Eyebrows were raised back in October when Jaguar Racing announced James Calado would be their new driver despite the Brit having spent six years away from single-seater racing. In an exclusive interview with Inside Electric, Calado talks through his return and explains why it could be his biggest challenge yet.
Predicting the following season’s Formula E grid can be a difficult task as a journalist. You often hear whispers in the paddock, and from speaking to the teams you’ll develop a reasonably well-informed idea who’s going where, but there’s always one or two moves you don’t see coming.
Jaguar’s Calado signing was one such move, and few would have predicted it following the conclusion of the New York City E-Prix in July.
The man he replaced, Alex Lynn, had impressed since replacing Nelson Piquet Jr mid-season and had looked on course to secure his first podium that weekend before an MGU failure robbed him of the chance.
Despite his misfortune, Lynn was relatively upbeat afterwards regarding his chances of securing the seat full-time and believed he’d done all he could to stake his claim for it. As it transpired, the team would soon have a different plan.
Jaguar’s driver lineup has always been a bit of a mismatch, with varying personalities and driving styles paired together with limited success. Counting Lynn’s spell in the car this summer, the team has run four different team-mate pairings in less than three years on the grid.
Mitch Evans remains Jaguar’s most valuable asset, and he’s undoubtedly carried the team with his performances over the past 12 months. It’s become evident during that period that Jaguar’s struggle to pair two drivers of a similar level has hurt their progression in the teams’ championship.
So where does Calado fit into this? From our time chatting at the Valencia pre-season test, he’s certainly more self-aware than the polarising personality of Piquet Jr, and possesses, on the surface at least, a tad more natural confidence than his predecessor Lynn.
He may be seen by many as a risky signing, but with several years of sportscar racing under his belt, Calado knows the drill when representing a major manufacturer and is unlikely to be phased by the prospect of slotting in at Jaguar. He is, after all, a world champion in WEC’s highly competitive LMGTE category and a class winner at Le Mans too.
Formula E, though, is a different beast and as has often proved to be the case, it’s rare for drivers to achieve immediate success regardless of their competitiveness elsewhere. As a world champion, adapting to a situation where you’re no longer seen as the guy to beat may seem an uncomfortable scenario, but it’s one Calado is prepared for.
“When you’re young and fiery and you want to do F1, it’s very much your approach that wherever you go you think you’re number one…
“When you’re young and fiery and you want to do F1, it’s very much your approach that wherever you go you think you’re number one [but] you can’t just arrive and expect to be god straight away,” says Calado.
“Sportscar racing was a long process [and] adapting from GP2 to sportscars was tough but we got great results, became world champion, won Le Mans, won the big races and now I’m at the front. I think I need to go into [Formula E] with the same approach and just kind of step back a bit, have a more conservative approach at first, just try and score points.
“I think this is key because you do see a lot of [rookies having] accidents in Formula E, it would be good to try and avoid those. The team are competitive, everything underneath us has great potential and I’ve got a really good team-mate so it’s down to me really to do the job more than them.”
Describing Evans as “a really good team-mate” is possibly an understatement, but you get the feeling that Calado has genuine respect for the Kiwi’s abilities, and rightly so.
Across three seasons, Evans has out-scored every team-mate he’s had. He’s contributed 74% of Jaguar’s total points to date, and in the process, has also secured their first pole position and all four of their podiums including an emotional and long-awaited first win in Rome last year.
Make no mistake, Evans will prove a formidable opponent for Calado, but that’s definitely a positive thing for Jaguar who’ve long been crying out for a stable and competitive driver partnership to build the team around.
If you speak to pretty much anyone in the paddock, from drivers to rival team bosses, most will share the view that Evans is up there with the best on the grid. Calado, therefore, has the chance to really make a difference at Jaguar if he’s able to get on par with him this season.
“Mitch is a great reference for me, he’s kind of leading the team forward at the moment whereas I’m kind of learning everything from him and the team,” says Calado.
“It’s obviously a tough task and you gotta be realistic about things. You can’t just go into this and expect to win straight away…
“It’s obviously a tough task and you gotta be realistic about things. You can’t just go into this and expect to win straight away with no track knowledge. Pretty much all the tracks I don’t know [and] track time at the circuits is very limited.
“I need to go in with the approach that points would be great to start with and then as time goes on and I become more confident with the car, I think we’ll see some great results going forward.”
Calado seems relaxed about the challenge facing him, and he’s acutely aware that reaching Formula E is one thing but sticking around for the long-term is quite another.
“Sam Bird was my teammate at Ferrari [in WEC] so we had a good friendship [but] he didn’t really know much about [the Jaguar talks],” Calado says.
“He kind of knew I’d been testing but nothing more, so he was telling me how hard it is, how competitive it is and how brave you need to be.
“I’ve always wanted to do Formula E [but] I’ve never really had the opportunity to do it until now. It’s all very well getting there, but you’ve got to stay there and that’s my goal.”Become a Patron!