Rene Rast on Berlin, adapting to Formula E, and racing in the Audi Sport stable

Rene Rast makes a full-time ABB FIA Formula E World Championship return for 2020/21 after an impressive six-race stint with the team at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport Circuit to round out Season 6.

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler has confirmed that the German would re-join alongside Lucas di Grassi for the forthcoming campaign. Rast was initially parachuted into the team, in place of Daniel Abt, for what wound up being an eye-catching spell on home soil which yielded 29 points and a maiden Formula E podium in Round 10.

“It was very similar for most of the drivers, at the time,” said the 34-year-old. “We hadn’t been in the car for a very long time, from March or April time and for a racing driver that’s very unusual – we never have such a long time off.

“I was in the simulator for many days and obviously, for me, there was also the DTM (German touring cars) running alongside this. Everything just started at once and I was on the road for I don’t know how many weeks in a row without being home for more than one or two days at a time so it was quite a challenge.

“It was zero-100 very quickly. Add to that, Formula E being all-new once again and I had to learn a lot of the systems and how the Gen2 car works. Then in August, we had DTM races and a back-and-forth between those and the Berlin season finale. It was crazy!”

Race Highlights | Round 10 | 2020 Berlin E-Prix

In at the deep end

Rast’s commitments as part of the Audi Sport stable of drivers meant adjusting fast was a must if he was to make meaningful progress during his time in-car at Tempelhof.

It’s tough enough making the switch between disciplines on a games console, let alone doing it for real in as pressured an environment as Formula E's nine-day six-race season finale.

As it happened, that quick-fire batch of races proved to be more a positive for someone jumping into the cockpit fresh, looking to learn fast and contribute effectively to the Audi cause. Rast was able to correct early mistakes and familiarise himself with new surroundings in double-quick time on his way to pace, points and a podium.

“The biggest difference between what I’m used to and Gen2 was the power and how it’s delivered, and the vision with Halo on the Formula E car and the covers over the wheels,” continued Rast. “It changes the way you look through corners as the apex is blocked – it’s not easy.

“The most important thing for me to do was to understand the tire. It has a big influence and you have to know how to treat it to be quick for one lap in qualifying as that sets you up for the whole weekend.

“The last two or three races in Berlin, I’d started to get a grasp on it and before that it was a bit of a guessing game to see what worked best for me.

“Then, the next challenge was the energy management in the races as you need to change your driving style to be more efficient, between qualifying and the race. Taking different lines and different approaches to your style itself was all tough but I had time to learn at Tempelhof.

“It was a bit of a process and in the first race I didn’t know what to expect. The first two or three races were like being thrown in at the deep end!

"I made mistakes and I learned a lot from them across all kinds of races, having to start from the pit-lane, midfield and fighting at the front as well as some races I just managed without a real battle. It was extremely valuable to me coming in cold.”

Learning from the best

The encyclopedic knowledge of Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, and team-mate Lucas di Grassi, stretching right back to race one, Season 1, undoubtedly helped Rast’s cause.

“The team has been in Formula E since the very first day,” said Rast. “They have a lot of experience, some really good guys and engineers and that was a big help. They imparted all that knowledge on me which guided me as to what to do and when.

“In the same way, whenever I had a question, Lucas was not shy of giving me an answer which was very helpful. Having such an extremely experienced team-mate like Lucas is invaluable – he’s the most successful in the series’ history, so what a team-mate to have.”

Rast’s adaptability is among his strongest attributes as a racing driver, as attested to by a DTM title in his rookie season – no mean feat.

In Berlin, he made steady progress throughout, gradually building confidence and speed in both qualifying and race trim towards a storming Round 10 podium, sealed thanks to a combative last-lap pass on Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche) – a move several tours in the making.

“To fight a guy like Andre, who’s known for fighting very hard, was great,” added Rast. “He’s always someone to look up to because he’s a very quick and successful guy in whatever championship he’s raced in. He’s a good racer, too. To fight him and beat him in the end, rounded off a very good day for me.

“It was the last lap and I was in fourth. The team told me he was half a percent lower on energy and I saw he was really trying to save energy at that corner, which is normally not made for overtaking.

“I was making a plan some laps before, asking myself where I could pass him and surprise him and that was exactly the corner. He was lifting very early and he sent me a bit of a present! I just had to take it!”

Just like riding a bike?

That Rast was also in a title fight with Audi in DTM – and still is, as he sits first in the running heading to the final round at the Hockenheimring – only added to the pressure on his Formula E return, and indeed on jumping back into the touring car post-Berlin. Making the switch isn’t quite like riding a bike, it transpires.

“I wish juggling the two was like that!” he said. “It wasn’t, unfortunately, because when you learn a new car as a driver you still have to adapt to it. I’d adapted a lot to the Formula E energy saving techniques because when I came back from Berlin and jumped in the DTM car it felt like I’d never driven one before! 

“It was a complete shock. I was in practice and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing for a moment. The problem was that I’d never done the switch between the two cars in such a short space of time. 

“Within a few hours I’d gone from Berlin to DTM practice and I had to adapt my whole body and mind to the new situation. After that initial period, it was okay and I think that experience, and knowing how to adapt quickly, will help me going forward.”

'The next chapter'

With his name signed on the dotted line and testing in progress, Rast is more than eager to get his first full Formula E campaign underway proper.

“The races in Berlin have definitely whetted my appetite for more, so I’m now looking forward to my first full season in Formula E,” added Rast. “Starting in this World Championship for Audi is the next exciting chapter in my career and I am really looking forward to it.”