In my last blog post, I was preparing to go to Saudi Arabia and to take part in my first Formula E race. I was so excited to get on the track, but I was also very nervous – far more nervous than I think I let on to be!
After so much preparation and the build-up of so many emotions, it felt like there was a lot on the line. So now my first race weekend is over, let me break it down.
Touchdown in Saudi Arabia
When we touched down in Saudi Arabia, I had a few days of preparation as well all some photo and video shoots for Panasonic Jaguar Racing content. With the day before the race spent not only at track but also around the city, it gave me a little bit of time to look around.
Riyadh is an amazing city: such incredible buildings, with a big contrast between Diriyah (a more historic area), compared to central Riyadh, unlike any city I have ever been to. We travelled to the top of the Kingdom Tower, a super modern skyscraper in Riyadh, for a cool, relaxed lifestyle shoot, not something I’m typically used to – usually it’s just helmets and race suits for me. Still, for this shoot, I had to try my best to look dapper in my white team shirt!
Keep an eye out for these photos – they’ll be a bit of a change-up from the usual pictures you’ve seen of me! It was a shame not to see more of the sights and soak up more culture, but we were here for one thing and one thing only: the doubleheader Formula E season opener. My head was down, and my eyes on the prize!
Let’s get the season started!
So now for round one and two! On Thursday afternoon, I spent time completing a track walk with the engineers and Paul Davison and Connor Summerville. Given the importance of knowing the circuit, the track walk is key to get a feel of the track and visualise the corner sequence, as well as the curbs, the grip and attack zone.
After the track walk, I felt my nerves settle, and I was itching to get going. For qualifying, I was in Group Four, which was a bonus. It gave me some time to see how others got on and settle my nerves. Also, it allowed for the track to evolve, as those that qualify first clear the track of any dust or marbles.
Given we were in Saudi, there was a lot of sand, so when I eventually got on the track, there was a much clearer racing line – it’s easy to visualise the racing line as a railway track, anywhere outside of where the rails would sit the track is dusty and offers a lower level of grip.
Frustratingly, I didn’t feel like I maximised the one-shot nature of Formula E qualifying, we left our quick lap as late as we could in the group to make the most of the track evolution. Unfortunately, I locked a wheel on the entry of T16, resulting in me brushing the wall, the overall result was twenty-fourth on the grid, not exactly where I had planned to start the race later that day!
Due to the elevation of the track on the starting grid, I couldn’t see the lights from my starting position, which worked massively against me and affected my start. However, when the lights went green, I managed to send a couple of nice moves to gain a handful of places in the opening laps. The overall pace of the race wasn’t bad, and I just wanted to keep my nose clean.
I managed to come home in sixteenth place – considering all things, I was pleased with my first race – gaining eight places is a real achievement, especially around a tight and twisty Formula E circuit, that is super slippery off line. Given we had a race coming up the next day, I wanted to just focus on the positives and bring forward all the things we learnt from the first race. We headed back to the hotel to recharge the batteries (no pun intended), enjoying a team dinner before resting ahead of the second race!
On to the next one…
On Saturday, I woke up ready to hit the ground running and make a positive impact on the track. We got to track early, making sure there was no rush. After a detailed chat with Connor, my performance engineer, I felt ready for the day ahead. Frustratingly, I made a mistake in FP3 (free practice) trying to find the extreme limits of the car, we reset, and I was in group three for qualifying.
Qualifying was always going to be tricky, trying to set the car up when our track time had been curtailed resulted in a big push by everyone in the garage to get my car ready. Again, I didn’t quite find my pace and came in at twenty-second in qualifying. As we headed to the grid for the second race, I was able to see the lights go green, which is always an added bonus!
I had another quick start and managed to overtake four cars on the first lap. The race only became more hectic though and it towards the end it was a bit of a mad dash for the line. We all had to contend with safety cars and some frantic restarts, but I was able to capitalise and gain from other drivers’ mistakes. I managed to cross the line in tenth, with the potential of earning a few more points post-race as there were several penalties with regards to some questionable safety car restarts.
Gaining 11 places during the race was a massive achievement after the FIA had formally announced the penalties, I was moved up to seventh gaining six points for the team – a great achievement, I really felt as if I found my feet and was able to extract the maximum from the car. This puts me at eleventh in the driver standings – I must say being ahead of JEV (Jean-Éric Vergne, Season 5 Champion), after my first race weekend is a real achievement. It was also a great start to the season for Panasonic Jaguar Racing as my six points, alongside Mitch’s two points from round one, giving us a grand total of eight points putting Panasonic Jaguar Racing at eighth in the team standings after the first race weekends.
Overall, it was a massively enjoyable weekend, and I have learnt a lot from my first race – far more than in testing and my time in the sim combined. Formula E is unlike any racing series I have raced in. This weekend just proved to me that Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s I-TYPE 4 has outright pace (Mitch Evans got the fastest lap in round one!) and I clearly have an incredible team behind me. I can’t wait for Santiago now on 18 January 2020, where I will be bringing more experience to electric racing and trying to make a name for myself on the track once again!
Check out the behind the scenes vlog from the weekend here for some more insight:
Time for reflection
Since being back from Saudi Arabia, I had a few days at home in Penarth in Wales to relax. It was great to have some time with my family as I’ve had a pretty hectic schedule recently! I never take my job for granted and feel so honoured to be able to travel the globe racing, but it is sometimes nice to come home to Penarth and switch off for a few days! Whilst I was at home, I spent some time out on my KTM, thrashing around the Welsh countryside – it’s one of my favourite hobbies and more glamorous than it sounds, promise…
As we now reach December, my schedule takes me to Bahrain for the 8-hour endurance race with Ferrari. After that it’s time to head home and reset, spend some time with my family and prep ahead for 2020, which is going to be manic, to say the least.
While it is so important to have some downtime over the festive period, there is a long period between Saudi and round three in Santiago, so it’s important I stay ahead of the curve. Most importantly, I want to bring my learnings from Saudi to the next race: maintaining outright pace but being able to extract the maximum I can from the car as quickly as I can, as well as giving my guys the best feedback I can for them to work with – Formula E races are so competitive and having a grid of 23 other professional drivers is a true test of my skill.
So there it is, I hope you all have a great Christmas and I’ll catch up with you in the New Year ahead of Santiago!