Interview: talking politics, disappointment & the future with Mitch Evans
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Fresh from the end of his second season in the ABB FIA Formula E series with Panasonic Jaguar Racing, Driven sat down with Mitch Evans to dissect the 2017–’18 season, new cars, politics, and the future.
Driven: Thanks for your time and welcome back. It's certainly been an interesting season of Formula E. Given the pace you guys had straight out of the box at round one [third place at Hong Kong] were you disappointed with how the rest of the season panned out?
Evans: There's some parts of the season that were great, some that we missed a few opportunities. Obviously we came out with a bang in Hong Kong with our qualifying performance and getting given a podium after Daniel got disqualified. And that ended up being our best result of the year, which was pretty disappointing.
We weren't able to back that up for multiple reasons. I'm sure most of the field'd got their own story about why they didn't do well this year — we just had a really strong qualifying car. Over one lap we were always there. We had a few issues technically which hindered us in a few qualifying sessions and also in the races. Penalties at the wrong time, got disqualified a few times for technical infringements that were honest mistakes. It happens.
There were a few errors, like in Punta del Este [Uruguay]. I qualified third, but would've been given pole position because some guys got penalised for track limits … and then got disqualified for a weight distribution issue.
Went from 16th to fourth in the race, which was a good comeback but a real missed opportunity because I would've started off the front and I had the fastest race time. That wasn't a guaranteed win, but a really good opportunity to win. We could've taken a definite podium.
Different circuits suit different cars. Berlin for example is really long straights, real flowing … and that suited the Audi because they were super efficient.
It was a season I wish we could restart because we had a good package. We definitely weren't the strongest, but there were some opportunities that we missed out on, and I think a top four in the championship was possible.
Even races like Rome. I was battling for the win, and in the last five laps my electric motor was playing up and over heating. It was chewing up a lot of energy, and I almost didn't finish the race. A consequence of that; it didn't only effect that race, but I had to take a gearbox penalty the next race because it just completely destroyed all the internals and the gearbox.
I'm very happy with my personal performance. I think I rose to the challenge of having Nelson come on board, and with what we could do with our package I think I did a decent job. But, I think as a team we know we missed out on opportunities.
The championship is getting so competitive now. Towards the end of the season, even at Zurich where I was on pole, without the penalty I would've been lucky to finish on the podium. It's just getting so so tight, I'm hoping for next season we'll have a stronger package for the race, but as I say it was a season that we're all pretty disappointed about. But, also encouraged with the big step up we've made in performance.
We're obviously the newest team in the championship, but we can't use that excuse.
So, are you saying that the mentality within the Jaguar squad has changed?
We'll see what happens next season, but I think we can really build on last year. We've got to start again almost with the new car, but it's also another opportunity for us to iron out any issues from last year and take the team to another level.
We can't sugar coat it, last year we were handicapped so much with the power-train. It was so heavy and inefficient, and we were a new team so we were really behind through experience and also performance. But now we can't use those excuses and I think that's quite clear.
We've definitely changed our mentality, but we would've liked to at least had a win to take the pressure off this year.
Next season the series debuts this wild looking new generation of car. What are the main differences from a driver's perspective?
It's going to be a completely different beast for a number of reasons. So, the power goes up — we get another 50kW. The race power goes from 180 last year to 200. That's exciting for us, obviously we're going quicker, which is obviously a big thumbs up from the driver side. But in terms of the race structure it's going to be completely different now.
Previously we had a race done by distance, so a number of laps. We knew the race would be 40 laps, so we'd calculate the energy from that and work to that target. And we had the second car, so if we got a bit of damage on lap one we know that at the halfway point we'll almost reset and get a fresh car.
Now that's gone. We've got one car per driver, and the race is twice as long essentially because we're doing twice the distance. Obviously the race time is quite similar. We've got to change our approach. The first laps are generally pretty vicious, and we're going to have to change out of that approach. But also with races being time based and you working from energy, the race is going to change massively depending on the pace of the leader.
You don't really know how many laps you'll do in 45 minutes. The goal posts are going to be moving completely throughout the race. And then from that side it'll be a complete headache for us but it should be good for those watching.
Driving the car from a technical point of view, it’s a little bit heavier than the old car just because the battery size is a bit bigger. Different aero platform as well. It’s going to be a big step up I think, and we just hope that some of the circuits will be able to cope with the increase in speed and in size.
It’s going to shake it up a bit, and make the races a headache for us.
Do you think the new cars will meet the threshold of needing a calendar with more permanent circuits, as opposed to all the current narrow and tight street circuits used currently?
From what I understand, they want to try and avoid that. They want to keep it in the cities as long as possible and base the championship around that.Some circuits at the moment might not suit that type of speed, that type of car.
So I would guess that they’ll have to mix it up with street tracks and permanent facilities, and I think that’s something Formula E is going to have to decide when they get to it. Even this year it’s going to be touch and go with some tracks.
I love street track so I hope we end up staying in the city centres, but if the tracks end up getting longer that causes more issues for the city. I think that’s the elephant in the room at the moment in the championship.
With Brendon Hartley in Formula 1, it's probably the first time that Kiwis have been properly exposed to the category's 'he said she said' rumour mill savagery. Are you glad that Formula E isn't as political?
There’s still a bit of politics, naturally. But everyone’s there to try and make the championship grow, everyone’s ttrying to help each other out and the actual paddock environment is really friendly. It’s a nice environment to be in.
But in Formula 1 there’s sharks everywhere. It’s poisonous that environment, it’s unbelievable. It’s cut-throat, everyone’s there for themselves, one minute you’re the bees knees the next minute you’re useless. It’s brutal, and obviously Brendon is going through that a bit.
There’s so many things in the background that could be influencing his performances and his results, but …. It’s very hard to play the game. From that side, I’m happy that Formula E isn’t at that sort of level.
For sure it’s going to go that way a little bit, but hopefully it’s controlled enough that it doesn’t get too political.
Jaguar's about to debut its first fully electric car; the I-Pace. You were part of its official reveal, tell us what it's like to drive?
I really like it. It’s the first road electric vehicle I’ve driven. Without being biased I think they’ve done a really good job of it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect … the Formula E car’s got a bit of noise — obviously it’s not as loud as a Supercar or an F1 car but there’s still a bit of a noise there.
With the EVs though there’s just a little bit of road noise. That was a bit odd, but you get used to it quite quick.
I’ve driven the car in a few different conditions and I’ve done a drag race in it against a Tesla. I’ve drifted it in Sweden at the Jaguar Land Rover Ice Experience, and I was really impressed with it there.
I’ve been driving F-Types and stuff; big V8s, rear-wheel drive all-wheel drive. The I-Pace would’ve been four-wheel drive, and with the torque it was way more nimble than I was expecting because the battery is basically the floor of the car so the centre of gravity is really low. It handled really well, too.
It’s a great size, I think it looks decent as well, so it’s a really exciting time for the company. They’re the first premium brand to bring out a fully electric vehicle.
It’s been cool to be part of that in this new era. It makes a lot of sense for the likes of Jaguar to get into it because of that technology transfer. Both Formula E and the automotive industry are developing at the same rate. There’s a lot of relevance.