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30/01/2024 News

Interview Jean-Éric Vergne

DS PENSKE driver in the FIA Formula E World Championship & Peugeot TotalEnergies driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship

“A qualifying lap is harder in Formula E than it is in F1!”

Having made a promising start to the season in the GEN3 all-electric race car entered by DS PENSKE, which has put him third in the current ABB FIA Formula E World Championship standings, the French driver is also actively preparing for the start of a new campaign in the FIA WEC behind the wheel of Team Peugeot TotalEnergies’ PEUGEOT 9X8.

Your results at this year’s opening two E-Prix in Mexico and Diriyah, where you claimed pole position and then finished as runner-up in race 1, confirm that you have stepped up the pace, performance-wise. Is that down to a lot of work done during the off-season?

The only thing that we could change for this season is the software, because the hardware is officially approved as is for another year, so the potential changes were pretty limited. Having said that, the field is so bunched together that even the slightest detail can help make a difference in terms of performance. I think we have quite a few new features on the software, in terms of race management, that seem to be paying off. Of course, we need to wait and see how it goes in the next few races before making a real judgement. Even in terms of the work of the engineers, we have some new people in the team, so it’s understandable that it’s taking a little while for everything to settle into place, but I think we’re on course to improve on last year.

What exactly do you mean by “software”?

The hardware is the motor, the gearbox and the inverter. What we call the software includes all the components and aspects that can be computer-programmed: braking, acceleration or even understanding the race for energy management.

You must therefore spend a lot of time preparing on the simulator. How do you prepare for an E-Prix on a simulator? Can it totally replace on-track driving?

No, it can't fully replace actual track driving. It does help the drivers quite a bit, however, to get into the swing of things for the race, because we don't have that much time in free practice before qualifying. So in terms of driving, there are a number of little things we can work on in the simulator, and which we can then replicate in a competitive situation. Having said that, as regards energy management strategies and software, we’re capable of simulating everything and preparing fully. I would say this preparation is important for the drivers, but even more so for the engineers because it is the opportunity for them to simulate different race scenarios.

You also use the simulator a lot to prepare for your races in the FIA WEC with Team Peugeot TotalEnergies. There is a huge difference in timing, though, with sprint-style races lasting an hour in one class and endurance races in lasting at least four hours in the other. Do you work on the simulator in the same way for both championships?

There are some similarities, because in energy management is also important Endurance racing, i.e. fuel economy, so we test quite a lot of different strategies. We also work on the set-up and it is equally important for the driver to be familiar with the race track.

When you move from one category to another, you switch from a light, all-electric single-seater with standard tyres to a heavier, hybrid-power, closed-wheel prototype fitted with racing tyres. Do you need some time for your brain to readjust or are both types of racing complementary?

I would say they are quite complementary. It feels very natural to me, in any case. I feel at ease very quickly when moving from one category to the other.

Next year, for season 11 of Formula E, the front powertrain will be unlocked to provide the cars with four-wheel drive at certain points. What do you think of this change?

It’s a good idea. I think we’re going to add quite a bit of performance and introduce something new, so it should be good for the sport.

What is it like to drive a 350kW single-seater weighing just 856kg and fitted with standard tyres right on the limit in qualifying on a city centre circuit?

It’s very hard! I’d even go as far as to say that it’s harder than in Formula 1 because the level of grip is fairly limited and given that we mainly race on narrow city centre tracks, if you make the slightest mistake you end up in the barriers. It’s certainly more difficult, but it’s a great challenge for us as drivers and something I really enjoy!

What is your fondest memory from all the years you have spent in Formula E?

Without a doubt when I won in Paris, at my home race, in 2018.

What has been your favourite Formula E track across all the seasons?

I’d say Monaco because it’s such an iconic race, be it in Formula 1 or in Formula E. It’s a fantastic track and in Formula E, it’s possible to overtake as well, unlike in F1. The races in Monaco are always exciting for drivers and fans alike!

This season, Formula E has notably added races in Shanghai and Tokyo to the calendar, with a city centre track in Tokyo. Do you think it might be one of the highlights of the year, given that Japanese fans are known for their love of racing?

Well, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a race everyone is looking forward to. I’ve had the chance to experience the exuberance of the fans in Japan, having raced there both in F1 and WEC. There is no doubt that they’re brilliant and very enthusiastic. I hope they will turn out in big numbers for the Formula E race and we can share some special moments with them.

Finally, what are your hopes for this season?

To win the championship!