Just as I was packing up to leave the circuit I got an email asking if I’d be interested in an interview with Jean-Eric Vergne. Of course I jumped at the chance. With nothing prepared I dashed over to the team office near the entrance to the circuit. Virgilia (Team Press Officer) greeted me and showed me to the seating area where I had a couple of minutes to form a chain of questions in my head before JEV joined me. Off the cuff for sure, but what followed was a surprisingly candid conversation with Virgin’s latest signing…
So JEV the teams went for some flying laps at the end there, how’s it looking?
To be fair I have no idea, you can be quick here but the tracks we race on are extremely different. We never get these kinds of wide corners anywhere in the season, so all we have to do here is get the engine to work, understand the system and get everything right for the first race. I think from this perspective we’ve done everything we wanted to do today, so it was a positive day. I think we have to wait until the end of the first qualifying to see where we are in terms of speed.
You mentioned Donington Park being so different, would you ever like to see Formula E race on a traditional track? Imola have shown interest.
No because then I think you’d lose the point of the championship. City centres is why it’s fun to race, it’s really difficult to drive on those tracks and that makes it interesting. Even in F1, some tracks are so boring to watch. In Formula E for spectators there is always something happening, overtaking, people crashing in the wall. When you push for a qualifying lap you don’t run off on the grass, in a chicane you’re maybe 1cm away from nearly touching the outside wall, the inside wall. If you can make pole position this way I think it’s a lot more exciting not only for the driver but the people watching.
And what was it that attracted you to Virgin Racing this year? you must have had a lot of offers over the summer?…
Yeah I was pretty happy to see the interest people have for me, it’s nice. I think what interested me in this team is the relationship between Virgin Racing and DS (Citroen brand). Being French with a French manufacturer made a lot of sense and they’re a good team, they seem to have a good package, all this made it quite attractive. So far I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done. We have to wait until the first races to see how it goes, but I think this relationship together can be quite nice and this is what attracts me.
I know I was happy to see you stay in Formula E this year, now we get to see you do a full season to properly fight for the championship…
Yeah, let’s see what happens, but in an ideal world, I will miss two races, so.
In an ideal world you’ll miss two races?
Did you get that reference?
Go on tell me…
If I get back in F1 there will be two clashes.
And is that what you’re still aiming for?…
Well I’m on the shortlist of Haas F1, they’ve got three drivers on the list, there are two seats, so I guess there is a good chance.
That’s still your dream to be back in F1?
You know, there are two different things. Winning in the Formula E championship is one thing, being back in F1 is another. This year the championship starts quite early in October, so it leaves me a lot of time to do Formula E before the next Formula 1 season. We’ll see how it goes… at the moment there is no reason to think about it, but obviously it’s in my mind and I can’t deny it. The fact that I’m signing in Formula E doesn’t mean that I won’t come back to F1. The probability, two seats three drivers, so there is a good chance.
In that case I hope Haas has something exceptional to offer you.
We’ll see what happens, it’s way too early to talk about it and I don’t want to talk much about it; but I’m just saying what Gene Haas has said when he gave away the list of 3 drivers.
Ok then, returning to Formula E you mentioned Virgin’s partnership with French manufacturer DS, how have you found the powertrain?
There is only one gear, which is obviously a lot different. It changes the breaking, it makes some things easier, it’s a pretty decent package so far, but difficult to say for now.
A French ePrix as well this year!
I think that’s pretty amazing, I mean to race in Paris is really a nice thing to have. French driver… DS… Paris… if there’s one race to win it will be this one for me – although hopefully there will be more than one! *laughs*
And Sam Bird as your team mate this year… I saw you post on Instagram about there being very few drivers that you can truly fight wheel to wheel with, but Sam was one of those guys.
Yeah exactly, you know, you can notice them. There are some drivers you can fight until the end, there is a limit and we will both find our limit and leave just enough room for the other one to be crazy enough to pass, but we always give each other this room. With Daniel Ricciardo we often raced and it was always fair and with Sam, we haven’t raced much together but I know that from looking at his races when he was back in GP2 and last year we had a couple of moments together where it was always really tight but it was really respectful. He is obviously a really good driver and it’s good to have a strong team mate, pushing one another, going further for the team and pushing the team a lot to improve because obviously we want to win and we’re going to push the team extremely hard together.
That’s great JEV, thank you very much for your time.
I felt very privileged to have sat down with JEV and had him share his thoughts quite so openly with me as we occupied a small corner of the Virgin workshop.
Personally, I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that he’s considering Haas F1. He’s a fantastic driver and Formula E allows him to show this; I don’t like to think of him in an F1 team making up the numbers. But (along with his supporters) he knows he still has unfinished business in F1. He mentioned his Toro Rosso teammate, now Red Bull driver, Daniel Ricciardo in our interview and arguably Vergne was very much his equal. I admire JEV’s determination and because of this I’m confident he wouldn’t return to F1 unless he felt there were wider opportunities for him there.
In the meantime we have a Formula E championship to be getting on with and the driver line up at Virgin Racing is certainly one that has the fans excited. The team had a difficult mid-season last year, but Sam’s home win in London will have given them great belief. If the DS partnership pays off, Jean-Eric Vergne has all the talent it takes have a shot at the 2015/16 Formula E title.
Written by Tom Clancy @Retro_F1