Mitch Evans is one of a handful of Formula E drivers to arrived have in the championship straight from a junior series. Inevitably, in the search for the most competitive single-seater drivers, a lot of Formula E’s frontrunners have been ex-Formula 1, during what’s only been six years of the series so far but there have been exceptions; including race winners Daniel Abt, Felix Rosenqvist, and the current youngest driver, Max Günther.
Evans entered Formula E with Jaguar Racing, straight from a frustrating four years in then-GP2 (now F2) during which he never seemed to make a connection to a Formula 1 team or end up in serious title contention. He was always rated highly, coming off the back of a GP3 championship win in only his second year, but the momentum seemed to stall in the F1 feeder series, with frequently unreliable machinery and inconsistent luck steadily eroding his promise to progress further.
When he’s spoken about it this year, his fourth in Formula E and at Jaguar as indisputably their lead driver, Evans had said not getting to F1 would “haunt” him and that the failure had made him unhappy for years: “There are two ways of looking at it. Yes, it would haunt me for the rest of my life just because it’s something that I’d worked so hard towards and I’d got very, very close. In that situation, it’s almost a bit about luck and a few things that have got to pull your way.
“Up until that point, when I got to GP2, I’d basically won everything so yeah, you do all the hard yards and then the last little bit doesn’t really go your way for whatever reason; that hurts. A lot of the guys that are in F1, I’ve raced against and beaten so I’m not talking bollocks, it’s true – getting close and not making it… I think people underestimate how difficult it is to come from my part of the world to any high level motorsport championship that you call as a job, a proper professional championship, but F1’s obviously different and it’s difficult for everyone. Doesn’t matter where you are.
“So to come from New Zealand and do all the hard yards up against it and get that close, it does hurt and yeah, it will haunt me. And I was, for a few years, not in a happy place because of that but Formula E and racing for Jaguar has really changed my view on things.”
Evans said that Formula E had salved whatever wounds F1’s rejection had inflicted, to the point of not considering an F1 offer a good choice now – similarly to other Formula E drivers who have rejected F1 approaches.
“I’m totally content with where I’m at, I’m very happy with where I’m at – that’s something I want to make really clear, it’s not like I wake up or go to bed every night depressed that I’m not in F1,” said Evans. “That’s not the case at all because even if you got the F1 opportunity right now, I think you’d have to be very, very ballsy or take a massive risk to turn down an FE drive. So I am very happy at the moment, really, really grateful for the opportunity to be in Formula E and I mean that, a lot.
“But yeah, not making it does hurt as well – I just want to be open about it, because it’s true, while also being open about the fact that where I am right now is an amazing opportunity. I know it’s gonna be fascinating where Formula E turns up over the next 10 years, let’s say, realistically, how long my career could last for if I keep doing a good job and doing the right things and race for the next 10 or 15 years to see that.
“So yes, it will haunt me and am I ok with that? Yes. But if it wasn’t for Formula E, though, probably not. There’s a massive drop, y’know, to the next best thing which would be to go to the States but then you’ve got to start really digging at other things and the difference is huge.
“Formula E has really bridged that gap between F1 and other championships, it’s so close and from an exposure point of view it’s still making up a lot of ground, obviously but it’s also cleared a lot of other championships. Formula E is getting closer to F1, you can see the manufacturers are all with us in Formula E so you can see there are benefits to both sides but the most important thing is that I’m super happy, currently, in my life and that’s all that matters.”
Asked if he considered it a sort of bullet dodged, having landed on his feet in a factory drive, Evans said he imagined a lot of F1 drivers would envy a field where almost everyone has a chance of a podium or even win, “I would imagine there are a lot of unhappy F1 drivers. We’re built to win – and designed to go out and risk our lives to win, right? Literally only two teams can do that, and then it’s the same from year to year.
“There’s a lot of drivers, I’m not going to name them, that have been in F1 for a long time but not in the top seats and they get points – that’s the most they can hope for, that’s a win for them. That’s demented, in a way, because it’s the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a world championship. That should be the most competitive championship in the world and unfortunately, you can’t see those drivers actually go head to head fairly.
“That’s what Formula E is really cool for, because the regulations are designed to attract manufacturers, to have a bit of room for development and also market their product but also there are quite a few common parts, to keep it nice and even and control costs. So it’s got a good balance at the moment and what that brings as well is cars that are different but they’re also very similar in lots of ways so it makes the gap between the best and worst team very small.
“Then as drivers, we’re all very similar, we’re all very much at a level so who performs best on the day, who gets it right is what it comes down to but it’s not like one driver is half a second faster than another, I’d struggle to believe that. It’s the same in F1 but it’s very hard to see that because you can point to someone and say ‘he’s the best’ but it’s like, have you seen that guy in that car? And Formula E’s much better at balancing that because it’s so much more of a level playing field.
“That’s what sport should be and in motorsport, many championships across the world aren’t like that just because the machinery is so key to performance and the nature of the car being pivotal, so to get that parity is really hard. But Formula E strikes a really good balance. It’s nice being able to race knowing I can win, I can get pole, if I do a good lap and put the right work in then I can get there. And I feel more like that in Formula E than I ever even did in F2 – there was an even bigger gap in F2, for whatever reason.”