One month on from his Formula E championship win, Jean-Eric Vergne talks to Crash.net about his stunning 2018 to date, the evolution of Techeetah, his own progression - and the possibility of a shock F1 return...

JEV, 2018 has been a sensational year for you so far, winning the Formula E title, and winning Le Mans in reality. Are you able to sum it up?

Jean-Eric Vergne: I would sum it up as definitely the best year of my career, by far. I could not have expected any better. When I went into this season, I was like: ‘OK, I really want to win everything I touch this year’ - obviously you never win everything, but we can try to get close to it. And I think I came close to perfection in what I had. In LMP2, it’s 100 percent wins so far. The first one, the team did not win, but I was in Rome, so I didn’t do the race. Le Mans, at the moment, there’s nothing done. We’ve been disqualified but then not anymore, and then it’s waiting to get judged for the appeal at the end of September, and hopefully we can get our win back.

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You said that you wanted perfection, but did you have some rough, perhaps more realistic targets in mind? Or is all you think about winning, being P1, being number one?

JEV: No, I didn’t think about being P3, or even winning the championship actually. Really what I wanted was not perfection over the year, but perfection over the weekend. Sometimes that meant perfection for me was not winning, but it was fifth or third or anything like this when I didn’t have the car to win. This was more the state of mind I was in.

They’re two quite modest projects, Techeetah in Formula E and G-Drive in sports cars. Neither have had major manufacturer backing. Does it make you more proud to have such success with them, given their relative size?

JEV: Yeah, obviously I’m very proud. G-Drive, I haven’t been involved too much in the creation of this team and what they have done. I was lucky to come in the team that was really good with very good people. I really enjoyed this year with G-Drive, from the French side TDS, and the engineers that we have in G-Drive have been fantastic, always giving us a reliable and very fast car. Also I have my teammates who are very good. In endurance, it’s very important. In Techeetah, I’m very, very proud of what we’ve achieved considering the little budget that we have, that we’re not a manufacturer, that we’re a private team, and to have had the chance to work with the best minds I’ve ever seen in motorsport. They're the best creative, engineering minds that I know.

Was it cool to build that team around you? We spoke at pre-season testing in Season 3 and there was hardly anything on the car, there was hardly anyone around - and yet you’ve been able to create this team and build it to win a championship.

JEV: Yeah. It was a very long journey, a difficult journey obviously. We needed to prioritise what we needed first. Last year, we probably had the worst marketing team ever. We didn’t have any sponsors on the car. But that was a risk. For me, I was able to push the risk in that direction, and put all the focus and all the resources we had in the engineering department and the simulator department, and to have a fast car and win races. In my mind, I was thinking: ‘OK, when we win races, we can have a strong marketing department and have more sponsors on-board’, and that’s what happened this year. We started with nothing and finished the season with a lot of sponsors and quite a lot of success from this part of the team that is very important in motorsport. So the rise of this team has been absolutely amazing. I think in the history of motorsport, in the big championships, I don’t think anybody has done it before. I’m proud of what everybody has done in the team and also, I don’t know if proud is the right word, but very happy to have been part of this project, starting from scratch and already in two years winning a championship.

Has it made you see motorsport in a different way as opposed to just being a driver?

JEV: What really helped me was to understand what a team needed from a driver, and also to understand a little bit better what the driver needed from the team. It helped me, it completely changed me. I think that’s also a part of my success, having changed for I think a better person, a better driver. It was part of this, definitely.

Has it made you mature, what’s happened over the last few years?

JEV: Yeah, absolutely. Well when you go from a kid dreaming of being in Formula 1 to not having anything, no more drive, no more future, and you find something back and that you see there is a big potential in Formula E and actually you’ve got something to do in here, I put absolutely all my energy into it and trying to make it successful. I think if I would have had the same mentality when I arrived in F1, I would have had a completely different career in F1.

Do you think that’s the risk of F1 teams rushing kids up at such a young age, not giving them enough time to mature?

JEV: It’s only [Lewis] Hamilton and [Sebastian] Vettel who came in winning. It’s quite rare. It’s possible. But the problem of when you are a young kid… look at [Stoffel] Vandoorne, for example. He’s the best example. He’s the driver that had probably the most successful junior career before Formula 1, and I read today in the press that maybe he’s not even going to be in Spa. I’m sorry, but you don’t become bad in six months. He’s in this situation because he was unlucky to arrive in the time of his life where McLaren was at the lowest. If he comes in a season when McLaren was what it was in 2007 and 2008, he would be in a completely different position. He would be fighting for the world title like Lewis was when he arrived in F1 with McLaren. Obviously, not having the experience or the maturity, this is when it’s very hard to handle. I’ve handled disappointment. I’ve handled pressure. I’ve handled I think a bit of everything, especially from the negative side of handling the big things. I guess it made me a lot more cooler and relaxed about how I approach racing.

You seem the happiest you’ve been in racing too. I remember talking to you in F1 and the early times in Formula E when you were with your former teams. Now you’ve got two great projects with Techeetah and G-Drive. You seem so happy. Has that translated to on-track as well and been part of why you’ve been so successful?

JEV: Absolutely. I don’t know what I changed in my mentality or my way of working, but the result, it’s like you removed the ballast from your feet and you started running. That’s exactly how I feel. I feel like I’m flying. It’s super-good for the confidence, and in the same time, having had very low moments, I’m able to not go too crazy about it and say ‘OK, that’s good, but I can still do more and I can still work more’. I’m still motivated to do it again and to continue being successful.

We spoke off the record a couple of days ago and I asked if you’d had any time off in the summer, and you said: ‘No, no, I’ve just been testing and racing!’

