Welcome to From the Top, a series in which we speak to the Team Principals, uncovering the characters behind each team while learning about life at the top of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
We catch up with Jean-Paul Driot, co-founder of Renault e.dams to find out how he got hooked on motorsport after 'borrowing' his dad's Mustang in 1968, his life outside off the race track and why he jumped at the chance to get involved in Formula E before it had even started. Read his story and discover his three top tips for building a successful career.
Let's start from the beginning - what did you do before Formula E?
Motorsport has never been my main work. I always considered it to be my passion and I think we have been quite successful as a team because I never wanted to make money out of it. The aim is just to balance the accounts, so everything is about the performance and the result. I actually worked most of my life in international oil trading from 1980 until 2012.
But I started the team Dams 30 years ago. I started because I've always been interested in motor racing - it's a way of competing and battling with others on the track. I was a very close friend with two or three Formula One drivers and I followed them in the early 1980s. Then, in 1987, I started my first team in Formula 3000. Since then, it's always been my hobby but now it's more than a hobby as we employ quite a few people in our organisation.
When did Formula E first come to your attention?
I'm a very close friend of Alejandro and Alberto - we were competitors in GP2 a few years ago. We may have been competitors on the track, but we would often have drinks and dinners together. One evening in Bahrain, I was with Alejandro after dinner, sitting out overlooking the sea, when he said to me, 'I hope you are going to follow me if I go off and do Formula E?' So I said, 'if you go to do Formula E, how can you do it without me!' [he laughs]. At the same time, I also knew someone who had developed an electric single seater - a company called Formulec - so I recommended that they both meet. Immediately Alejandro changed his flight to go to Paris and meet with him. It was a very good basis as everything was made already. So, from the very beginning, I have been on board.
What's your earliest motorsport memory?
The earliest memory is of my father driving a Mustang in 1968. I was very excited to see the car. I remember it was quite a rare car to see in 1968 with its big V8 - it had so much power and presence. I pinched the car from my father, took it for a drive and nearly crashed it! Then, when I knew a little more, I started to rally at the age of 18. I raced as soon as I was old enough to drive!
What made you want to get into motorsport?
I was born in the centre of France, where we had very twisty roads. My father and I used to have so much fun driving on them. He would do hill climbing - not even as a hobby, just for fun - but I always liked the competition. I am really interested in motorsport in the way that you never have 100 per cent of the parameters in hand.
Any role models along the way?
To be honest, I never really thought about anyone like that. I lived in the middle of nowhere, 900-metres above sea level in the Massif Central and I've never been much of a groupie. Even now, I've admired some people like Gandhi or Nelson Mandella - who I met once - as they have dedicated their lives for one passion and one cause. Otherwise, I think life gives you opportunities and some people know how to catch them and make the most of them. It was just inside of me that I knew I wanted to achieve something.
What's it like running a team? What are the challenges?
Racing is not only a question of technique - you need to have the right car, the right technology in order to compete at the right level but more than anything, it's about the management of people. From the drivers to the engineers and mechanics, they are all passionate in the same way otherwise they wouldn't be doing it. It's very interesting to manage all these characters. You feel and act accordingly with each character in order to have the whole group working together. Perhaps people think it's a little devious to go into the minds of the people working with you to get the best out of them and then exploit it. But it's very important to do that because it's the way you make sure you get the best results.
When you're in motor racing, you never look back. What happened before, is before and you must forget it. When we win on Saturday, I go back with the satisfaction but already you start to think about the next one.
Has the championship grown beyond your expectations?
Even though some people had tried [to do electric racing] before, in life, you need to have the right timing when you try and do something. This is what makes entrepreneurs successful. I think that Alejandro took the opportunity at the right time. People said we were completely crazy, it will never work, it's not interesting, there is no noise and I said, 'look, if in two years we have failed, then we'll be happy to admit that you were right but at least we will have tried.' I am really surprised that out of 12 teams that will be in Season 6, 10 of them are some of the best manufacturers in the world. I think that this is a great success.
I am very happy to have followed Alejandro from day one to where we are today. We have opened the future for motor racing and for society. I think that it's a very big move.
With three team championship titles, Renault e.dams is the most successful team in Formula E. Any secret to it?
First of all, we were all with the same equipment [in Season 1]. Chassis, engines, tyres - everything - and we won. In Season 2, we had a very good powertrain. But, above all, for the 30 years that Dams has been around, we've been specialising in racing monotype single seaters, which means you need to set up the car better than the others in order to be competitive and to be in front. I think that's helped quite a lot.
You've done a lot of different roles in your career but what has been the highlight?
I think the fact that I have been married for 43 years, I have two sons who are married and four grandchildren - they are my structure. I think that the best achievement in life is to have your structure working perfectly well and this is the best achievement in my career. In business, you are happy to sign contracts, then you win one race, then a championship, then another race - it's a formula. The example I gave is not a formula, it's your life.
What three tips would you give for a successful career?
Believe in what you want to do and work to have a goal in life and do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.
Open up your ears and eyes. I'm convinced that there are opportunities in life for everyone.
Also, you must be respectful and respect your surroundings.