Formula E has created many memorable moments – the spectacular last-lap crash between Nico Prost and Nick Heidfeld in the first-ever race; the opening lap collision between Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi that very nearly decided the Season 2 championship, and, of course, the emotional outburst Buemi went on after the first of the two races in Montreal.
The footage of Buemi venting his frustration at Antonio Felix da Costa, then Robin Frijns and finally Daniel Abt, went viral across social media, spawned a host of often amusing, occasionally offensive, Gifs and Memes.
Watching on in the commentary box, former racer and Formula E analyst, Dario Franchitti was struck by mixed emotions.
“[As a fan] that would make me watch it,” he said. “Seeing a guy with that much passion would make me realise this is serious, that it means a lot to the people involved and it was a window into the passion that people have for racing and for Formula E and what this championship means for them. So from that point of view it was good to see but from a fellow driver, I felt bad for him.”
Motorsport is about control, whether that’s control of the car on the track, or control of the adrenalin that threatens to overwhelm the senses or control of the emotions, blocking out any other distractions that threaten to disturb the focus of the job in hand. All drivers are coached in how to manage their mind, and this includes how to handle themselves in the media. It’s one of the reasons some fans complain that modern-day drivers lack personality.
But in the heat of the moment, even the best-trained drivers can let their guard drop.
“I think a driver’s personality is going to come out,” Franchitti added. “Some wear their heart on their sleeves some are a bit more guarded about it. I never wanted my opposition to know what was going on, whether I was having a bad day or a good day, I tried not to let anybody see. I just got on with it and had this miserable-looking face as I walked around the paddock! I was just thinking about work and what was going on and I just kept that kind of countenance. I always felt that served me well because the opposition couldn’t tell if I was having a good day, or if was I having a bad day.
“As you saw with Sebastien after he had a bad race he just vented it – I’ve done that. I’ve won races and done that – just because somebody annoyed me half way through. You don’t understand the strain that he is under as a driver and the pressure he is putting himself under. He made a mistake and he was just mad because he made a mistake and he was just lashing out. It’s great to see that personality.”
Naturally Buemi was initially disappointed with the publicity his actions generated. But by the end of the event he had come to appreciate that showing some fire and passion and personality is a good thing. In Montreal, actor and model Kate Upton was a special guest of the series. When she first arrived and was asked which driver was her favourite she gave one of those non-partisan, generic answers.
However, when she returned to the track for Race 2 and was asked again, her reply was ‘the guy in the video who was shouting at the other drivers. I want him to win.’ So while of course the drivers want to remain as calm and professional as possible, the occasional bit of passion adds a level of colour and passion that’s essential for any sport to get into the hearts and minds of the viewers and create a new legion of fans.
“As a broadcaster I love seeing that emotion,” Franchittl continued. “But as a driver I loved keeping it in check because I felt it served me better. When I went to Mercedes and Tony Mathis was our sort of trainer/guru I developed a great relationship with him and he taught me how to really use my mind for one-lap qualifying, that kind of stuff. And I think the stuff he taught me I was still using at the end of my career, how to really control that. And there were times when it was overcoming fear or how to deal with a difficult situation, a crunch time when the pressure was on and not reacting to the pressure and that served me very well. Anybody who’s operated at his [Buemi’s] level in any sport has had one of those moments where you’ve felt like doing it, and to a certain extent I’ve done it too.”