Best job in the world: Jean-Éric Vergne, Formula E driver
Jean-Éric Vergne is celebrated as one of the most exciting drivers on the Formula E circuit. He talks racing with Michael Schumacher and why FE is destined to surpass F1
How did you get into racing?
I was born on the karting track, my parents own a karting track in Pontoise, next to Paris, and that’s where I grew up.View on Instagram
Why the move into Formula E?
There was an end with Red Bull and myself in F1, there were no other teams available. I went to Ferrari, they were without driver, but I always wanted to race. So I went to Formula E so I could race, and at the end of the day it was a very good move.
Biggest difference between electric and petrol racing?
Formula One is, yes, a lot faster, but Formula E we race within city centres. The track is a lot narrower, a lot more difficult to drive. A lot more bumpy, walls a lot closer. So, the impression of speed is more or less the same as in F1.
Idol growing up?
Michael Schumacher. I remember him winning all the races when I was a kid, and my first race [in F1] I started next to him. Australia, 2012: I started eighth, he started seventh, or ninth. I was really stressed.
I was thinking, “Fuck, now you’ve got the whole world watching you. Never had the world watching you before when you were doing Formula Three races. Just your family and your team and some lost fans,” and now I found it was a whole new world for me. More than 10m people watching on TV around the world, all the spectators around the track. Then you start next to him and then you think, “Shit, maybe I’m going to do something stupid.”You put down the bags at the start, and you don’t care who is next to you. Absolutely couldn’t care less.
Biggest changes to FE?
Manufacturers coming, interest of cities receiving Formula E. Interest of big sponsors coming in Formula E. Such as ABB, for example, that just joined the Formula E championship, and yes, the car will change next season. Which is going to be a huge change.
If I’m behind a driver that is slower than me, I’m not going to spend more than two laps there
Why do people consider you an exciting driver?
Good looking. Do not write that.View on Instagram
It shows you have a sense of humour...
Yes, well, you can write that if you like. No, I guess with everything, all the hits that I’ve taken in F1, and now I just don’t care. I just do my own things. I am known to always say the truth. If there is something wrong, I just say it. I’m not going to go behind back doors to say things. Yes, sometimes I can be unpolitical, but that’s what people love. To see drivers saying what they have to say written on a paper, it’s kind of boring. “Yes, another very good race. Thank you my team. Thank you this, thank you that, and goodbye.”
It’s boring, no-one wants to hear that. People want to hear, “This driver is being a pain in the ass, and the next time I see him I’m going to freaking crush him in the wall.” Even if it doesn’t happen, people like to see things like this. They like to see personalities, and the problem in motor sport is that people lose their personality. I lost it in F1, but I’m not going to lose it again. I mean, I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say bad things, or things that will go against me, or my team, or my manufacturer, or the championship I’m racing with.
Yes, I guess I am upfront, and the same on track. When there is something, or I’m behind a driver that is slower than me, I’m not going to spend more than two laps behind him.
Are FE drivers allowed to express themselves a bit more? Or are you an exception?
I don’t know that, I don’t know. I’m not listening to every interview of all the drivers, but I’m never saying stupid things.
Can Formula E and Formula One can coexist?
No, you know, [F1] lost popularity in the last few years. With the new engine, which was a ridiculous engine, so many fans left Formula One, and then people are trying to make a comparison from Formula E to Formula One. Which is completely wrong because, yes, they say we don’t make noise or anything, but what do people expect? If you put them in a freezer, in 50 years’ time there are not going to be any more petrol engines.
It’s only going to be electric, or new kinds of energy such as solar power, such as hydrogen, but it’s not going to make any noise, and actually the fastest cars now are being electric. Not any more petrol engine cars. So, the fans that will make the popularity of the championship are now maybe five or ten years old. Those are the ones that will have the power in 10 years’ time, 15 years’ time, to decide whether we’re going to invest in Formula E or Formula One.
Formula One would never come close to Paris, and as a fan I prefer to go see a motor sport event in Paris than in the middle of nowhere
Those are the main people right now, and Formula One don’t really care about those young fans. Or at least didn’t, now they start to care a bit more, but I don’t know if it’s too late. All I know is that Formula E, I think, are doing the right things, in terms of getting the fans engaged and making things interesting. Not only from a racing point of view, but just because we’re driving the future. So, we are sending a message for the planet. We are planet friendly, which Formula One isn’t, and this, at the end of the day, is very important.
Paris is a city very known for hating the cars. The mayor of Paris is closing all the roads because she doesn’t want cars any more in Paris, but she’s the one pushing to have Formula E in the streets of Paris. It’s just a strong message. It is insane. Formula One would never, ever come close to Paris, and I’m sorry, but as a fan I prefer to go see a motor sport event in Paris than in the middle of nowhere three hours away where there is no hotel. We can maybe prioritise a bit better now that Formula One is coming back there, but I think that’s why Formula E is more exciting.
What is your favourite city to race in, and where would you most like to race?
Well, Paris, as far as Europe, and then I want to race in Tokyo by night.
The Paris E-Prix runs on Saturday 28 April. Purchase tickets here