“Just won this guys! I’m lost for words man… Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you everyone… Thank you for giving me that chance,” said da Costa as tears poured down behind his visor, moments after crossing the chequered flag on Sunday’s Berlin E-Prix.
It’s been a whirlwind for the 28-year old Portuguese driver and now Formula E driver champion who, after spending years languishing mid-pack in uncompetitive machinery, finally found the success he so desperately yearned for with DS Techeetah.
The enormity of the achievement is still sinking in, but the affable driver remained as humble and grateful as ever. Now, with two more rounds left in the championship, Da Costa is looking forward to unbridled, flat out racing without the burden of the driver title on his shoulders.
“Obvious a lot of joy, a lot of relief, but at the same time hungry you know? Hungry for more, hungry to come back racing,” said Da Costa during Tuesday’s drivers press conference in Berlin. “It’s going to be a really cool experience to come back to the race track with absolutely no pressure at all – just the pure joy of being in a race car and going as fast as I can.”
So how did he find the confidence, strategy and race craft needed to clinch the championship? Da Costa looked no further than his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne for inspiration and guidance. “I think I learned a lesson from last year in watching JEV race last year when he was in a similar position,” explained Da Costa. “He never stopped attacking and for me that is the best defense – to go offensive, and I have the confidence in the car to be aggressive. We were defending well, we were putting ourselves in sometimes tricky situations but I really thought everything was thought out and I never took risks that were completely unnecessary.
“Of course there was pressure and I’m glad there was, because when there’s pressure that means it’s an important thing, and if there’s no pressure that means nobody cares about it! I did feel it obviously but the thing I care about the most is I know how lucky I am to call this a job, so I just try to enjoy it because I don’t know when I’m going to live it again – hopefully soon, next year? But yeah, just enjoying the moment.”
Da Costa ranked his Formula E title as one of his all-time career highs, right up there with his two Macau Grand Prix wins in 2012 and 2016 as well as his title win in Formula Renault 2.0 back in 2009.
“I think If you isolate these feelings to those days I really think my happiness peaked in each of these events individually,” recalled Da Costa. “I won Macau twice but the last one was already an FIA World Cup race, and where I was coming from in my life It was an amazing feeling to win there.
“You know, Macau is a one off event. You can be feeling good and having a great car that day and win it or not and then you have to wait a whole year, so it’s a very different mindset. But here, it’s a series of events where you need to be smart, you need to be consistent, you need to know when you’re slow, you need to know when you’re quick, where to capitalize, when to lose. It’s definitely a different way of getting it.
“It’s good and bad because we had a decent lead going into the race two days ago. I knew it could have happened but I also knew it could have been postponed – I’m not going to lie and say it was ours to lose at that point. So mentally I was ready to win it. It took half of the in-lap to kind of really really hit me you know? My first feeling when I crossed the line was like, ‘Why am I not happy enough? Yes we won but man I should be feeling happier!’ And then with time it just kind of hits you and by the time I parked the car there was tears in my eyes. Yeah, it was a cool moment.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Formula E was forced to re-configure the bulk of its calendar, cancelling races across the world and moving the final rounds to Berlin’s Tempelhof airport in order to hold enough events to unambiguously declare the 2019-20 drivers and teams championships.
“It’s obviously been a strange year for everyone in the world. It doesn’t make it feel any better or any worse to win this title,” said Da Costa. “I think this season has still been as competitive as ever. The time we’ve had at home during the lockdown, it was three or four months where there’s so much time to think about it. Once this Berlin Marathon was announced, it was tough because everyone kind of saw it as a one-trip and say ‘yeah it’s one round’ but it wasn’t. There was a lot of points on the table to be picked up. Honestly I looked at the standings and at least 15 guys had the potential to really challenge for it.
“So I kept cool, kept focused, and I think the way we arrived here and we really killed it on that first double header – that was when we really showed everyone that now it’s ours to lose. I don’t know – I just kept feeding myself with good results and my motivation just kept feeding, and we were in this good momentum that I was able to carry on from Marrakesh.”
For now, Da Costa is savouring the spoils of success for as long as he possibly can, he knows all too well that the feeling won’t last forever.
“I’ve been in this position in my life before where everything kind of falls into the right place at the right time and things just come to you and I’ve been on the other end of things where nothing hits you right, said Da Costa. “Everything that can go wrong it goes wrong, so I know this moment doesn’t last forever.
“I’m going to keep being – trying to be a good person and keeping my karma good and using it for as long as I can.”