“Hungry For More” – An Interview with Jaguar’s James Barclay

by James Bowers

A week ago, Jaguar Panasonic Racing unveiled their latest electric-powered creation, at the heart of their newly-revamped design centre. Amidst the waves of darkness and teal blue accent lighting, the I-Type 4 prowled its way through the conference room under the guidance of its handler, Mitch Evans. The new Big Cat was met by a strong round of applause from all, not only because it looked the part, but because this is the car which should be the one to re-assert Jaguar’s place in international motorsport.

With the beginning of the 2019/20 FIA Formula E Championship just around the corner, The Checkered Flag was invited to Jaguar’s rather impressive home in Warwickshire, to talk about the year ahead for the recently reborn British team. In particular, we were given the chance to speak to the man at the top of the food chain; team director, James Barclay.

At an event put on to show off their new car, where better to start than with the new I-Type 4 itself? Aside from the revised livery on its exterior, plenty of work has been done in the off-season under the bodywork too.

“With the new I-Type 4, we have introduced another all-new powertrain.” Barclay explained. “When we talk about ‘powertrain’, this involves a new motor, a new inverter, even the rear casing, the rear end of the car that the suspension bolts to. All the rear suspension is new because of that re-design at the back of the car. We’ve also worked with the dampers as it’s critical for us to have good handling on the [type of] circuits that we race on. 

One thing that isn’t a totally new product, but is an evolution, is our software. Compared to what we had previously, we’ve, taken another step forward with that. It’s a lot of work in a short space of time, but to be competitive in this championship we need to make these steps.

But while his engineering staff have been hard at work coming up with these latest updates, Barclay and the rest of Jaguar’s management structure have also had plenty to sink their teeth into.

Primarily, the hot topic of the Summer in Formula E has been the driver market, and Jaguar were always expected to be players in this particular game. Last season, a string of woeful performances meant that Barclay had to pull the trigger on Nelson Piquet Jr‘s time with the team. Alex Lynn was drafted in for the latter part of the season, and despite being quicker than his Brazilian predecessor, couldn’t seem to shake off the bad luck that loomed over that second Jaguar car all year.

Despite Mitch Evans’ stellar pace throughout 2018/19, the points lost from their second car hurt Jaguar in a big way, as they only managed to place seventh in the teams’ championship standings. Therefore, it was crucial that this time round, Jaguar had two drivers at their disposal which they could rely on to score big points regularly.

James Calado (right) will partner Mitch Evans (left) during the 2019/20 FIA Formula E Championship campaign.
Image Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

The man entrusted to hit that mark is 2019 Le Mans race winner, James Calado. So, with the Ferrari GT regular now partnering their rapid Kiwi, Jaguar hope to have found the final piece to their racing driver jigsaw. Whether Calado really is the answer will become evident in time, but for now, we took the opportunity to ask about the process of identifying new driving talent, and what made Jaguar place their bets on the 30 year-old Brit.

To be honest, it’s never so straight forward.” Barclay admitted. “But from our point of view, as a team we’ve been very careful about our decision. It’s one which is never guaranteed [to go to plan] but we look at factors which we believe are the key signs for a driver to be successful. James has the sort of style which we think will be successful in Formula E, and as I said, no two situations are the same, so it’s hard to compare [Calado against Piquet Jr. & Lynn].

We’ve had the chance to evaluate a number of drivers and one thing for us which has been very clear is that James is very fast. Naturally, he’s got raw speed, and a lot of it, so that’s really appealing – knowing that he’ll have good qualifying pace is really critical. But he’s also very experienced, he’s been very successful in single-seaters all the way through the categories, and he’s been World Champion in the World Endurance Championship in GTs where you have to think about strategy.

You have to think thoroughly, it’s not just about going as fast as you can, it’s about being clever behind the wheel. So yeah, we think James has that ability and that potential, and we’re looking forward to him hopefully showing that in his first year of Formula E, and we’ll give him the best tools to do the job.”

In the past three years since the Jaguar racing team was re-established, plenty of progress has been made. The outfit has gone from being lowly back-markers in 2016, to outright race-winners in 2019. Evidently, whatever Barclay has been doing is working, so what really is the key to successful management?

“Everyone works incredibly hard in motor racing and it’s not a job, it’s, it’s almost a lifestyle.” he began. “You’re working with incredibly passionate people who give their all, but they do it because they love it. For us as a team, and I’m sure you’ve seen from the footage of last year, when we have success you see us celebrate and you can’t make that up. It’s something which is natural and our team really does have that dynamic.

