While there is only four E-Prix to run, the Franco-Chinese team powered by DS Automobiles is two points behind the lead in the constructors’ championship, behind Envision Virgin Racing. Pilot side Antonio Felix Da Costa, the reigning champion, is five steps behind Sam Bird, when Jean-Eric Vergne is sixth at 13 points. When we know that each race can earn up to 30 points, that means that everything is still possible for a large number of drivers. We took advantage of the two New York E-Prix to take stock with Thomas Chevaucher, Director of DS Performance within the DS Techeetah team.
You have been at the head of DS Performance since April 15, what first assessment do you draw from these first weeks?
Thomas Riding : This change of position (he was previously technical director, editor’s note) has changed a lot of things in my professional daily life. I feel good, but it’s a big challenge. I knew it and so there are no big surprises, but this is currently an important moment for the team, because the second part of the season is when contracts, like a lot of other things, are negotiated. for the following season. My goal is to build on what has worked over the past few years, which can be both simple and complicated.
To take over a team which is twice champion, it is more pressure or on the contrary less obligations?
It’s more pressure, because we know that the team put in place by Xavier (Mestelan Pinon, who left for the FIA in mid-April, Editor’s note) was sufficiently well structured to win against the big manufacturers involved in the championship. While we have been double champions for the past two seasons, one could legitimately wonder what could have changed in the team if we did not make it this year …
What strategy will you adopt to achieve your ends?
The only strategy is to go and find every possible point to catch without ever letting go. We do not take reckless risks, even if we can afford more when we go far because we have less to lose. For example, during the second race, here in New York, we had planned a more daring scenario on JEV’s car than that of DAC, which played for the podium (Vergne started 24th but his car broke down on the starting line, Editor’s note).
You are in the third season with the same “Gen 2” car, and we saw that reliability problems were still possible …
It is true that JEV’s car suffered damage in qualifying for race 2, then on the starting grid. It first stopped following the failure of a small electronic box for which we are responsible, then on the grid we do not yet know what happened. Despite our validation processes, and the large number of kilometers traveled in tests or in simulation, it is clear that zero risk does not exist. We must accept it and above all understand what happened.
Currently it is the big transfer window for the pilots. Will your line-up be the same next season?
I will do everything to keep our pilots and I do not see why this should not be the case. We’re very happy, but it’s a part that is driven by Techeetah, while we are responsible, on the DS side, for the technical part of the car. JEV is also DS Automobiles ambassador, DAC is the reigning champion, so I hope nothing will change on this side.
Techeetah is in the process of being sold, and will potentially be in the hands of other shareholders next season. Is this a risk for the stability of the team?
I think it’s a bit early to say that Techeetah will be sold before the start of next season. In any case, in the current discussions, there is no desire to change an organization which is a double champion. And then the choices are made in consultation: DS gives its opinion on the recruitment of pilots.
Formula E has unveiled a new calendar, with many distant trips that require you to yoyo between the ends of the planet. How do you see this new campaign?
It’s a great program, we are very happy to be able to return to the city centers. The championship is the first to be certified carbon neutral, and even if the logistics will be a challenge in terms of travel, the impact remains contained on a global scale. The most important thing is to carry the message on “zero emissions” in the city thanks to the electric car.
You have a priori budgets lower than the German teams, how do you see the rest, with the arrival of the new “Gen 3” cars, more efficient and more technological?
One of the aims of Formula E is to limit the escalation of budgets, and to introduce a maximum budget per season. This figure is not yet known, but it should not limit us much given our responsible management of the subject.
Does more shopping mean more expense?
Yes, but it’s also more impact, especially in the media. Of course, we are never satisfied and we always want more, but in Formula E the level of media coverage is quite acceptable given the sums involved.
Do you think Formula E is more profitable from a media point of view, than the WRC or the WEC?
