In episode 18, Inside Electric’s Katy Fairman chats to Daniel Abt about some of the highs and lows from his Formula E career, his views on social media and Esports, and what life might hold for him in the future.
In light of recent events, it’s worth noting that this interview took place at the end of April, shortly after the Formula E Race at Home challenge begun.
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Artwork: © Rebecca Jodgalweit / Inside Electric
Intro Music: © BananaStudio2013
Content: © Inside Electric
Featuring: Katy Fairman and Daniel Abt
Produced and edited by Rob Watts
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Episode preview transcript
Katy Fairman: Obviously growing up, cars and motorsport must have been all around you. Did you know that you wanted to get involved in the family business, and when did you decide you wanted to go down the racing route?
Daniel Abt: “Yeah, I mean obviously when you grow up, it’s not like you’re born and you directly say ‘I wanna become a racing driver’ or ‘I wanna do something with cars’, but yeah, I’ve obviously been surrounded by all this. When I was young, I went to a lot of races, and I saw what’s going on and then came the opportunity to try a go-kart and see how it feels. I really liked it, and then, yeah basically I got the chance to do go-kart races but at that point, for me, I was not feeling like this would ever become a job or, you know it was just a hobby.
“Other guys were playing football on the weekend, I was racing go-karts, and then actually, the first time I was in a Formula 4 car, that was then the moment that I felt ‘Oh, this is so cool, I really wanna proceed and make this a career, make more out of it’. That for me was really the point when it all started, but obviously you never know if it works out, [but] the good thing for me is I never had pressure from my family saying ‘you need to become this’ or ‘you need to become that’, it was just about having the opportunity to do that – which I am super grateful for – but without this immense pressure of having to be what your parents want you to be, and I think that’s very positive.”
Katy Fairman: Have you found that having the Abt surname has changed how people engaged with you in motorsport?
Daniel Abt: “Yeah, of course. I think when I started racing, I really didn’t like it, because from karting on people were looking at me differently and were treating me differently. Also, I personally felt a different type of pressure because people were automatically expecting different things from you, so yeah, that was not so easy, and of course, you also have people saying ‘he’s just doing that because of his parents’ or ‘he’s just there because of that’, this kind of stuff. When I was young, I could not really, let’s put it this way, I could handle it but I really didn’t like it and it was mentally distracting for me at some points in my life, but when I was getting older, and when I had a bit of first success in Formula 4 and Formula 3 and stuff like this, it became less.
“People were not talking just about my last name, but also my first name. They understand ‘Ok, this is Daniel, he’s a different person and he does what he does’, [but] I think you’ll never get rid of it, especially when Formula E came and you drive for your own team, you always have people saying that you’re just there for that reason. I learnt to live with it and I have no more problem with that, and of course, on the other side, it was giving me a lot of opportunities that you’d maybe not have. I was very early on having good sponsors that funded my racing career and stuff like that, which of course was easier to get because we already had a network, we were connected with people in the motorsport scene so that obviously helps. It has its downsides, it has its positives, but all in all, I think, yeah, I’m happy and confident with who I am today.”
Katy Fairman: Did you find that people treated you differently like you said, you mentioned Formula E there, do you think they were almost scared to give you honest opinions because they thought you’d just go back and tell your dad about it?
Daniel Abt: “Yes, 100%. Of course, everyone in the team, and especially the leaders in the team, were always saying ‘look, our drivers are treated the same, there’s no difference, treat Daniel as if he was any driver’, and that’s also what I always wanted, but I think you cannot get it 100% out of the mind of people that they are kind of employed by your father and if they say what you’ve done is not good, then they might be scared that it comes back to them. I think you cannot get it fully out of their head, which sometimes it even felt like a downside because I think you can only get better if you get honest opinions and if people are able to tell you ‘look, you need to do this or that’ or ‘this was not good, this was good’ if no one tells me that, how can I get any better? Sometimes it does maybe influence it a bit, but I think we’ve treated it the best possible way, and especially then in season four, for me, a big change came.”
Katy Fairman: Getting that drive with Audi must have been a huge weight off our shoulders. You had the validation, not just because of your father’s son, but because you’re a really talented racing driver. What was that approval like from Audi? Was it a massive weight off your shoulders?
Daniel Abt: “Yes, and no. Of course, I was super, super happy that Audi said ‘Ok, we continue with you’, they could have taken anyone, there was no contract in place or anything. Of course, that was nice, but it also put me in a position to say ‘look now, I have to prove to them, I have to do my job and show them who I am’, because of course in Audi, there are people who were thinking at that time that ‘ok, he’s just there because of blah blah blah’, so for me, season four was really the most important season probably, because I felt like ‘OK, I now have the Audi brand on my chest and I need to do everything to make them happy. to make them proud, and to make myself proud’. Yeah, it became an amazing season and I think that was a good turnaround point for me, and kind of gave me a lot of credibility back that I maybe missed a bit before that.”
Katy Fairman: Do you think that having the Audi name with you, even if you didn’t intend it to, do you think it helped at all with your racing? Like you said, you had such an amazing season in season four.
Daniel Abt: “It’s tough to say, but yeah, I think it just put everything into a different perspective. There were new people, there was a mixup of things, and for me it felt like another fresh start with a different approach, and yeah of course, we had an amazing car also in that season which is always something you need to prove yourself because sometimes you don’t have that. I think that year it was really the case, because I hadn’t won a race before that season. We start in Hong Kong, and ok it was taken away, but basically I won on the first weekend with Audi, I won a race and the first-ever electric win for Audi was me taking it! While everyone was expecting it to be Lucas [di Grassi]. That, of course, was a very good feeling and I think it strengthened the whole relationship also.”
Katy Fairman: Just this week Audi have announced their departure from DTM – what are your thoughts on that?
Daniel Abt: “Well, first of all, I think it’s super sad for motorsport that this happens, but to be honest, I am not shocked about the decision. I think that the trend was there that this day would come. Obviously, ok now we have a special situation anyway with coronavirus and everything that maybe accelerates some stuff, but all in all, I think if you look at motorsport I think there are a lot of series that are not where they should be, and I think as a manufacturer I think it’s pretty clear if you go and spend a lot of money in a racing series, you want a certain output, you want value for that. Of course, if they think that’s not given anymore, they need to make a decision which is not emotionally based but also looking at where the company goes in the future, I think also looking at the fact that electric mobility is coming up and getting more important, yeah, I think there were just a lot of influences that bring that decision which in the first place, of course, is sad.
“For us [ABT Sportsline] as a company, of course, it’s not nice, because we run a team, we’ve done that the last 20 years. It’s also part of our DNA, but that’s how life goes and sometimes in life you have to take tough decisions. Of course, not everyone likes it, but maybe it also brings up new opportunities and maybe also helps to get a fresh start in the way we approach motorsport because I think, yeah, we missed the sweet spot of turning motorsport into this new century and making it different. You know you cannot just think that keeping everything the same since 50 years is gonna make it successful. You know, there’s been companies that have been at the top and they’ve gone nowhere because they had this approach, and I think with motorsport, it’s a bit the same and I’m sometimes a bit sad that we don’t make more out of it, and we’re not able to extract more fans out of the product.
“Motorsport is still cool, it’s still something amazing, but we have to find a way to let, especially young people, [to let them] know. They have so much entertainment, so many possibilities, there’s a lot of other things that young people spend their time on, so if your product’s not 100% spot on, it’s tough.”