Mitch Evans has signed a new contract with the Panasonic Jaguar Racing team, and at their recent launch event ahead of the new Formula E season, The Checkered Flag got the chance to speak to the rapid Kiwi about what’s in store for the year ahead.
Having led the way for Jaguar in the previous campaign, Evans ended 2018/19 as one of the most highly-rated drivers on the grid. Naturally, there were offers on the table from elsewhere (from whom, we’ll probably never know), so what was it that made Evans stick with the Warwickshire-based team?
“There’s a number of reasons to be honest.” Evans explained. “Obviously, the form we finished off with [last season] was really strong at the end and we got a few podiums and a win, but I guess it goes further than that. I can see the direction the team is heading in terms of the foreseeable future, and they’re a great bunch of guys; a lot of smart people. And obviously they gave me a great chance when I first came into the team, so there’s a lot of loyalty there but the performances are there as well.
“I mean, it wasn’t a no-brainer, there was definitely some interest but it would have to have been something special for me to move on.”
Clearly then, Evans’ side of the garage appears to be a happy one. Having previously raced independently in the GP2 and GP3 series, it’s easy to forget that the Jaguar camp is Evans’ first taste of life as a professional driver. From the outside, you would imagine that the garage environment would be very different to that of his earlier career, so a few years down the line from his arrival at the team, how is he finding the change?
“It’s just a bit different because this my first ‘proper’ professional gig.” he said. “Before that I was in junior formulae so it was sort of a semi-pro environment, whereas this is a more professional environment where I’m getting paid by a big car company – it’s every racing driver’s dream. So, to be honest, the environment has been really cool to be part of because there’s a different mentality within the team.
“Obviously you still take it seriously in junior formulae, but the difference is that the other drivers in your team are just as much of a rival as a team-mate. It’s a bit more cut-throat and dog-eat-dog, whereas this is more professional. You’re representing a brand, so you’ve got to be a leader and ambassador for the team. The Jaguar garage is exactly what you hope it would be like.”
Following the departure of Nelson Piquet Jr. and Alex Lynn who drove alongside Evans last year, reigning Le Mans winner James Calado is the latest new arrival at the Jaguar garage. So, having outperformed all of his three previous team-mates, does Evans think that his latest partner has got what it takes?
“I think so, yes.” Evans began. “I mean obviously this is my fourth team-mate within the team so we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve raced James a few times back in GP2 and GP3. He was really quick back then and I’m sure he’s not gotten any slower, so obviously the intention of bringing him in was to hopefully bring some more performance, and to push me, in order to take the team to the next level.
“Being in his first season, there’s going to be a bit of learning from a racing format point of view but I’m sure he’ll gel well with the team. I’m expecting big things.”
But, as ever in Formula E, it’s not just his team-mate and the other teams that Evans will have to beat. Indeed, the Fanboost voting system returns for another season, allowing fans to vote to give a temporary power boost to the favourite drivers. So, what does he make of the format from a driver’s perspective?
“I’ve never won it so… I can’t really say what I want to say but, look, I would love to get it but there’s some other drivers out there doing a better job with it.” Evans conceded. “I think initially it [the fanboost system] was a very good idea to get fans engaged at a point where the championship was still very new. Now, is it needed? With the attack mode [having been introduced], probably not so much.
“I’ve never had it so I don’t know how effective it really is. You only get a certain amount of power for a little amount of time. Obviously it’s marketed very well so it looks like you get a huge advantage, but to be honest you don’t really. But I think the key thing with it is to allow the public to feel like they’re involved in the race, which I totally get. You want people engaged.”
Albeit accompanied by artificial gimmicks, the Formula E Championship gets back on track for it’s first race of the new campaign tomorrow (22nd November) at the Diriyah circuit in Saudi Arabia. The track made its debut last season, but is it one that Evans is looking forward to returning to?
“Saudi’s probably in the top three of my favourite tracks of the season; they did a great job designing it.” he confirmed. “It seemed like there was a bit of passing which is what you want, but from a driver’s enjoyment perspective, it was wicked. It’s a really committed track so if you’re lacking confidence, you’ll be out the back door. You have to attack hard and there’s literally zero room for error in some sections, so definitely a personal favourite. As long as the car is giving me what I want, I’m sure we can do well there.”
Speaking of the car – the new I-Type 4, how positive has Jaguar’s testing programme been ahead of the start of the season?
“As a manufacturer we have fifteen days of private testing, plus the three official days [in Valencia]. I’ve done loads of testing, and James has done some. We’ve made a step forward but, how big that is, we’ll have to wait and find out.” he said.
“With a brand new powertrain, you expect some sort of hiccup whether it be with the software or hardware and we had a couple of things, but it’s completely normal. We’ve got a lot of mileage in and everything seems to be on track as expected.”
In our previous interview with team director, James Barclay, the Jaguar garage appeared to be cautiously optimistic about what they’d be able to achieve this year. But as for Evans, well, his goals seem to be much more direct:
“To be honest, the clear goal is to win the drivers’ and constructors’ championship like every other team in Formula E. In the first two seasons, our approach was just to do as well as we can. We knew that realistically, we weren’t really in the fight. Last year was a bit of a different story where were in the fight but also had some dips in performance. There were some great moments, but this season I’m hoping to start off well and find a bit more consistency.”
Indeed, with a grid this closely-matched, consistency will be vital for anyone who fancies a realistic shot at the title. Jaguar showed last year that the pace most definitely is there, but like Nissan, will they be able to sustain that speed across an entire season? That, along with many other questions, will become ever so slightly clearer at Diriyah this weekend.