Alexander Sims may have made headlines this week with his first-ever Formula E victory, but the 31-year-old spent much of the off-season unsure as to whether he’d be on the grid at all this year.
After a strong start to his debut season last year, the BMW Andretti driver struggled for consistency during the summer period as a string of promising results slipped from his grasp.
Heading into the season-ending doubleheader in New York, Sims was unsure as to whether it would end up being his farewell to the championship with no confirmation as to whether he’d return the following season.
As it happens, Sims delivered his strongest performance of the season in New York. A first ever pole position was unexpected but a strong fourth place finish and a career-best second place the next day felt like it had been long overdue.
Crucially it moved him ahead of fellow rookies Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Massa in the drivers’ standings, which given the their recent F1 experience, was a notable achievement.
Despite the good feeling that surrounded the team that weekend, it wasn’t enough for Sims to leave the United States with any reassurance of his Formula E future.
In an exclusive interview with Inside Electric, Sims explains how the delay in contract talks sparked doubts in his mind, why this sophomore season will be significantly different to his rookie year, and why he’s taken the time to help new team-mate Max Günther settle in at BMW.
“I knew in my diary that I had a couple of tests booked in with BMW still so they were still involving me in things [after the season has ended], which was a positive sign, but at the same time when you don’t have a contract in place there was the potential [for my role] to just be for testing and not to be continued into season six,” Sims explained.
“I obviously kept asking questions and showing my enthusiasm to continue. It took a little bit longer than I’d have liked but I’m happy now we’ve reached a situation where I’m continuing and working with this great team that we’ve got.”
In New York, Sims played down the significance of his performance but admitted it had come “at a good time” heading into the off-season and the inevitable contract talks that would follow.
“You’d have to ask [the team] specifically to say what their views were. I’m sure the larger factor [in BMW’s decision to re-sign him] was the overall season and the data they had available to them,” said Sims.
“…if you consistently have potential that’s unrealised then at some point question marks start to appear.
“At the same time if you consistently have potential that’s unrealised then at some point question marks start to appear. Quite a few situations [we faced last season] were out of my control, but at one point or another, it’s difficult to say there isn’t a common denominator in that being me.”
There’s no denying Sims’ New York weekend had an impact on the perception people had of his rookie season. After all, 33 of his 57 points last season were scored in the final two rounds, but his season could have panned out quite differently had lady luck been on his side a bit more often.
A misunderstanding in Marrakesh resulted in Sims and team-mate Antonio Felix da Costa making contact while running 1-2. Both drivers accepted blame for the incident at the time which Sims described as “absolute disappointment” for the team, but it was a golden opportunity to secure a first podium finish that he wouldn’t have again for six months.
In Mexico City, Sanya, and Paris, Sims either suffered damage or was forced to retire through contact from other drivers, while in Rome a technical failure meant he had to start from the back of the grid. In Bern, Sims managed to survive the first lap chaos but was then frustratingly hit by another driver shortly after the restart and could only recover as high as 11th.
Sims concedes that without his New York podium he would have had “a few more doubts in my mind” heading into the summer break following his barren run mid-season.
“[It enabled me] to go into the off-season a little more at peace and I gained confidence in proving to myself that we were able to put into practice what we’d learnt,” said Sims.
“Had the season stopped after Bern, there would have been a few more doubts in my mind…
“Had the season stopped after Bern, there would have been a few more doubts in my mind as to whether everything we were trying to do was the correct approach or not. [New York] had a double benefit of being good for me personally and from the outside it looked good as well.”
There are many examples of drivers with substantially greater experience than Sims struggling to adapt to Formula E during their debut seasons. To have expected him to match up to team-mate da Costa, a near ever-present since FE’s inaugural season, was always a difficult ask.
Sims believes the learnings he took from his debut season will carry through well to his second and judging by his dominant lights-to-flag victory in Diriyah, he may well have already vindicated BMW’s decision to get their chequebook out.
“I think your attention changes from being bombarded with information, to then feeling like you’ve got a base understanding of Formula E [so you then focus on] trying to get a deeper understanding of certain systems and the way the engineers designed them,” said Sims.
“I find it very interesting, I don’t necessarily understand all of it but certainly now I can put more mental energy into it and I think that in turn allows me on track to appreciate [what the engineers are saying] a bit more.
“In terms of a race weekend, I honestly think you’ve got to keep it pretty simply and having a deeper understanding probably doesn’t help too much in terms of the engineering topics, but I can foresee a benefit to just being more relaxed and being more confident.”
One of the major differences Sims is finding this season is the man in the car next to him. His new team-mate Max Günther replaced former team leader da Costa who left to join reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne at Techeetah. The switch is more significant, however, than simply having a new guy to compare yourself against.
With both having been BMW factory drivers who’ve raced with and against each other in various categories, Sims and da Costa have known each for several years and consider one another friends.
Sims says “you can’t fast-track that [kind of relationship]” but he’s trying to be as open with Günther as da Costa was with him when he joined, and he opted to take that approach before either he or the German were officially confirmed for this season.
“I’ve obviously known him for less time than I knew Antonio but he seems to be a really nice, calm, down to earth guy. He’s very straightforward, and I see no reason why we can’t have a successful relationship together,” said Sims.
“My approach is always to be completely open in every way. Immediately in testing, before he was even signed, I actually checked with BMW on the stance I should take, firstly because I didn’t quite know if they’d be continuing with me [even though I] knew pretty much everything that was going on with BMW from the previous year.
“I didn’t know if they were going to try out three different drivers for example and pick one, and then you don’t want to have shared everything with all three.
“Thankfully they were able to reassure me that it was fine to just be myself around him. From day one, I was trying to help Max to understand how the BMW systems work, how the information we had interacted with the driver, everything I’ve learnt over the past season I tried to pass on to him.
“I think as a rookie to the team, when you can speak to another driver who’s experienced exactly the same stuff, I learnt very well from Antonio [Felix Da Costa] how nice that is.”Become a Patron!