Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans clinched his third Formula E win of the season at the first-ever Jakarta E-Prix, fending off the close attention of DS TEECHEETAH’s Jean-Éric Vergne and ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara to take the chequered flag.
After a slow start to the season, Mitch Evans currently stands fourth in the Driver Standings with three wins, putting the Championship within reach.
Following his win and leading up to the race this weekend, the Kiwi driver discussed challenges faced during the race, his performance this season, the evolution of Formula E, potential new locations for the race, and his racing journey to today.
- Talk us through the race – what were the challenges, what did it take for you to get that win, and what thoughts were running through your mind?
It was tough for everyone, mainly because the climate was more humid and hotter than expected. Though we knew it was going to be hot, once you start experiencing it, it brings a whole lot of challenges with it.
From a technical and a physical point of view, it was a whole new layout, so trying to work out the track’s requirements was also difficult.
For the race, we started off P3 and had a good start and a good qualifying session. It was a bit of an unknown as to how things were going to play out. Obviously, with the temperatures – keeping track of both tire and battery temperatures was quite critical. And towards the end, there were some physical limitations as well because it was super-hot then.
I was behind the two DS [TEECHEETAH] shooter cars that were very, very strong qualifiers. From quite early on, I found myself in P2 because Antonio, who was in P2, made a mistake. And I got by, which was great for me because, in the past, you would have to use up your useful energy to try and overtake, so this was like a free overtake.
When I was behind Jean-Éric for the first phase, it was all about which tech mode strategies to deploy. Being behind DS [TEECHEETAH] opened up some opportunities for us to react differently.
Also, with Edoardo Mortara in the mix, it was a bit of a chess match between both the DS [TEECHEETAH] cars, me, and Edoardo. Getting halfway through the race, I was feeling pretty good. The car was really on its limits with the tires, but I had the same pace as the other guys. Then it went into the next phase of the attack mode where we won the race, and I executed my second attack and came out in front of Edoardo and Antonio.
I managed to find extra pace towards the end of the race with about seven to eight minutes to go. I found myself quite close, where in one lap when I came out of Turn 2, I just went for the move. As it took me quite long to creep up to him, I thought, “Okay, this is an opportunity.” There was no move to defend, and the turn was an open apex.
I went for it. I had room to get through and then thought it was going to be not a cruise for the finish, but a relatively straightforward end of the race.
I started to pull away over the next few laps, but then suddenly, I hit the cliff, and my tires just went on me. The last few minutes were really stressful. Then obviously I crossed the line first in Jakarta, which was an incredible feeling.
It was a very tough race to manage, and we were all pretty tired at the end because there was a lot to manage. And when you load us up with basically every challenge possible with this car, along with the extreme humidity and hot temperature, the race becomes a tough one.
To face all of this collectively as a team, and to come out on top was really special. And it was a special one to win.
- Heading into the main stretch of the season, what are your takes on it? You were up against two DS TECHEETAHS in Jakarta and you were battling them. Do you think at the moment that you have the quickest car on the grid, or do you think you’re having to slightly outperform?
I’m not too sure. ROKiT Venturi Racing and Mercedes-EQ, tend to operate as a four-car teams. So, we’re a little bit up and down and have been slightly more inconsistent compared to the others. I would say DS TEECHEETAH is a little more consistent than us, though it is very hard to say who’s got the strongest car on the grid.
I think it’s a tight competition between the teams, and there are quite a lot of variables that we have to take into account. Obviously, Sam’s had a bit of a rough run recently, but he will be back because his race base is always strong.
It’s hard to decide who’s got the best car at the moment, although I would say the Mercedes-EQ powertrain seems to be really strong. I’m super proud of our team as I feel we toe to toe with them most weekends. And I’ve got full confidence for the rest of the season and believe that we can have a more consistent end of the season, but I guess time will tell.
- When you are up against two cars, say you’re the front three, one of them can pull the pin, jump into the pits, and go for the undercut. The other one must react. If you are second, then you’ve got one in front, one behind. Do you ever find that the guy in third is forcing you to use more energy to defend, which is allowing the guy in front to gain advantage?
Definitely, and this is why we call it a chess match. It’s almost like playing poker as well, in a way, in terms of trying to show your poker face when you’re on track, which is kind of hard to put into race terms, but it all depends on how confident you are.
If you’re the lead car, it’s really hard to judge lifting points from the other cars. If you know you’re a clear third let’s say, and one and four are close to you, you can start pre-empting your lift points and try to accumulate more energy since everyone’s distributing the energy a little bit differently. You can just get an idea of where you’re stronger than them or where they’re lifting more than you. So, you can begin to form a strategy to plan and attack.
There are always different strategies to play out, and mine is always “track, positions, key”. So, get into the lead and try and disappear, though it’s very hard to get into the lead and go down the road. You start to see more people drop back into P2 and try not to be the lead car. It depends on the track, and some tracks are very energy sensitive, some are not. For example, Rome is not very energy sensitive because it’s got a lot of corners. We can recover a lot of energy there.
