Di Grassi: 'Reaching 100 races is a privilege. My career wouldn't be what it is now without Formula E'

Di Grassi: 'Reaching 100 races is a privilege. My career wouldn't be what it is now without Formula E'

Lucas di Grassi will become the first and only driver to join the 100 club and is set to make himself a Formula E centurion this weekend at the inaugural Hana Bank Seoul E-Prix Rounds 15 & 16, with Sunday's race bringing up that landmark.


He sat down this week to talk 100 races, the early days at Formula E, Sebastien Vettel's retirement and motorsport's place in the world of sustainability as well as some of his favourite moments of the last eight seasons.

The Brazilian may not be in the title race this season but he heads to Seoul chasing 1,000 championship points in the series after hitting 994 with his Round 14 win back in London, but first and foremost, his eyes are firmly on helping bring home a bigger prize still for ROKiT Venturi Racing.

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"Starting from the front row, we knew we could fight," said di Grassi on London. "During the race, we needed to be very clever because it was difficult to overtake with ATTACK MODE. It was not very energy sensitive, so we had to find a way past Dennis.

"We had similar pace and we found out the best plan was to use ATTACK MODE to gain a position without using the extra power – basically using the track position to be in front, so only the third activation mattered. We used energy to open a small buffer and we executed it perfectly without any mistakes to win the race.

 

"The podium ceremony was unbelievable. London is always a very special race – it’s one of the best events as a whole. While I’ve been racing, the energy there has been something else – the emotion was super beautiful.

"To get that victory and move to 996 points is just statistics but it’s something I’m very proud of. To be able to be competitive for eight years in a championship that is so competitive is a real achievement – at this level, everybody we drive against is just insanely good.

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"Our main target in Seoul is to win the Teams’ World Championship. We want ROKiT Venturi Racing to be number one and the task is hard, but it’s mathematically feasible. While it’s feasible, we’re going to work very hard to achieve it. We know how things are in Formula E – anything can happen. So, we’re going to be on top of it and try and bring the title home for the team."

The 100's up

Formula E has come a long way since that first Donington Park test session and its first few races. What started as nothing more than a shared dream between Formula E Founder Alejandro Agag and FIA President Jean Todt, noted on the back of a napkin back in 2011 in a Paris restaurant, has developed into the fastest growing motorsport series on the planet - now a World Championship, approaching its centenary round.

The championship toughed out a difficult opening few months and went on to hook the might of the world's automotive manufacturers and motorsport's top talent inside a turbulent first year. Now, it's established and heading into a big next step with Gen3.

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"I think the championship has evolved," continues the Brazilian. "Everybody can see that’s the case. Since Season 1, there have been massive changes – it has matured and it has moved from being something new and full of doubts to something which has been able to deliver on its promises.

"Any company, regardless of whether it’s a sport or not has cycles of innovation, maturity and progress – with innovation in the middle. Formula E has established itself firmly as one of the most important racing series in the world and it’s constantly growing organically – we know now the doubts were wrong and we know it works.

"It has been able to go to the manufacturers in its first cycle, with BMW, Mercedes and Audi and now there’ll be new manufacturers in the second cycle with fresh ones to join and others that might return. It’s like that in motorsport in general.

"The next big thing is Gen3 which has huge potential. We’ll drive much faster, smaller and lighter cars which will be even more impressive to see on-track. The events are going in the right direction, providing a better and better product for fans to come and involve themselves with. The evolution will continue in this way – on the technical side and in the spectacle."

Di Grassi: 'My career wouldn't be anything close to what it is without Formula E'

"On 100 races, it’s a privilege for me. My career would have not been anything close to what it was without this. It opened up businesses and jobs for people with the combination of sustainability with motorsport and it’s done a lot of things for a lot of people.

"My best memories have come in Mexico, shared with the fans there. Mexico is always amazing. In terms of the fans, it’s always huge – I can’t move without the fans storming around and trying to get an autograph and stuff – it’s very special for me and for Formula E.

