The announcement last month that Venturi would be partnering with Mercedes for the new Formula E season raised a few eyebrows, with some questioning why the team would revert from their manufacturer status to become the customer of a team that are new to the championship.
To understand why we spoke to Susie Wolff, the charismatic team boss determined to turn the Monegasque minnows into one of Formula E’s major players.
Despite claiming their first Formula E victory last season – through Edoardo Mortara’s sensational win in Hong Kong – Venturi have since struggled to show their true capabilities. For some perspective, Mortara retired from six of the last seven races last season following his win.
Even with the addition of F1 legend Felipe Massa last season as Mortara’s teammate, the team still couldn’t connect the dots enough to find themselves regularly fighting for podiums.
Wolff, however, has a clear vision as to where she plans to take the team and believes it will become evident this season that Venturi are moving forwards and that last season’s Hong Kong triumph was not a false dawn.
Speaking exclusively to Inside Electric, Wolff explains how it was “always our plan to switch to customer status” and that the partnership with Mercedes marks “a huge step in the right direction” for the team.
“It was a decision of [team owner] Gildo Pastor before I’d even joined Venturi,” Wolff says of the decision to seek a new powertrain partner for season six.
“He had very much come to the conclusion that to stay competitive in Formula E we had to align ourselves with a manufacturer and once we knew Mercedes were joining, [CEO, Gildo Pastor] wanted it to be Mercedes.
“Losing the partnership with ZF [the German automotive company who partnered with Venturi to engineer their previous powertrain] gave us a blank sheet of paper to start with and it was always our plan to switch to customer status in season six.
“I see it as a huge step in the right direction for us as a team. We’re not a big organisation, we’re not a big manufacturer, and we were really pushed to the limit in maintaining our manufacturer status last year.
“We had the whole rear end of the car to design, we had all the development work to do alongside ZF. It was very difficult and on top of that we had a customer team to supply (in HWA) and it was at times, very, very challenging last year.”
Despite a solid debut season under her belt, Wolff admits she “wants more” this year and believes the decision to swap manufacturer status for a customer relationship with Mercedes has already been vindicated.
“Already what we can see this year, the benefit of being in the customer situation is that we get the delivered product and we’re able to capitalise with that product on performance,” said Wolff.
“It means we can be much more focused, it means we’re aligned with one of the big manufacturers and let’s be honest, that manufacturer has huge success within motorsport.
“Mercedes has a huge knowledge and experience within motorsport and the group that are building the powertrain have managed to win six titles in Formula 1, so there’s definitely a big depth of knowledge that we feel will benefit us by being aligned with them in Formula E.
“We don’t underestimate the challenge, it’s a completely new platform for them to enter and this is a very specialised championship and it’s very competitive, but for the long term of Venturi it was vital for us to align ourselves.”
Like all team principals in Formula E, Wolff has a number of different responsibilities to juggle both at and away from the circuit, but unlikely many of the others, Wolff is one of a small few who until very recently was a racing driver herself.
When asked to summarise her learnings from year one in the job, Wolff says she’s found that attention to detail to be crucial in Formula E and points to the pairing of Mortara with former F1 colleague Massa as one of the big calls she’s made that has “played out very well”.
“Preparation is key. Don’t leave one stone unturned. Control the things that are controllable and try to control the variables as much as you can,” says Wolff of her approach.
“It’s pretty difficult for any team in this paddock to set clear targets because it’s so close and tight and there are so many variables that can impact whether you’re on the front row or the last row.
“First of all, if there’s one thing I’ve seen in this paddock it’s that experience counts for a lot in Formula E. It’s not just down to the raw speed of a driver, so that’s why for me it was vital to keep the driver lineup [of Massa and Mortara] that we had last season.
“I wanted that stability so that with the change of status [from manufacturer to customer] and with a new powertrain, we didn’t want any upset in the team and that there was some consistency from season to season.
“[The driver lineup has] played out very well, and it’s one of our strengths. Both drivers complement each other massively, both push each other, and have different strengths and weaknesses which means they can benefit from each other.
“I still believe I have one of the best driver lineups in the paddock and if we can deliver a car that’s more consistent I’m pretty sure both can deliver.”
After a strong start, Wolff’s Venturi team hit a slump last season following their historic maiden win in Hong Kong. Mortara failed to score another point all season, while the team slid from fourth in the teams’ championship to finish eighth – one place lower than they had the season before.
Wolff, however, says she knows why the team’s form fell away and believes she learned more during that tough second half of the season than during the flurry of points finishes the team amassed in the early rounds.
“There were some tough races [but] you learn more from the lows. Failure is painful, I hate failure but it’s how you deal with failure that defines your long-term success, that’s my opinion,” says Wolff.
“Sport is brutal, whether it’s motorsport or something else. There’s only ever one winner and we all want to win.
“Sport is brutal, whether it’s motorsport or something else. There’s only ever one winner and we all want to win. It’s those that cope with failure and learn from it that go on to become the really successful ones.
“We learned a lot last season and we did have a drop off of form towards the end of the season but that was also linked to the fact that we knew we wouldn’t be using the ZF powertrain the following year.
“It wasn’t that we’d turned our attentions [to season six], but our powertrain supplier knew that their powertrain wasn’t going to be running the following season. That obviously had implications as well.
“I think last year was probably for me, as my first year in the job, a massive learning curve but we can still be very proud of the achievement that we won a race and we had a podium at our home race in Monaco, both absolute highlights.
“This year, we need to be more consistent which is easier said than done in Formula E. I’m sure everyone in the paddock would like to be more consistent than they are, it’s very hard but that has to be the goal and we just need to keep making progress.”
With Mortara securing seventh and fourth place finishes from the two opening rounds in Diriyah, Venturi have already had a better start to this season than they had last year.
And now, with more than six weeks before the next round in Santiago, the team have sufficient time with which to take stock and ensure their performances continue in an upwards trajectory.
Wolff says she’s already taken pleasure in proving her doubters wrong, and only a fool would bet against her ambitious team from writing some more headlines this season.Become a Patron!