FIA Formula E frontrunner & ex-F1 driver
Jean-Eric Vergne, FIA Formula E frontrunner and ex-Formula 1 driver, is the latest online driving instructor for SAFEisFAST.com.
The French driver races for the Techeetah Formula E Team and has previously competed in F1 for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Vergne dovetails his Formula E campaign with his role as an official test driver for the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team.
Aged 21 and with the 2010 British Formula Three Championship under his belt, Vergne became the youngest ever French driver to compete in F1 in 2011, and went on to rack up 51 points during a three-year spell in the sport.
Jean-Eric Vergne answers your questions!
Did you start your career in karting?
Yes, I started karting at my parents’ go-kart track in Cormeilles from the age of four, and have raced ever since then.
What would you say to first time racers about handling the pressures of racing cars or karts for the first time?
I would say to enjoy the pressure that you will feel, because that’s the pressure that you will feel for your whole career at the start of any race and in any category throughout your career. So any experience you can get from your first race, you should take it and enjoy it.
Hi Jean, how did you start your career on the financial side? Did your family support you, or did you have sponsorship money from companies, where you needed to provide a return service. Did you have any manager? Thank you Miro
No, it was always very complicated. Luckily my family never had to spend much money, but still I knew in karting that to move up to Formula Renault 2.0 it was going to cost at least €500,000 to be with a good team. You can go cheaper but you wont win the championship, and that was always the objective. I chose not to go into Formula 2.0 and instead I did the French Formula Campus, which is now French FIA F4. I got help from the French motor sport federation (Fédération Française du Sport Automobile) to do it and I won the series. It was a good season with lots of wins, and that gave me the chance to do the Red Bull driver shootout, where 20 drivers were tested. I was the best driver along with Daniel Ricciardo, and from then on Red Bull always backed me, so I only ever had to find a few sponsors. I was really lucky with Red Bull because they managed my career and always put me in a good championship and in a good team.
How much has your multilingualism helped you in your motorsport career?
English was the most important language to learn, and Italian was very good too, especially with Ferrari. I’d say the only really important one is English though. Engineers and journalists all speak English, and it doesn’t matter where you race, whether it’s France, Japan, or the US, you need English to be in motor sport.
What is the biggest difference between the way an unskilled and a highly skilled driver operates a car? Also, you were always my favourite driver to watch on race day in F1. You were an aggressive overtaker and had incredible pace.
It would be the same as the difference between a pilot who has flown before and one who hasn’t. You cannot take off, you cannot fly and you probably won’t land. You’ll just crash!
Hello Jean-Eric, when testing in a new car before the season starts, what aspect of the car’s systems do you stress on tuning the most? Suspension, differential, steering? In other words, what systems help you the most to feel comfortable in your new car?
In Formula E we cannot change a lot of things, but in F1 the brake pressure, steering rack, seat position and the steering wheel position are all very important. Also, changing the position of the buttons on the steering wheel, because it’s really hard to change dials and press buttons when you’re driving fast. I’d say they are the main changes in F1.
Regards from Brazil! Jean, how big is the speed difference between a rental go-kart (13bhp) and a small-formula category?
It’s difficult to say because in karting you are sat very open and on small tracks compared to being in a more closed cockpit on big tracks in car racing, so the sensation doesn’t impress that much.
You are currently driving in Formula E. A big part of the concept of the series is fan interaction in order to bring the fans closer to the sport and the drivers. How do you interact and connect with your fans? Are you, for example, running your social media accounts on your own or do you have an agency for that? How important is it for a driver in general to see people around the world supporting you?
It’s important because the series is interacting with fans and the drivers should be doing the same. I want to do it more and more; I want to give all my fans more than the other drivers are doing. I want to give them lots of insight into my life. I think that’s what the fans want to see, and if working with an agency to do that will help, then I will.
What are or were the biggest challenges or obstacles in your career as a racing driver so far? How did you overcome them?
It’s quite funny because my biggest obstacle was Red Bull, because I had no manager when I left F1. It’s good when things are going well with Red Bull, but when they aren’t, you have nowhere to go, but I was lucky and managed to sort myself out in the end. Red Bull got me into F1, but they also stopped me being there in the end.
What do you do to train physically but also mentally for a race season? Do you have any advice on how to handle the downsides of the racing business?
Travelling, jet lag, mental wellbeing…. The only way to deal with them is being physically fit, being very prepared and to have lots of rest.
