Jean-Eric Vergne is at the peak of his powers, and by his own assessment, is driving better than ever before in his career.

Last weekend in New York, the Frenchman sealed his second FIA Formula E championship title to become the series’ first double champion and first driver to successfully defend their crown.

Since joining the FE grid following his departure from Formula 1, Vergne has caught the eye. He immediately stunned the paddock by scoring a pole position at his debut race at the 2014 Punta del Este E-Prix and from that moment, it was clear he was going to be a star of the series.

Naturally, the transition to all-electric racing took some time, and Vergne initially struggled with energy conservation and overall race management, but he soon got on top of this area.

After spells at Andretti Autosport and DS Virgin Racing, Vergne switched to Techeetah for the 2016/17 campaign, a move that would coincide with his FE breakthrough as he took a first win at the Montreal finale.

It would be the start of a triumphant partnership, with Vergne notching up four wins en route to securing his first FE drivers’ title with the Chinese squad the following season. This time around, three victories were enough to make it back-to-back championships.

Vergne’s success in the last 18 months has marked a drastic turnaround since losing his F1 seat at Toro Rosso at the end of the 2014 season. Despite much success in the junior categories and a promising start to his F1 career, Vergne became a victim of Red Bull’s ruthless young driver programme - leading to him being replaced by Carlos Sainz Jr in the Toro Rosso stable.

A three-year spell fighting for scraps in F1’s midfield knocked Vergne’s confidence, and that was reflected in his results. Vergne’s Montreal FE win in 2017 was his first since the September of his title-winning Formula Renault 3.5 season in 2011, ending a barren run of over six years without victory.

“First of all I think it was confidence, I had lost it, quite clearly,” Vergne told Crash.net when asked what had been the key to his recent turnaround and new-found purple patch of form.

“Before I came to Formula 1, I was winning championships and a lot of races and then nothing for more than three years, and you kind of forget how it feels to win.

“You forget how hard to do the win as well. It took some time to get back to that winning spirit I would say.”

Vergne also credits his heavy involvement in the management of the Techeetah squad for helping him improve his mental approach, and ultimately, his on-track performances.

“The other thing which helped me take a much bigger view of my life in general, was the fact that I came into Techeetah and I was heavily involved in the management of the team in it’s first full season when we had a very small team, which was probably the worst team in Formula E with ex-Aguri,” he explained, referencing Techeetah taking over the slot of the former Team Aguri outfit.

“To have done this behind the scenes, from the team I am really happy to understand what was necessary from a driver, and what each team is expecting from their driver.

“Inside the team, the work you do with your engineers, the mentality that you give the team as well, being hard on them but at the same time… All of those of things that I did not quite understand in the past.

“This really helped me become a better person and a better driver. I’m just a lot more calm I would say inside of me.”

A new era of FE was expected to be unpredictable following the introduction of the ‘Gen2’ car for the 2018/19 campaign, which, with its increased battery, negated the need for mid-race car swaps and resulted in a new 45+1 lap race format and additional power modes for season five.

On the eve of the season, Techeetah announced a switch from Renault to join forces with DS Automobiles and become a fully-fledged works manufacturer squad. It was a collaboration that would lead the Chinese outfit to its greatest achievement to date in FE.

It proved hard for any driver to get a foothold on the championship early on, with eight different drivers sharing the opening eight victories on offer, before momentum began to swing in Vergne’s favour as the season drew towards its conclusion.

After finishing second at the season-opener in Saudi Arabia, Vergne would not return to the podium until his top-step appearance at the sixth round in Sanya - a win that ended a run of three-straight non-points scoring finishes.

A collision with Antonio Felix da Costa ended his race prematurely in Santiago, while clashes with both Jaguar drivers ruined his chances in Mexico and a spin in wet qualifying conditions left him fighting from the back of the grid in Hong Kong.

Vergne bounced back to record his first win of the season in China but suffered another tricky weekend in Rome, before returning to the points on home spoil in Paris.

What followed was the key in setting-up Vergne’s charge to the title, as he claimed three successive podium finishes - bookended by wins in Monaco and Bern - with the first victory propelling him to the top of the championship for the first time since his 2017/18 coronation.

Improvements as the year went on, combined with a change in attitude towards how he approached each race weekend, were pivotal in helping Vergne recover from a tough start to a season that ultimately culminated with a historic title success for both himself and Techeetah.

“I think no-one had a perfect season,” Vergne recalled. “Everybody had a lot of issues with DNFs, bad things happening in qualifying, crashing into each other, I think that happened to all of us.

“At the start of the season I had some bad races, Santiago and Mexico, the pace was good but someone ran into the back of my car. It was a bit of frustrating and difficult moment where I started to lose ground on the championship.

“It was difficult to stay united together in the team, always thinking about the championship but I think the mentality was a huge factor from last year.

“Last year I was doing well in the championship quite early and this year it took me some time to get into the lead of the championship.

“But I think the mentality after the tough period of the season was to really focus and not do a single mistake, and even if we score points for sixth or seventh position, it’s better than nothing.

“It was in the bad races that it was important to score those difficult points,” he added.

“When you have a good car and a good qualifying and you start on pole, I would say winning a race is not that complicated, but when you start that far back and you have to finish in the points for the championship, those are the difficult moments in the season.

“Last year I knew from the very beginning that I was going to fight for the title, and this year I was never in that position.

“After Bern maybe I thought it’s going to look OK if I don’t do mistakes and don’t do mistakes, but it was a lot more difficult this year for the mind, mentally it was a lot more difficult.”

After forgetting the winning feeling during an F1 perennial roadblock, Vergne has completed a remarkable transformation by dragging himself out of the mire and establishing himself as the man to beat in FE.

Comments

Loading Comments...