Jerome d’Ambrosio is one of Formula E’s quieter men. He’s one of four drivers to have contested every single race so far and he led the championship for half of last season but has never been one of the ‘big names.’ But he’s definitely one of the big thinkers.
He’s also literally quiet. In years of interviewing him, I’ve very rarely got more than a few minutes of audio, compared to some of them who you can’t stop talking. But an opportunity to sit down with him in the unlikely setting of a rain-drenched Hockenheimring earlier this year, at Mahindra Racing‘s season six car launch, took a turn for the philosophical.
Amidst the pre-season preparation questions, we got onto what makes Formula E’s environment unique and how it’s changed over the years. He’d know, after all.
I asked him if there’s a uniquely open atmosphere in Formula E, as the series evolves: “Five years ago, nobody had a clue on how things would look like – we showed up in Beijing still doing a warmup lap and the warmup lap in Beijing was five minutes or something, it was ridiculous, it was so slow.
“So we were still discovering things and because it’s a new story, it’s a new technology everybody’s kind of less afraid and more open-minded to people’s ideas and views on things.”
Formula E has a very different paddock to some other series – communal catering and garages separated by nothing more than marquee canvas keeps things sometimes uncomfortably intimate. But forced sharing does create a better community.
Jerome said the atmosphere empowers the paddock to question and improve things more openly, “It means that the drivers, the team principals, the FIA, Formula E – you have the possibility to go and say ‘why don’t we do things like that, why are we doing things like this?‘
“And it doesn’t mean we necessarily agree about things but there is definitely more of a brainstorming element going on, by many different parties, that has allowed – I believe – Formula E to quickly and in a more efficient way to be reaching better results.”
After five-and-a-bit seasons, some spent quietly back-marking at Dragon before the switch to Mahindra put him on the podium again, d’Ambrosio’s had plenty of time to contemplate the championship.
I asked him what keeps him in it and got a very considered answer: “There are two things. As a pure racing driver, the best thing is still the racing. Because the racing is exciting, it’s the most exciting racing you will find around because every race is exciting, every race you know you can overtake, you can start at the back.
“I’ve started races – you know, with cars that are so similar, you’re not driving a car that goes two seconds a lap quicker than another car, you’re driving a car that is quite similar and so I can start Mexico in P-last and finish fourth. And that’s quite exciting.”
Drivers enjoying driving is hardly news but Formula E has a bit more than that to give, as a sport. “What’s amazing – and this is unique to Formula E – as human beings, we all have passions and things that we like to do and when you’re really lucky, that passion becomes your job.
“And thanks to Formula E, I’m still living my passion as my job and at the same time, I’m involved in a place where we’re trying to have a positive impact on the environment. And so Formula E really ticks all the boxes.”
Drivers can, undeniably, moan a bit. Far be it for a journalist to accuse them of being worse than us, though – but outside the heat of the moment, Jerome said something I can’t help but agree with when it comes to the series, “We’re trying to obviously develop and push greener technology and raise the awareness of it, show the people that it’s actually working and hopefully push them to go and buy an electric car because it’s cool and it works and is efficient.
“So the ability to mix all these things is quite unique and I feel very privileged to be able to do that.”Become a Patron!