- FAN ZONE
ROKiT Venturi Racing appointed Jerome D’Ambrosio as its deputy team principal ahead of the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E Championship, and we spoke to the Belgian about his decision to hang up his crash helmet, on joining Venturi’s management and his position as one of Formula E’s 100 percenters.
D’Ambrosio left the Berlin finale with his future at the forefront of his mind, and decisions still to be made as to whether his 26-year career across the upper echelons of world motorsport would extend into its 27th.
Jumping out of the cockpit for the final time isn’t easy for any driver, but D’Ambrosio felt the time was right, and had ambitions of a transition to the pit wall.
“I like to be very much focused on what I do,” said the Belgian. “Until Berlin was over and done with, I was very much focused on trying to deliver the best I could, during the races for Mahindra Racing.
“After Tempelhof, I explored my options to potentially continue driving. I looked at what was on the table, and took three to four weeks to completely disconnect in the mountains and the countryside. That was my first time off after the end of the season and after an intense and strange first half of 2020 year, I needed a break.
“That time allowed me to think things through and make my decision. I had opportunities to continue to drive – as well as in Formula E – but they didn’t interest me from a sporting point of view. I came to the conclusion that the peak of my driving career was behind me.
“I've always said to myself, that I didn’t want to retire on a low note, not being able to fight for wins and podiums and race with the same motivation as before. I didn't want to fall in that trap of just hanging on to something because it’s the only thing you've known all your life and it's your comfort zone.
“I didn't want that to define me and what my future was going to be. I decided that it was better to call it a call it a day.
“I’m proud of my career as a driver and so very grateful – I’ve had so much fun. I feel very privileged to have raced in Formula 1 and Formula E, from the very first race and for the whole duration of the championship.”
The 34-year-old is philosophical about his achievements, and more than satisfied that he’s able to turn over a new leaf without any regrets.
That race win in Marrakesh, Season 5, was an undoubted highlight of his time in Formula E – a championship in which he has been a fixture since day one, competing in every race to-date and one of only a handful of drivers to have done so.
“I'm very much at peace with my career as a driver and with everything I've achieved,” he adds. “I’ve no problem saying ‘okay, now I’ll turn the page’.
“One might be temped to look back at his career and to hope that he would have achieved more. I have won races and the last one, in Marrakesh, was incredible. I would have loved to win a championship. but I’m very happy with what I have achieved and where I’ve finished. I will keep working hard to achieve that one day in a different role. I am still very competitive and hungry for success.
“I’m with the team today and the car’s on track. I wondered how I’d feel watching the cars and not driving but I’m not missing it and I’m really looking forward to contributing in my new role.”
That new role is beside team principal Susie Wolff as deputy team principal, her ‘right-hand man’.
Venturi’s team principal feels D’Ambrosio will serve to strengthen the management team, and sees him playing a pivotal role with the outfit’s drivers and engineers. Working alongside Wolff, with the Brit’s wealth of experience, proved to be one of the key factors in his decision to join the Monegasque squad.
“The driver line-up here is great and the team has done well to secure a very hungry young guy in Norman Nato,” continued D’Ambrosio. “Once I made my decision to call it a day, I got in touch with Susie to let her know and it turned out there was an opportunity to work on the management side within the team.
“We explored the role for two weeks and we came to an agreement quite naturally. The transition is one I have really wanted to make, and the role is perfect – exactly what I wanted to be doing.
“Being a driver does help in a role like this. There are definitely parts of the sport that you really have a deep understanding of, when it comes to technical and sporting aspects of it, from working with the team, with your mechanics, your engineers, and so on. You develop a natural understanding of those dynamics.
“However, there are other aspects to the role and a lot to learn. There is a bigger picture when you jump out of the car into management, with the role linked to every department of the team.
“It's not only the sporting within the team. There is the relationship with the championship, with the governing bodies and the commercial and financial side of a race team – it’s very much across the board and the opportunity makes so much sense for me. I didn’t have to think twice about it.
“In Susie, I'm next to someone that I can really learn from, and that was a determining factor in my decision to join the team. It is a great opportunity and great environment to be in.”
D’Ambrosio was on the ground with the team for the first time during the off-season this week, and is taking the time between now and testing in Valencia at the end of the month to bed in and get his feet under the table.
Hopes are that the team will push on in 2020/21, with a driver pairing that excites and promise from its car and technical package.
“I'm just stepping in to the role,” said D’Ambrosio. “It’s a case of getting to know everyone, looking at how we operate and acclimatising myself to my new role.
“We clearly have a very strong driver line-up and I think we will have a good package, backed up by a strong technical department. We want to improve on last year and fight for podiums. Of course Formula E is hyper competitive and doing so won’t be easy so we want to be realistic about the challenges ahead.
“Edo is fast, he’s a strong racer, knows the championship and works well with Norman. He’s open to sharing his experience, which is really important for all of us. He's really on top of his game.
“Norman is very hungry and realises he has an amazing opportunity. He’s working so hard to make the most of it. He’s been with the team for two years now in a test and development role and he’s been a great asset. He’s also really fast! I’m really excited about what they can achieve together.”
D’Ambrosio is a veteran of all 69 E-Prix, alongside Sam Bird (Jaguar Racing), Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) and Daniel Abt.
He’s been a believer since first joining the fold in the inaugural 2014/15 campaign, and saw Formula E’s promise from the off, not just in its racing formula but in its relevance as a championship going forward with its goal of leading the race against climate change and driving sustainable technology and electric vehicles forward.
“I really committed to Formula E from the start, and believed in what they were trying to build,” he adds. “Other drivers joining at the time drove in other series’. I was probably the only one with a full commitment to Formula E, not driving anything else.
“I saw it as a championship of the future back then and it’s proved to be the case with its development since those days. The feeling was one of a start-up back then and you could feel the excitement. I could not be happier with my choice.
“We felt we were going to get to a really good place but I don’t think anybody would have thought that after a few seasons, the championship would be where it is now – in terms of manufacturer involvement, professionalism and the drivers involved. So many drivers want to join Formula E now – it’s incredibly competitive.
“I believe in Formula E’s core values. Racing has a bright future, but a key aspect will be relevance. Formula E has many aspects that were ahead of its time back then but gave it a real relevancy from the very start.”