Antonio Felix da Costa is no stranger to the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. He has entered 115 E-Prix, taken eight race victories, stood on the podium 19 times and of course won the Drivers’ title in Season 6 with DS TECHEETAH. During that time, he’s experienced everything Formula E could throw at a driver.
The 32-year-old Portuguese driver joined the TAG Heuer Porsche family ahead of Season 9 and the new GEN3 era. It was a season of highs and lows, with his teammate Pascal Wehrlein dominating the standings during the first few races of the season whilst da Costa struggled to get to grips with his new surroundings.
A podium in Hyderabad showed that positive change was on the horizon for Antonio and the following race in Cape Town became a defining moment for the champ. Starting 11th on the grid for the inaugural South African Formula E race, the Porsche driver powered his way through the pack and soon found himself pulling some unbelievable overtakes for the lead of the race. His magical move on former teammate Jean-Eric Vergne (DS PENSKE) for the victory in the closing laps was even nominated for Action of the Year at the annual FIA Prize Giving ceremony. Another podium in Portland followed, but despite the optimism shown by the team after pre-season testing in Valencia, da Costa’s Season 10 has once again got off to a bumpy start.
Speaking in Mexico City, ahead of the season getting underway, Formula E’s Katy Fairman sat down with da Costa for an open chat about the mentality required, and experiences faced in motorsport.
“The more I grow up, the more I understand how the human brain works,” da Costa begins. “That's good and bad because when I was young, you were either happy or angry and you're not really sure why. Now when you're happy, you try and understand why, and when you're angry, you try and understand why – there are a lot more feelings to be analysed. I have the right people around me to try and help me do that.
“In the bad moments, you start thinking about a lot of things but if you take that in the right direction, and you do that properly, I think the upside is huge. So that's what I did. I was definitely not happy with the performance difference between the two sides of the garage [during the early stages of Season 9] but on the other hand it’s like ‘I have a car that can do that, too’.
“I worked on myself but again, it wasn't easy. I came to Porsche as a previous champion and I also felt like I was letting the team down. They were relying more on me to be the one to deliver the results. But fair play to Pascal, he was driving amazingly. He got everything right.”
Wehrlein's flying start
Last season, Wehrlein finished second in Mexico City before going on to win both races in the Diriyah double-header event. He looked so comfortable in the team, whereas da Costa could only manage a seventh place finish in Mexico. However, for the pilot who has led 256 laps in his Formula E career to-date, there was a lot to learn; a whole new team of people, a different car with unique software and a change of tyre supplier meant a lot of learnings were having to be done for the Season 6 champion.
“I am the first one to criticise myself and that's the way I like to move forward, but it was hard and at the same time a very good learning curve. The race weekend after Diriyah, we got to the podium in India, then the weekend after that I won the race, and the weekend after I missed the Julius Baer Pole Position by a few thousandths. We were on a streak of really good results. In Berlin I was going to finish both races in the top five again, but got hit by Jake Dennis (Andretti) when he made a mistake. I felt we were starting to build some momentum. I went from like 70 points back to maybe 20 in just a few races. I was pretty happy with how I turned it around!”
Da Costa ended up finishing ninth in the Drivers' World Championship during his debut year with German giants Porsche. His teammate Pascal would finish up fourth, with the team picking up four victories over the 2022/23 season.
“I think we have to be very careful when we play with our thoughts,” da Costa continued when elaborating on the psychology side of motor racing. “Everyone has good things in life and bad things. There's no such thing as a perfect life but I like to think that everything's fixable."
To work on his mental health, da Costa not only focuses on his physical wellbeing in the gym, but also works on his mind with a sports psychologist: “I am not an expert on the human brain, so I work with people that are. I have a really good sports psychologist that works with other athletes. When I go to the gym, I develop my muscles to be stronger. I use him as my gym for my brain. I try to work on that side of things.
“I've seen a few people wanting to leave this world when they have some problems, and I think everything's fixable. You know, I'm nowhere near that luckily, but what I want to say is that I think people should be way more open to speak out or to talk to someone. Sometimes you pretend to be the happiest guy in the world, but you're actually not. The world of sports is a world where you cannot show a lot of weakness because you'll be eaten alive, so also managing that is important.”
For Da Costa, who currently has a season-best result of 14th, this break between Diriyah and São Paulo next month will be a good chance to reset and attack the rest of the year with the speed and skill Formula E fans expect from him.
If you have been affected by any of the themes in this article, please visit a site like Mind, find a helpline or speak to someone you trust.