After finishing some way shy of his new teammate last season, DS Techeetah's Jean-Eric Vergne faces his toughest challenge yet as he aims for his third championship title. Despite the threat from within his own team, and from any number of drivers up and down the pit-lane, the Frenchman's greatest menace could well be his 'internal fight'.
Last season provided a tough test for double ABB FIA Formula E Champion Jean-Eric Vergne. After two consecutive campaigns in top spot, the DS TECHEETAH driver was comprehensively beaten by his new teammate Antonio Felix da Costa, who joined the squad after leaving BMW i Andretti Motorsport at the end of Season 5.
With Vergne's hopes of a hat-trick shattered by a "horrible" second half of the season in August, the Frenchman has spent the off-season thinking things through, rebuilding his confidence and preparing to come back stronger for his seventh campaign, which kicks off in Santiago, 2021.
Perhaps his biggest threat comes from inside his own team, in the shape of da Costa, and the former champion will have to dig deep and steel his resolve to reclaim top spot.
"I believe in my chances," says Vergne. "I have very high confidence in my team. They proved over the last few years that they are the best. Plus, I've done it two times before.
"You always doubt yourself but I think it's like that in every sport. So, that's an internal fight that you always have to battle with. Coming to the races not knowing if you're going to be fast enough, not knowing if you can win and having the expectation of other people is never easy," he admits.
After the blow dealt by his own underperformance as much as his team-mate's excellent string of results across the Berlin season finale, Vergne temporarily put the defeat behind him over the off-season. His attentioned turned to other challenges, including the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"We were the car to beat on paper," he starts. "But we didn't win... well, because it's Le Mans! "I mean, it's like the ex-girlfriend that you were madly in love with and every year, it just slaps you in the face... Then, sometimes you have an amazing time, you win and you fall in love immediately again. In a way, Le Mans is the ex that you never got over!"
The temporary distraction of racing elsewhere, to 11th spot at the famed endurance showpiece, was short-lived as DS TECHEETAH wasted no time in embarking on an intensive testing programme for its new 2020/21 challenger ahead of official pre-season testing in Valencia to come at the end of the month. Vergne is encouraged by what he's seen so far.
"We tried the new car and the new powertrain, which is good," said Vergne. "I think the ingenuity is paying off and I think we got a nice update. The powertrain doesn't do everything, though. You see Mercedes, they came back very strong at the end of the year, but they had the same powertrain as the beginning of the season.
"So, I think it's really half and half. Half is about having a good powertrain, but the other half is you need a fantastic team of engineers and drivers."
Vergne: 'I don't want to feel this again'
With a fresh Formula E season approaching at speed - its first as an FIA World Championship - the Frenchman will be looking to take stock and refresh his mental state. Season 6 proved to be an experience that he does not wish to re-live.
"I mean, it's not been a good year," continued Vergne. "I think when your level of confidence is down, it can be very hard to jump back, especially when you have your team-mate in such a high level of confidence, seeing you not scoring any points while he's putting together very good races.
"It elevated him into a place where it seemed almost impossible to beat him because he is in such a good moment, and I was not at my best after a string of bad races. It was not a good year for me at all, and I'm still very unhappy with how my season unfolded."
By the end of the campaign, da Costa had stretched the gap to Vergne to 72 points, amassing a total of 158 by the time the final chequered flag was thrown at Tempelhof.
Before his move to DS TECHEETAH, the Portuguese driver's best Drivers' standings finish had been sixth, in the 2018/19 season with just 99 points. Few expected da Costa to wind up with such a margin, especially given Vergne's pedigree and with the Parisian counting the same tools at the his disposal.
"At the end of the day, we're all sportsmen and when somebody beats you he's been doing a better job than you," adds Vergne. "I respect Antonio. I think he's a fantastic teammate, but that doesn't change the fact that internally I'm, of course, boiling. I'm very angry at myself and the season how it has been played out. That has nothing to do with Antonio, just with me. I don't want to feel that again."
Facing fierce competition from within, and from an ever more competitive grid with Nissan e.dams and Mercedes-Benz EQ having the last say with comprehensive performances to round out the Berlin finale, the former champ will need to be more focused than ever as he aims for his third championship title.
"I'm very hungry for next season. I'm motivated because I don't want that to happen again. Because winning is a nice feeling but losing is a feeling that I hate more than anything. Thinking about yourself and about what you can do or can't do. It's a lot of mental torture sometimes. But I strongly believe it, and the day I think that I cannot win anymore, I will do something else."
Published on 15th November 2020