula E series a boost in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (AP) The new Formula E series needs a boost, and it’s likely to get one from Formula One veteran Felipe Massa.

Massa will step away from Formula One after the final race of the season in two weeks in Abu Dhabi. He hasn’t confirmed it, but the Brazilian seems almost certain to join the new electric-powered car series.

Brazilians have been dominating the Formula E circuit, but have been largely ignored at home. Nelson Piquet Jr. won the first title in 2015, and Lucas di Grassi is the defending champion.

That could soon change.

Massa has a high profile. He won 11 Formula One races with Ferrari and came within one point of winning the season championship in 2008, losing out to Lewis Hamilton.

“When I won this year’s title not a single local paper cared,” di Grassi told The Associated Press. “Now that Massa could join and a race will be held here, the interest is growing. More Brazilian drivers see Formula E as a real alternative and the future for electric cars.”

A Brazilian Formula E race is set to be held in March on a street circuit about 30 miles north of the traditional Interlagos track where this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix takes place on Sunday.

Formula One is struggling in Brazil. The country won’t have a driver on the circuit next year for the first time since 1969, the race’s future in Brazil is in doubt, and television ratings have been so-so the last few seasons.

Massa has yet to announce his decision to join the electric-powered series, but said Thursday that he would like to.

Piquet Jr. said financial backing for Brazilian drivers to race in Formula One is not happening, partly because of the country’s three-year economy crisis. That makes Formula E an attractive alternative.

“You see a lot of (Brazilian) drivers fighting for the available seats,” Piquet Jr. said. “Drivers are not making a secret that they are working to get to Formula E. When I heard about Formula E I thought it was a really interesting concept and the technology involved is the future. I knew I wanted to be involved and I worked really hard to get there.”

Massa was seen early in his career as a possible heir to three-time champion Ayrton Senna. That was an impossible standard that Massa never quite reached. But his Formula One credentials are solid and he is widely respected around the track.

“I have to see what is best for me. I cannot join a series without fighting for victories and titles,” Massa said. “Formula E has grown. There is great development in their technical aspects. But you cannot compare it with Formula One.”

Just as Formula E sees Brazil as an opportunity, Formula One officials have hinted that the Brazilian Grand Prix may not have a strong future.

Governing body FIA has put the future of the race at Interlagos into question, despite having a contract through 2020. Further concerns have cropped up since Sao Paulo city hall opened talks to privatize the track and its surroundings.

Di Grassi said he has no doubt that the future is not in Formula One.

“I am sure that in 10, 20 years Formula One and Formula E will have to be one series,” di Grassi said. “Racing will be in a severe crisis in the next few years. It won’t disappear, even when autonomous cars are out. But the process has already started.”

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
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The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.