So, achieving our energy target is really difficult. These types of tracks will start to benefit you if you’re on a train and you’re a couple of cars back.
It’s quite fun to try and work out a race or track-specific strategy and whether being third or first is better. I like to be in the lead and disappear, but it doesn’t always work out.
- Obviously, you’re pretty tough and have been in a great position from Rome onwards. If you do end up winning the title, will you remember Mexico and Rome? Because the performance seems to be night and day.
After last year, the hardware of the car has been the same for everyone. But there’s this massive software development going on to try and make the cars faster and more efficient, with better braking and acceleration. Last year when we got to the end of the season, we were in a pretty good position performance-wise.
But you don’t want to stand still, because you know that everyone else is going to make marginal gains which can make a huge difference in Formula E. So, at the start of the season, we went down a slightly different route in a few areas to try and perform well, and it was after Mexico, after last summer, where we had a very dominant victory.
It was a real struggle for us and came as a shock to everyone. Fortunately, we had two months off to deeply analyze what was going on. We found quite a few things that were not operating in the way that we were expecting, or maybe things that we thought were benefiting us were actually more of a hindrance, which was a combination of the mechanical setup and also software related. So, we sort of pulled things back and then tied things up again.
We’re not completely bulletproof — in Berlin we had a tough two days. We think we know why, and you do have to deeply analyze these things.
Fortunately, we had some time from Mexico to Rome to do that. It’s not one thing but it’s multiple things that add up. There are so many variables, and you have to pull them all together.
- How do you rate this season of Formula E – is it the best one yet since the start of the championship in 2014?
I think that’s a lot different this year compared to other seasons is the qualifying format.
The previous qualifying format was quite unpredictable, which is sometimes good in sport, but it was a little bit too extreme. I would say maybe some of the races from seasons five, six, and last year were quite entertaining from a ‘contact’ point of view – there were a lot of contacts last year due to many of the fast cars and drivers sometimes being out of position, requiring for a lot more safety cars to be deployed.
I started the P18 or P16 position many times because of the qualifying format, where you’re always recovering. I think now we can start to see teams and drivers that are maybe more consistently at the front with a new qualifying format. I would say it’s fairer now, as we all get a more genuine shot at trying to qualify well and head towards the front, which, to be honest, is the way it should be. It’s a world championship, and the best performers should be rewarded.
I think initially the previous qualifying format worked well to mix things up, but it’s sort of run its course. I think all I would say is that this year it’s just fairer, which I think is never a bad thing. If I win, then I would say it’s definitely the best ever. But I have to wait and see about that, as it’s a little bit too early to make that call.
- We see some drivers struggling when joining Formula E in that even though the cars arrive slower at corners, the drivers have to break much earlier. We see that with Antonio Giovinazzi, for example, this year. What were the most surprising things you faced when you joined Formula E after racing for a couple of years in GP3 and GP2?
Formula E is a whole different ball game, and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past whether it’s F2, F3, or F1, this is so different from anything else.
You have to go through a learning phase. Fortunately, I came in at a time when it was also difficult because I came in with a team that was completely new – I was a rookie. All the personnel knew it was a very steep learning curve.
There are a lot of things that you have to deal with in Formula E, even compared to F1. There are so many variables, and we’ve got three things during the day that we must get right, including race, power, and energy management. We’ve got performance laps at a certain power. And on top of that, energy management is very complicated – it is a fine art, and nothing can really prepare you for it.
I think that maybe some drivers that join the championship feel that because they have had success in the past, they will naturally perform well here. But the fact is that it’s a very unique car to drive and obviously there are all these other elements that you have to learn and concepts that you have to understand. Moreover, the time to be on the racetrack comes up very fast, not granting you enough time to think about it.
It’s a very brutal championship – I would hand on heart say it’s the most difficult in the world right now, considering all the elements – the drivers, the teams, the levels, the technical side, the race format, and the racetracks. You’re constantly learning. And since its new technology, it brings with it a lot of new things to learn.
I think I’ve heard one of the drivers say the other day during an interview that it’s the hardest race that he’s ever done. And I think all the drivers that race in Formula E probably think that as well. I’ve taken part in some other competitive championships, but Formula E is on a whole other level.
I found it difficult, to begin with, but I had to learn quickly. I had a one-year contract where I had like maybe three or four races to prove my worth. And at the start, it was super difficult, but I worked hard, and I worked out what I needed from the car and what the car needed from me in order to be fast. And you sort of build the foundation from there.
- While there’s no confirmation yet, we do know that Formula E is working on fast charging tech, so we could see pit stops come back. How do you feel about that as a driver?
I think that’s great. I think the concept we’ve got now of attack mode is a good replacement to pit stops to enable drivers to create a strategy. Motorsports have been built around pit stops for decades, but for many, it’s mainly for tire changes.
To introduce pit stops again through fast charging is exciting from a sporting point of view as people like to see pit stops. Also, I think fast charging is a big talking point for electric vehicles to promote – it’s exciting and going to be good for the championship.
