Years ago, during a social media fan Q&A, I was asked which Formula E driver I’d like to be for a day, and it was a difficult question to answer! A day of being an eco-activist, always on some kind of hoverboard/ scooter adventure was appealing, so I considered answering ‘Lucas di Grassi’. A day of being the ultimate man from Nuneaton sounded good, charming everyone in my wake with boyish charm, so I considered answering ‘Jake Dennis'. A day doing nothing but snoozing appealed to me, so I considered answering ‘Robin Frijns’. But ultimately, I just had to choose Jean-Eric Vergne.
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I was reminded of this as I was sitting alone waiting for the flight out of Hyderabad back to London, when the winner of the E-Prix elegantly lowered himself into the seat opposite for a chat. Dressed in a casual roll neck jumper and adorned with the classic circular spectacles, the man oozed Parisian charisma. I was in a hoody, some trackies from TK Maxx and a pair of Skechers. As ever, I felt inadequate.
That’s why I answered Jean-Eric Vergne to the earlier question. He is four days younger than me, and he has everything! What he didn’t have for nearly two years, though, was a win. It was his longest ever winless streak in Formula E, even including the 30 races before his first win in Montreal at the end of Season 3. But Vergne drove with the class and poise of a two-time champion. It reminded me of his race-long defence of Lucas di Grassi in Punta del Este during Season 4, on his way to securing his first title. Take a look at the whole thing below, from the archive - it's great.
He said in Hyderabad that the championship ‘is shot’. And on the one hand, you can see why he says it. A quarter of the way through the season he is 49 points behind title front-runner Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche), and the German is yet to finish lower than fourth in an E-Prix this year.
But on the other hand, Porsche demonstrated in Hyderabad that they are not infallible. Yes they finished third and fourth with Antonio Felix da Costa and Wehrlein, and could have won the race with the customer Avalanche Andretti entry of Jake Dennis were he not hit from behind by Rene Rast, but they equally had a lot of luck fall their way, particular the four car carnage at the hairpin with the two Jaguars, Maxilian Guenther and Sacha Fenestraz.
I’ve been writing for months that DS PENSKE are the team to watch, and so far I’ve looked fairly stupid. To be honest, the team themselves have not come off looking too smart considering the package they have available to them. Vergne admits there is a long way to go, and Stoffel Vandoorne – a qualifying master – once again had to come from the back of the field to collect points last Saturday.
The thing is, we are still at an incredibly early stage of a whole new era of Formula E. The teams are still learning the cars, still working out what works and what doesn’t, and although Porsche and Jaguar are evidently the two manufacturers that have got their ducks in a row earliest there’s a long way to go in this season - and this generation. Crucially, there’s also a lot of racing left to come. Five races in six weeks is an intense start to the season, but after this there is a month gap to Sao Paulo, in which I imagine the competitive order will close up as the teams are given the commodity which they crave most; time.
If anyone can stop the seemingly inevitable Porsche domination, it’s Jean-Eric Vergne. Becoming a three time champion is undoubtedly a long shot, but if he manages to pull it off I’d probably like to be him a tiny bit more.