JEV: Yeah! I went straight to testing. Last week I was also testing in Formula E, and I’m here racing. I do something that I love. It’s not like I’m waking up in the morning, going to the office and like ‘oh God I don’t want to go’. I enjoy what I do. And I enjoy what I do more because it’s more than driving that I do. It’s creating something for when you’re gone.

And that’s something so many drivers in motorsport will never do, they’ll just drive, that’s it.

JEV: But maybe they’re right, everybody works differently. I think if I would have done this a few years before, it would probably have not worked because I would not have had the experience. But today, this year, the experience I took is massive. I cannot calculate the experience I gained from the driving side, but also management and engineering side and so on. We’re all different, I’m not an engineer, so I’m never going to tell the engineer what they have to do. I’m not the team principal, so I’m never going to tell the team principal what they have to do. But I’ve got a very good understanding of everything, and I can handle different situations I guess.

Looking at Season 5 of Formula E and the new partnership between Techeetah and DS, how are things shaping up? How is testing going so far?

JEV: That’s always a very hard question. I think that testing is going very, very well. This doesn’t matter if you are fast or not. The brains we have at Techeetah and the brains DS have, now that we’re working together, it took one test to make it work together, but at the last test I was extremely impressed with the way our two teams became one, and what we’ve been able to achieve is so little time. I’m very pleased. The ambiance, the atmosphere, it’s so cool. It’s very professional, but we’re doing something that we love. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We have fun at the same time as working very hard, and I’m absolutely loving it. To tell you we have the best car and we’re going to win, I can’t do that. I think we have a good car, but once again, until we compete against the other teams in the first race, we’re never going to find out. All we can do is work to our maximum and do the best we can, and then see where we end up.

That camaraderie has been seen with your Formula E teammate, Andre Lotterer. You guys have come together so well, and there’s the fan-named ‘Jeandre’ partnership you guys have forged - that must have been cool for you?

JEV: It’s cool. I’m in a team that I love. I built something from scratch, and now we’ve got something quite big. To be able to share this with another driver that you have a very good relationship with helps the team, helps everything, and just makes it more lively and more fun.

Looking into the future, what other goals have you got in your motorsport career? You’ve ticked off the Formula E title and a class win at Le Mans. Are you looking to LMP1? Is that something you’d like to reach?

JEV: It’s an interesting time ahead. I’ve got one more year next year with the team, then I don’t know. There are a lot of opportunities. Obviously in Formula E, it’s a championship that is growing massively. You want to be staying in here unless you get a chance in a top team in F1. And then Le Mans, it is something I would love to do but in LMP1. I won in LMP2, but you really want to win the overall. With this new calendar, I cannot do it next year. I’m not going to go to Toyota, because they are full, and they have to finish their super season. So next year I cannot win the overall Le Mans, it’s impossible. In the future, it’s still a little bit uncertain how the championship is working. I saw the new season will start from September. I don’t know, I’m a bit lost and a bit confused with how everything works. I don’t know who’s going to be there, which manufacturer. I heard there are possibly great manufacturers coming with the new regulations. That’s something I will be looking in to.

Have your phone going off with more people getting in touch after your Formula E title win about drives in the future?

JEV: Yeah, even a Formula 1 team.

Really?

JEV: Yeah.

For a race seat?

JEV: Yeah. It’s a possibility. It’s funny how the world of motorsport changes. When you change your state of mind, when you change a little bit how you work, you see the results straight away. You see it in the results, and you see it in how people look at you and how they speak to you. When you start representing a brand what you are, it changes a lot of things. Three years ago, I don’t think anybody would have called me from F1 and say: ‘Hey, do you have a contract for next season?’ So it’s great.

Is a return to F1 something that would be of interest to you? Or do you think you’re done with F1?

JEV: I'm happy where I am. I’m not bitter. I see my ex-teammate Daniel winning races. I was in Monaco and I was so happy for him when he won. I could be bitter, saying: ‘Fuck, I was beating this guy, I was close to him, and now he’s winning and he’s got this contract and this future’. I’m not bitter at all. I’m very happy with what I have. I think things happen for a reason. Who knows where he’s going to be in 10 years and where I’m going to be in 10 years? So no. I’m not disappointed any more. I learned from my mistake, I learned from the bad things that happened, and I’m actually thankful for what happened to me. But now, if a good opportunity comes in Formula 1, I would consider it.

But if you’re looking to win, that’s only three teams, the way F1 is now.

JEV: Yeah. But because it is like this, maybe Formula 1 wants to change that a little bit. That’s the good thing about Formula E. With our team, it’s like if Marussia would have won in Formula 1. It would be impossible in F1. But maybe that can change. Maybe some teams can raise their games and start fighting for wins again. It’s something that would interest me, to have another new, big challenge. This time, I think I have all the tools at my disposal to do a good job in F1.

What was your reaction when you got that call through? Did you laugh to yourself, thinking it’s crazy I’ve had this approach?

JEV: A little bit. But it was like… I don’t know, it was nice. I don’t know how to put it in any other terms. It’s more like… When you work, it pays off. I don’t need it for my ego. With what happened to me, I don’t have a big ego. I don’t think I ever will have any more. It’s nice. But it doesn’t change my objectives.

Fernando Alonso announced this week that he would be stepping away from F1 for 2019. Can you relate to that a bit, finding more joy in other championships like Formula E, like sports car racing?

JEV: In a way. He’s definitely one of the best drivers, he’s proved it for many years in a car that didn’t make him win championships. As a racing driver, you want to win. You’re not here to make money. Some drivers want to make money and they take it easier than others when they lose and they don’t win. But at the end of the day, all of the top drivers in this world, it doesn’t matter where they are, in rally, in Formula 1, in Formula E, in sports cars, in DTM, the number one objective is to win races. When you see you can’t win, I understand it.

 

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