Interview with Formula E Drivers’ Champion Jean Eric Vergne: Learning from last year's mistakes helped win title
Jean Eric Vergne won his maiden FIA Formula E World Championship in July with Techeetah Formula E Team. Firstpost caught up with the driver for an exclusive interview.
The summer months of June and July would have brought heartbreak and rejoice for Jean Eric Vergne. Hours after winning his first 24 Hours of Le Mans race in June, Vergne’s team (G-Drive) was disqualified for a technical infringement. However, Vergne more than made up for this heartbreak by winning his maiden FIA Formula E World Championship in July with Techeetah Formula E Team.
The former Formula 1 driver for Red Bull (Toro Rosso) and Ferrari, won the FIA Formula E title in his fourth attempt. He was the only driver on the grid to have finished every race in the points — his worst finish being a point-scoring 10th place. In fact, his consistency helped him fend off different rivals at different times during the season. While Felix Rosenqvist and Sam Bird challenged him in the first half of the season, Lucas di Grassi did so in the second. Also, Vergne’s tally of four ePrix wins through the season is twice more than of his rivals.
Prior to winning the title this season, Vergne’s best finish in the FIA Formula E Drivers’ Championship was fifth (last season). In his four seasons in the series, Techeetah is Vergne’s third team and this was his second season with the team.
Techeetah is a customer team of Renault in Formula E and this is why Vergne’s championship win was applauded that much more. Renault’s Sebastian Buemi finished a distant fourth in the championship — 53 points behind Vergne. Given how customer teams struggle to compete with the works team in Formula 1, Techeetah’s performance is noteworthy. Although, the team lost the Teams’ Championship by just two points in the last race of the season.
Here’s Firstpost's exclusive interview with the reigning FIA Formula E World Champion, Jean Eric Vergne.
You ended all races with points — how would you rate your current Formula E season?
It has been a fantastic season, it’s fair to say that this has been the best Formula E season for both me and Techeetah.
What did you change in your approach between last season and the current one?
Last year we started the team from scratch (Techeetah entered Formula E last season after buying Team Aguri) and because of this, there were a lot of mistakes. We learnt from the mistakes we made last year and we assembled a really good team of people for this season and it’s thanks to everyone’s hard work that we won the Drivers’ title.
You had different drivers challenging you at different times in the championship — Rosenqvist, Bird followed by Di Grassi; who would you rate as your most fierce competitor?
I think Sam, Lucas and Felix are all very good drivers, in fact, most of the Formula E drivers are very highly rated. For example, there are no drivers that pay to drive in Formula E, everyone is there on a salary which says something in its own right.
(The level of competition in Formula E is extremely high. While five drivers won at least one ePrix this season, 10 drivers made it to the podium. Former Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa will strengthen the grid’s competitive quotient next season as he makes his debut with Venturi Formula E Team.)
In terms of a team setup, how different is your Formula E team setup to what you had in Formula 1?
It’s completely different. To start, Techeetah was a small customer team in Season Four. We’ve now teamed up with a manufacturer, DS Automobiles, for Season Five. But even with a manufacturer backing, Formula E is still a very small operation compared to a Formula 1 team, both on and off track.
We also have limited testing in Formula E, so this means that we spend a lot of time in the simulator. I’ve probably spent more time in the simulation during my Formula E years than in my Formula 1 days. It’s one of the most useful tools that we have to improve our performance in Formula E.
Le Mans, Formula 1 and now Formula E — what does the future (next 5-7 years) hold for you as a professional racer? What series will you continue racing in?
I’m very happy where I am for the moment but let’s see what the future has for me. Funny things happen in Motorsport!
How painful was it to accept the Le Mans result? How does someone like you deal with such disappointment?
Of course it’s disappointing to get such news after completing such a tough race but it’s not over yet as we are appealing the decision, so until then we’ve had the decision, there’s not much point in dwelling about it until it’s final.
As someone who has raced in both — Formula 1 and Formula E, what do you think Formula 1 can learn from Formula E?
One of the best things with Formula E is the fan engagement and accessibility. This is something that Formula 1 has struggled with but are now changing so I’m looking forward to seeing what the next couple of years have in line in Formula 1 in terms of fan engagement.
FIA Formula E’s Season Five will see the debut of the series’ much-awaited Gen-2 car. Apart from being faster, this car will eliminate the need for mid-race car swaps as the battery will last a full race distance. What are your views on the Gen-2 Formula E car?
It’s great. It’s always fun to get to know a new car and this one doesn’t only look fantastic, it’s a lot of fun to drive too.
How will the Gen-2 Formula E car impact racing on-track?
It will be slightly easier to drive with the new brake-by-wire system and the cars are also slightly wider, so it will be interesting to see what happens when 20 cars head out on the narrow city tracks. Formula E is looking into a different race format which will increase the excitement, which will of course also impact the Gen-2 racing.
Season Five of the FIA Formula E is scheduled to start in mid-December. While Vergne will be eager to defend his Drivers’ title and become the series’ first-ever repeat champion, Techeetah has scores to settle as they will aim for their maiden Team’s Championship.
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