Fresh off a podium finish in Marrakesh, two-time champion Jean-Éric Vergne is continuing his fine form with DS Techeetah in the Formula E electric racing series.
In comparison to Formula 1, the electric motorsport is still in its infancy, celebrating its fifth season. However, as one of the first to join the sport in 2015, the Frenchman has become somewhat of an icon in Formula E. So, he’s the perfect person to ask about the development of the series.
“DS Techeetah is where it wants to be, leading the championship,” he tells me, “as Formula E continues to grow in popularity each year. It’s nice to be part of a championship that is only five years old, as I feel that I am part of its story. It’s fantastic.”
Today, Formula E continues to push the boundaries of racing and technology, differentiating itself from its petrol counterpart and creating a new lane for itself, both on and off of the track. In turn, this has attracted a new generation of spectators and enthusiasts, seeing a similar rise in popularity as the popular e-sports industry.
Formula E’s new approach to racing has seen the introduction of innovations such as Attack Mode, where drivers can choose to take a specific race line to gain access to a temporary boost, and sophisticated energy management which sees drivers push their EVs to the limit.
People used to ignore or, in some cases, even laugh at the idea that Formula E was going head-to-head with Formula 1. In fact, in 2014, Bernie Ecclestone claimed that he didn’t have any interest in new spectators who couldn’t afford a Rolex. Oh, how he must regret that statement today.
Vergne says that, in contrast to F1, Formula E is for the new generation. “Formula E is for young kids, who will be buying EVs in the future. It’s very difficult to change a 50-year-old’s opinion of EVs, while a young kid will not have the same stubbornest.”
Well, they do say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
“It’s in our own interest to work together in order to help Formula E grow.”
It seems as if people are falling out of love with traditional cars and motorsports, with fewer people owning a car and, in many cases, not bothering to get a driving license. Although this is great for the environment and the future of transport, it is a great shame to see an industry that inspired so many of us fall apart right in front of our eyes.
The petrol-head persona is starting to disappear and taking the wider automotive enthusiast with it. However, with the introduction of Formula E, the industry has a chance of igniting a new era of racing enthusiasts.
Vergne has been on both sides of the fence, racing for Torro Rosso in F1 before his move to Formula E. So he knows a thing or two about internal combustion engine and electric vehicles.
“The biggest difference between F1 and Formula E is that we race in city centres, which is really cool. But I also find that everyone is a lot closer to each other than F1, because we are all on the same journey,” he says.
“We’re all happy to be involved in a new championship, so you will never hear us say anything bad about each other. It’s in our own interest to work together in order to help Formula E grow.”
However, F1 has been around since the ’50s and has produced legendary champions that will go down in history. Think Senna, Schumacher, Lauda – who are all household names, even for those who didn’t watch the sport.
“We don’t have this in Formula E yet, as it may take 20 or even 30 years to develop personalities in the same way,” adds Vergne.
Beyond The Chequered Flag
I’ve spoken to many different characters from F1 and Formula E, from racing icon Alain Prost to DS Techeetah Team Principal and Streetdrone Founder Mark Preston.
Everyone involved in F1 fascinates me, but Formula E takes it to another level. Take Lucas Di Grassi for example, a fellow Formula E competitor, who is responsible for Robo Race, the Zero Summit and many other environmentally-focused projects. He is extremely invested in the future of transport outside of the championship; another great example of the unique personalities evolved in the sport.
“You wouldn’t get this in F1, which is the great thing about FE,” says Vergne. “It presents us with the opportunity to be more than just a racing driver, giving us access to a platform that allows us to do all these kind of things. I think that Lucas, or anyone else, may not have had the same chance to do this in F1.”
So, you may have the house-hold names in F1, but it is the lesser known personalities in FE that are helping drive change, from raising the awareness of EVs and climate change. Simply, there is a shared philosophy that extends beyond the vehicle.
People like Vergne understand the direction the world is moving in and want to help with the transition, which I salute.
To end our discussion, I ask Vergne what the future holds for him. To which he simply replies, “another championship would be nice.”