Yes, without a doubt. For endurance, it all depends on what event we are talking about. Because participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans offers a better return than the entire championship. But the investments are not at all the same, and the ratio between the sums invested and the benefits is very efficient in Formula E.
Does a Formula E season cost less than a year in the WRC?
Widely. This is also why there are eight manufacturers in Formula E, and only three in rallying. But they are also two different worlds, with different audiences and messages. In addition, the rally is also reinventing itself, and taking the turn of electrification, which is certainly coming a little late. But discipline is also less suited to exercise.
Do rally and electrification really go together?
The electrified car is the future of the automobile for all. In this context, it is important to demonstrate to all audiences, even the most skeptical, that an electric car is not necessarily boring. Formula E ensures this promotion, and I do not see why we could not do it in other championships. On the other hand, it must be done at a controlled cost and in a relevant way.
Formula E has damaged its image twice, with the dramatic end of Valencia and the disqualification of Porsche for an administrative error in Puebla. How can we recover from these painful episodes?
We learn from our mistakes, we pick ourselves up by avoiding repeating them. I’m not going to shoot the ambulance, we all make mistakes… The championship is still young, we have to analyze what happened, but we must not forget that the vast majority of the races were of excellent level . We also forget that the other disciplines have sometimes known moments of scandal. What is needed is to progress and move on.
You are still officially committed for five years in Formula E, what is the main reason for this long-term vision?
It is first and foremost support for the technological and avant-garde message of the DS Automobiles brand. We want to show that we are making progress on electrification, and accelerate the development of DS, which remains a “small” brand that is still very recent.
How can we stand out from other manufacturers when we only produce electric motors?
The big challenge is consumption and autonomy, which are obviously linked. The nobility of an electric motor is its efficiency, that is to say what it can offer in terms of power and pleasure for the smallest possible amount of energy. In the spirit of technology transfer, Formula E is also an excellent laboratory for the production car. In a very concrete way, we have developed interfaces with the brand and Jean-Eric Vergne to allow customers to optimize the energy consumption of their cars.
Let’s finish in the championship, where Envision Virgin Racing is currently at the top of the Manufacturers’ standings when it is a client team, which rents its engine to Audi. Do you think this is acceptable?
The regulations are made so that the client teams can compete with the manufacturers. It is the spirit of discipline, and I find it to be good so. Envision Virgin Racing is a historic Formula E team, and I don’t mind them leading in the championship, as long as at the end of the day we are ahead…
Update on the championships after 11 races
Pilots : 1. S. Bird 81 Pts, 2. AF Da Costa 76, 3. R. Frijns 76, 4. E. Mortara 72, 5. N. Cassidy 70, 6. JE Vergne 68, 7. R. Rast 61, 8. M. Evans 60, 9. P. Wehrlein 60, 10. N. De Vries 59, 11. O. Rowland 59, 12. L. Di Grassi 54, 13. S. Vandoorne 54, 14. M. Günther 54 , 15. J. Dennis 54, 16. A. Sims 44, 17. A. Lynn 34, 18. A. Lotterer 32, 19. N. Müller 30, 20. S. Buemi 20, 21. N. Nato 17, 22. O. Turvey 13, 23. S. Seven Chamber 12, 24. T. Blomqvist 5, 25. J. Eriksson 0
teams : 1. Envision Virgin Racing 146 Pts, 2. DS Techeetah 144, 3. Jaguar Racing 141, 4. Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler 115, 5. Mercedes-Benz EQ 113, 6. BMW i Andretti Motorsport 108, 7. Tag Heuer Porsche Motorsport 92, 8. Rokit Venturi Racing 89, 9. Nissan e.dams 79, 10. Mahindra Racing 78, 11. Dragon/Penske Autosport 42, 12. NIO 333 Racing 18.
Photos: Jérôme Cambier / Michelin
To read on auto-moto.com:
The Formula E TV program
Formula E 2021 calendar: race dates and times
Entered Formula E 2021: drivers, teams, cars