Di Grassi: “Proud to have been in Formula E right from the start”
If there’s one driver who can claim to have been part of Formula E’s growth right from the start, then it’s Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian was in Las Vegas in January 2013 where he gave the Spark race car its first run on the streets and he was back in the American city for the first eRace, as well as competing in 23 ePrix, winning 4 of them and finishing on the podium a total of 14 times.
Who better therefore to give an insider’s view of how the first FIA championship for completely electric powered cars has grown and what the outlook is for its future?
“I knew Alejandro Agag very well from our shared experience racing in GP2 and GP3 and I hold him in high regard, so when he suggested I come on board with this project, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and accepted. I have always supported electric mobility, but honestly, I hadn’t expected the technological development to move forward so quickly, especially in terms of the efficiency of the powertrain, nor that the championship would become such an important part of the motor racing scene. I am very proud to have been part of it from the start. How far can it go? I think that in the very long term, electric power will be the dominant form of mobility, but at the moment the technology is not yet suited to every use, especially when it comes to the battery. I therefore expect to see a rather varied scenario, which is actually the case for the field of mobility in general: soon, only electric vehicles will be allowed in cities, while for commercial vehicles on long journeys hybrids will still be used. Therefore, we might soon see electric cars in rallycross, with hybrids still being used for endurance races and Formula 1 and possibly in GT races, while rallying would be the last discipline to make the switch. Formula E will still grow a lot, I’m convinced of it and it will approach the level of Formula 1, which will by necessity, have to significantly reduce its costs.”
On the subject of costs, do you not feel that the presence of major constructors in Formula E could bring with it some risks as well as positives?
“Without the car manufacturers, there would be no motor sport, especially at the highest level. The most important thing is to work on the regulations so that there is no point in investing huge sums of money to gain performance. Personally, I don't believe in a budget cap, which is always too difficult to monitor, but the sporting and technical regulations can be written in such a way that costs are kept to a reasonable level. Take for example the battery used in Formula E: I believe that, in the medium term, it’s important for there to be competition between the constructors, but one way would to be have no technical limits, while another would be for example to set the dimensions of the casing, so that they are the same for everyone, with a predefined maximum output and other restrictions, That way, no one could invest ten times more than anyone else, because the advantage gained would probably be minimal. The FIA is doing a very good job, working intelligently on this very matter, along with the championship promoter, while also trying to maintain a solid link between the technology used on the track and that used on the roads.”
Is there something about the championship you would like to change?
“Firstly, I’d like the chassis for the next car to have a design one could call more futuristic and I believe it’s actually moving in that direction. Cars with combustion engines have more stringent design controls and evolving their design is always on the agenda. For electric power units, there’s definitely more freedom and so I’d really like to see a revolution, while also bringing in an increase in cockpit protection, because safety has to remain a priority. Then I’d like to see two MGUs and a non-mechanical differential, because the automotive industry is going in this direction. From a racing point of view, we need to think of an idea for season 5, when each driver will have just one car, rather than the current two, to do the whole race distance: I don’t know, maybe we could come up with a recharge at half-distance or something like that. And lastly, I’d like there to be a race in Brazil!”
Do you think that Formula E can become an important step for a young driver as part of his progress in the sport?
“Yes, in fact this year, we have seen highly rated youngsters like Felix Rosenqvist and Mitch Evans come on board. I don’t think it can be seen as a step to Formula 1, because the two categories are too different, but it’s definitely a good alternative. Obviously, it also depends on the financial situation, as Formula 1 is one of the few championships, along with NASCAR and DTM where one doesn’t pay to race.”
And what does the near future hold for you, especially in light of Audi pulling out of WEC?
“Firstly, I have to say I’m very disappointed not to be racing in the world endurance championship because I really like the category, especially the Le Mans 24 Hours. The message from Audi was very clear: it is concentrating its resources on Formula E and, as a works driver, I am totally committed to this. In the short term, I think that also the other drivers who split their time between these two categories will have to make a choice, because this season there will be several date clashes. As for me, I’d like to race in other endurance events and above all, I’d also like to race again in Macau where the round of the FIA GT World Cup has become really important.”
Thanks to Formula E, you got to drive a race car in a rather unusual place, namely an iceberg in Greenland: tell us what that was like?
“It was really a fantastic adventure, especially from a logistical point of view. We were eight hours away on ice from the nearest village, so if anything had gone wrong… Alejandro put so much effort into making this project a reality and he was proved right when you look at the success it had on-line with millions watching the film on YouTube. Also, initiatives like this help to make more people aware of environmental sustainability, which is something that concerns everyone, with no exceptions. Driving on ice? It was fun and there was actually a lot of grip thanks to the special tyres we used: maybe we could consider organising something on a frozen lake, possibly an instant knock-out competition. Now, I’ll put it to Alejandro and I’m sure that with his enthusiasm and vision, an idea like this could really happen…”