We’ve grown up together in this championship with largely the same team, and when you enjoy your work you work hard, you can rely on each other to do the right thing and be committed. That naturally creates a great atmosphere, and I can honestly say that we have that. The proof in the pudding is when people say to us, ‘Gosh, you guys celebrated so much’, and that’s because it means so much to all of us.

So there you have it, the cliches are true. Instilling ‘passion’ and ‘drive’ into your subordinates really does do the trick. But if results are anything to go by, DS Techeetah and Audi Sport perhaps have more of those intangibles than anybody else. The Franco-Chinese and German outfits have been the top two teams in the past two years of the sport, so how close are Jaguar to challenging them for overall victory?

Mitch Evans was able to challenge the top competitors on occasions last year. This time out, he’ll be pushing to be at the top on a regular basis.
Image Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

“We don’t underestimate how strong our competition is.” Barclay said. “They are incredibly good and they’ve also done it for a long time. You know, it’s only our fourth year back in the sport so we’re still incredibly young as a team. But I think what we showed last year was that on a race-by-race basis we can compete with those strongest teams. It’s putting that together in a complete championship now which is key for us, and I think at the end of last year, we had the quickest car in Formula E.

We’re starting to learn how to win as a team, and that sounds strange to say, but sometimes when you have the tools it’s learning how to execute [them] properly [that’s the sticking point]. And that’s where we are as a team. So, [it was a] big year last year, we learnt a lot and it’s about going on and doing that regularly. When we can, then we can start thinking about championships, and I think this year is another step for us to take to get towards that.”

Jaguar might not yet be the finished article, but it’s evident that plenty of effort has gone into this new project. It therefore must be hugely frustrating to know that at least some of the engineering work that has been put in will be mitigated by the unique, love or hate aspects of Formula E.

Qualifying groups based upon championship position ensure that the most successful drivers and teams will rarely ever have the optimum track conditions in the one-lap shoot-out, while Fan Boost is an artificial way for the public’s favourite drivers to receive an extra helping hand during the race. The latter innovation means that fans can vote for their favourite drivers in an online poll, where the top five will be awarded a one-off extra power surge that they can use at any time, whether they’re attacking the car in front or defending from the car behind.

Depending on your stance, there’s plenty of positives and negatives to be taken from these innovations and other ones like them. It spices up the racing and the results that races produce, but purists certainly have a lot to dislike about it. So, as a man who’s judged on the results that his team achieves, what side of the fence does James Barclay sit on? We decided to find out:

James Barclay sees the positives in Formula E’s entertainment-focused structure, but how does it impact the work that his team puts in?
Image Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

 “It makes our work really challenging.” Barclay revealed. “With the one-lap qualifying, you can have the fastest car, but it takes a tiny error or a tiny misjudgement within the set-up and then you’re not in that window. We’re talking a tenth, two tenths [of a second] being the difference between a top six result and top fifteen.

So, qualifying is a challenge, but it’s the same for everyone and it’s one of those things where we’d like another go [at setting a lap time], but actually what you do see is that generally the best rise to the top over the course of the season. It just means that on a race-by-race basis you can’t back up pole position with pole position. 

I think Attack Mode has worked really well. While qualifying is frustrating for all of us, it produces a good show because drivers are out of position. On attack mode, the new introduction [from last season] has been a real coup. It creates excitement and overtaking. As a team you have to make the right strategy, as a driver you have to be cool in that situation and not rush it and miss the arming [sensors]. So from that point of view it creates challenges.

I think Fanboost was revolutionary. Getting fans involved and having an impact has been revolutionary, so we support it all. It doesn’t mean we always have to like it at certain times, but overall I think it produces a great show.”

That last sentence is quite a poignant one to end on. Undoubtedly, The debate over which direction Formula E should go down will trundle on for years to come. As it stands, there are elements for competitors to revel in, but also elements for them to despise. And while the entertainment factor is certainly there, Formula E also has to be careful not to deter its core fan base by becoming too contrived.

Returning the focus back to Jaguar specifically though, like every team, it’s clear that they want to be pushing for overall championship titles. But with a grid full of so many top-quality, manufacturer-backed entries this year, it certainly won’t be easy to do so. While success is at the forefront of their motivation, there is also an inherent modesty within this team. The way they see it, this sport is not something which they can win overnight.

As James Barclay put it; “we think we can get some more podiums and some more wins, so let’s see where that puts us, but we’re not being so bold as to say that we’re coming to win the championship this year.

“We have more learning to do, that’s the reality of it, but we can be proud of what we’ve achieved so far, and every one of us is hungry for more.”

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