"There's obviously Rome and New York City and London is up there too, it’s different but it’s an incredible event with a unique vibe – the indoor/outdoor circuit. Then there’s Berlin which is also one of my favourites. One of the big surprises for me was Jakarta. The number of people there and the amount of feedback from fans across social media was quite impressive.

"Next year, we have for sure Sao Paulo and Hyderabad. I think they could bring something really strong. What I’m really looking forward to as a Brazilian, is racing Gen3 in front of the fans in Brazil in March next season."

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Formula E: Change. Accelerated.

Di Grassi feels Formula E will continue to evolve and take its position as a leader in driving sustainable tech and practices forward as the series approaches its next era and Gen3.

"We can see that there have been many hundreds of millions watching these first 100 races and we’ve also seen how much technology has been accelerated by the automakers in these eight seasons. We can also see how many more people are interested in and aware of electric vehicles.

"For me, even if you help a little bit, this little bit has already helped to accelerate the advent of technology and change perceptions of consumers and manufacturers about electric cars – so it’s been well worth it.

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"Formula E, over the last eight seasons, has served its duty of making electric cars sexy and making sure they’re in people’s consciousness. Now, we’re entering the second stage of things. The championship and technology is established and encouraging evolution is the next step.

"The technology is only getting better and the cars are getting faster. Every month the battery tech, powertrain tech and so on evolves. It’s still in its relative infancy and we’re going to see big leaps still, going forward."

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'Haters gonna hate'

Formula E's foundations are outside the norm. Back in 2014, electric race cars weren't a thing and Formula E, alongside the FIA, took tech that could do the job and turned it into the Gen1. Still now, approaching Gen3, there are motorsport traditionalists that can't be convinced. That's their problem, and the younger, future generations - the people set to make change in society and continue to driving the sport forward - think differently, says di Grassi.

"We share some things with other series and some really hate the idea of electric cars," says the 37-year-old. "So, every time I comment on something to do with technology or sustainability, I’ll get bombarded by these haters of electric saying “what do you know about bottled water, you drive electric race cars?”. There can be a lot of hate because not everybody understands or doesn’t want to accept that the world is changing and that we have to pivot towards efficiency and sustainability.

"On the other side, there are people like young kids and the younger generations who have grown up watching Formula E and are more conscious of the environment and are family oriented – there’s a long term audience there. It is an inclusive series for fans and that’s another huge positive.

 

"Formula E has its place and it continues to grow. That can’t be sustainability alone; you need to have a very exciting racing car, exciting drivers for fans to meet and get to know and high drama like we’ve seen pushed by Formula 1 and Netflix. Events like we’ve just had in London highlight just how special Formula E is and you need a combination of those factors to continue its upward trajectory."

Di Grassi: 'I'd love to race with Vettel'

Sebastian Vettel recently brought down the curtain on his motorsport career, leaving Formula 1 as a four-time champion and one of the all-time greats. The German has been a leader in global sport for some years in striving for positive societal change from gender issues, inclusion and diversity, to recently expressing his concerns on climate change and F1's environmental credentials.

Di Grassi has raced with Vettel before, and he would relish the chance to do so again - crediting Sebastian's integrity and drive for doing what he feels is right.

"I’d love to race with Seb," says di Grassi. "We raced many times together and it would be amazing to have him racing here. A lot of the things and talk coming from Formula 1 is not really making a difference. Saying don’t use fossil fuels and be sponsored by Aramco doesn’t really say much.

"If people want to make things better, and Seb has done this in the last few years, then we need people like sportsmen to use their platforms to try and create change and make the world a better place – I think this is a very normal thing. He could just do his racing, stop and buy a boat somewhere, so I think it’s very noble of him and it would be a pleasure to have him racing with us.

"Everything starts from scratch in Gen3 and it’s the perfect time for somebody to jump in! I’m sure Vettel would be competitive but it can take time – it’s a very special racing series, very unique. You don’t have practice sessions or many testing days but it would be a pleasure to watch him race with us, regardless."