- Amongst the drivers in the top position, you are the only one sure to race the next season. Can you share some thoughts on this?
I have been on the same team since I joined and have a contract with them for next year. And next year we’ve got the Gen3 car, which I can already start working on.
My teammate Sam also has a contract, so the development for the next year has already started.
It’s good for me to be in the same outfit next year.
- Did you test out the Gen3 car? What do you think about the new cars?
I’ve not driven the Gen3 car yet, and we’ve only just received all the parts and everything.
I believe the rollout’s going to be soon, so I think I’ll drive it in the next few weeks.
- Formula E is undergoing a huge change. New teams will join next season and there will always be new tracks in the championship. What do you expect from this kind of evolution?
Only good things – we’ve got new manufacturers joining, which I think is great, and new teams like McLaren and Maserati. We have Mercedes leaving – which is sad to see – but it’s their own choice and we have some great replacements. Post COVID-19 and since this year, we are starting to get back into the proper Formula E calendar.
Though unfortunately Vancouver and Cape Town most likely won’t be on the calendar, I reckon the seasons after that, the tracks that we were meant to be racing on before COVID-19 will be reintroduced into the calendar along with some new additions, which is going to be exciting. The bigger cities can promote Formula E’s electric mobility.
- You are one of the most skilled drivers in the championship. Could we see a New Zealand race, perhaps once you are a world championship winner?
I would love that a lot and it would be incredible in my home city of Auckland. It’s a beautiful city and right on the water – I think it’s the perfect city to host a race. We came close around three to four years ago and a track was designed in Auckland, though it didn’t go through at the last minute. New Zealand is going with EVs in general and orchestrating a massive push.
We’re a big sporting nation, and though it’s not in my control, maybe it would help if I managed to win. It would be a dream, as I’ve not had a race in my home country in a long time.
- You were born in New Zealand, which is so far from Europe. How difficult was it to leave your country to start a new chapter of your life in Europe, so far from where you were born?
I moved to Europe when I was 16. I left school early, which I was not disappointed about – I was ready to leave school. I’ve known what I want to do from a very young age. As soon as I could legally leave school, I took the opportunity to come to Europe. I received support to come and participate in GP3 in 2016.
At the time, I didn’t think twice. It was all “I can’t wait to leave New Zealand and chase my dreams.” But looking back, I was very young and living at home in New Zealand. And then suddenly, I was living all by myself in the UK.
My mother stayed with me for two to three months initially to teach me how to survive, and how to cook and wash, along with other life skills which you tend to take for granted when you are living at home.
So, once I started living by myself when I was 16 years old, it was tough, and I was homesick often. All my friends and family were back in New Zealand. Fortunately, it was at a time when social media, Skype and iPhones were gaining popularity. At least I had the means to communicate. If it was a few years earlier, I think it would’ve been tough because the technology was quite new.
I was so focused on my racing and was racing and training a lot, which was quite tough at the start, and I did struggle a bit. I went back to Zealand a few times to see my family. But from when I turned 18 or 19, I started to become more comfortable. And obviously, once I won GP3, I was definitely all for staying in Europe.
Fast forwarding to today, I have just turned 28 and have been away for over eleven years. I now live in Monaco, and this is very much home to me. I feel very comfortable in Europe and have no desire to go back to New Zealand as my life is here now. It’s still difficult because, though I’m very happy with where I am in my life, I don’t see my family very often, and I see my mom and dad once or twice a year.
I think that’s a big difference between me and the drivers that I’m racing against – as they are European and can go and see their families whenever they want. For me, this is a foreign land and can be very difficult at times as I realize I’m not spending a huge chunk of my life with the people I’m related to. And obviously, because of COVID-19, I could not go back and see my family for almost three years. I always look forward to going back every year, especially for Christmas.
It’s not easy, but my family has shaped me up to become a racing driver, and they know this is what I want to do. They are very supportive and try to come to as many races as they can, though it’s a very long flight for them.
Unfortunately, New Zealand is very far away. You cannot get any further distance-wise from there to Europe – it’s literally on the opposite side!
For the foreseeable future, I hope to stay in Europe, and Monaco is going to be home for now.
- You said that your mother taught you how to survive. What did Mark Webber teach you?
I completely forgot to mention Mark. When I moved to the UK, I was living at the end of Mark Webber’s driveway. Mark was the main reason why I came to Europe.
So, he was with Formula 1, and we traveled together and trained together because my GP3 races were at his F1 races as well. I was very lucky to have Mark because, though I was not living with him, I was living very close.
He had a similar story, leaving Australia at a young age to come here. The difficult part during that time was that the technology and social media to help keep in touch with family weren’t quite there yet. Driving was the easy part, and he always told me that the most difficult part is trying to get used to a whole new environment and a whole new culture.
To have Mark and his wife Ann was a huge deal for me. Even now, he’s a huge ally, on track as well as off track. He’s still my manager and looks after all my contracts and my career path. He also lives in Monaco by the way, just two buildings away from me. So, we’re still very close and he’s been a huge part of my life since I moved to Europe. And I’ve been very lucky for that.