Hi Jean-Eric, I am a driver coach (safe driving trainings) and I’ve given skid training in the past. A lot of ‘myths’ & misunderstanding are told about how to steer a car (hands on the wheel & push or pull, seat position, etc). I prefer to sit close & keep quarter to three. What’s your opinion for a road car? Thx! Benny
I’m not sure. I just aim on sitting as comfortably as possible when I’m behind the wheel.
Hi Jean-Eric! As a Frenchman how do you feel about the return of the French GP at Paul Ricard? Would you have preferred it to return at another circuit?
I think it’s amazing to have the race back at Paul Ricard. France has a rich motor sport heritage so it’s important that there is a race there. Where it is in France doesn’t really matter, whether it’s at Paul Ricard or Magny-Cours, but Paul Ricard is probably better. It’s in a beautiful region, it’s close to the city and a great track to race at, and I’m sure the fans will love to go there.
I am attempting to start a club at my high school and I would like to know with your experience as a professional race car driver, after your career so far, has it made you a safer driver on the general road or has it made you drive faster due to the addiction of the adrenaline rush?
I think you are clever to keep your pace down on the road. You’re lucky to be on the track, but there are a lot of things out of your control on the roads. You should always keep an eye on things around you. For me, it doesn’t matter if you’re against a big car at the traffic lights, you know deep down your quicker than them on the track so that’s all that matters. It’s bit like fighters: they never fight in the street or outside the boxing ring, they just put their egos to one side and leave that stuff for the ring.
How do you find yourself driving on public roads? What advice do you have for me as a racing enthusiast that didn’t have a chance to practice his ultimate passion?
I have five different driving licences and I am always trying to drive away from the police… I’m joking! I wouldn’t like to drive fast on the roads. In my first year of driving on the roads, I was a young guy and maybe I pushed a bit too hard and was lucky not to get in any accidents, but now I don’t take any risk. If I wasn’t a racing driver I would probably go to some track days – you can take your own car and enjoy it safely. If I have one bit of advice it would be that when you’re driving on the roads you are never alone. There can be an animal crossing the road and you don’t control it, there can be a car coming out of nowhere and you don’t control it, there can be a drunk guy coming towards you, and you don’t control this either… It’s not because you’re a really good driver that you can stay away from accidents, that’s for sure.
Are there any techniques you use to get that last bit out of your car for qualifying?
I like to practice and focus on the car during the practice sessions to make sure that every little thing on the car is set up properly for qualifying. So far in my career that method has gone well for me.
Hey JEV, nice to see you here. Will you have another race program in 2017 on top of Formula E & being a reserve driver at Scuderia Ferrari? Cheers from France!
I don’t know. My main focus for now is Formula E. I’m with a team I believe is only going to get better and stronger, and I’m in a series that I believe is really driving the future, and I feel very lucky and happy to be a part of it. I’m not sure what my programme with Ferrari will be in 2017, but alongside that I would maybe like to do some more endurance races. I’m doing the Dubai 24 Hours in January to learn about how to race in a new format. I think it’s good that I start somewhere like that.
What part of your job as a professional racing driver do you love most and what part do you dislike most? If you could travel back in time, would you still choose this career path?
I would still choose becoming a racing driver. When you’re a kid and you’re karting, motor sport becomes all you can think about; you never once think about becoming a fireman, a builder or a policeman, all you think about is becoming a race driver, and I’m very fortunate to be one. For sure there are bad things, but there are a lot more good things about it. Maybe if one day there are more bad parts than good parts, I’ll stop.
If you could go back in time and give the younger Jean-Eric any advice for his career as a professional racing driver, based on your experiences you have made in the world of motor sport so far, what advice would that be and why?
Good question. I guess I know the mistakes I’ve made. It’s difficult; there are certain things I would do differently and some decisions I would do different. But you cannot go back to the past and I’m in a good position now. Of course you always wish you can be in F1 longer, but I’m fortunate that I did more than 50 Grands Prix in F1.
If you could build your perfect team, who would be your teammate, the team boss, in which racing series would it be and why?
Tough question! I do have some ideas… For a good teammate, I would love to have Felipe Massa in Formula E and in my team because he is a nice guy and has lots of experience. For my perfect team I would say Techeetah. I trust my team and they are doing the best to be winning. We’re becoming a really strong team.