After a tough season, Jean-Eric Vergne is already looking forward to next season and the chance to win back the drivers title he emphatically lost to team-mate Antonio Felix da Costa. Rob Watts looks at what we can learn about Vergne’s motivation from his recent post-race comments.
You’re a two-time champion with a team you part own. Your best mate and team-mate has moved on, but that’s ok because you like the new guy and you get on pretty well. Things are looking up. You’re quick, motivated, and everything’s in place for you to go and get title number three. This is going to be a good year…
Certainly not a direct quote, admittedly, but perhaps an idea of what Vergne’s pre-season pep talk in the DS Techeeath bathroom mirror might have sounded.
In the end, the records will show that Vergne finished the 2019-20 season third in the drivers’ championship with three podiums, two pole positions, and a win. Not bad by almost any other driver on the grid’s standards.
But this is Jean-Eric Vergne we’re talking about. He says the season hasn’t been great for him and he described the recent run of races in Berlin as “probably the toughest days i’ve experienced in Formula E”.
Anyone who knows Vergne well will tell you he can be extremely hard on himself when things go wrong. He sets incredibly high standards, not just for himself, but also for those around him. It’s part of what makes him such an formidable competitor on track and worthy of his champion status.
One thing that’s for sure, is that Vergne does not have a blindspot to his emotional state. He recognises this, and he said as much in the post-race interviews shortly after team-mate Antonio Felix da Costa confirmed his title.
“That’s motorsport, you can’t win all the time. I guess I also need to learn how to lose because I’m probably not the easiest when I lose. It’s not something I take very easily,” he said.
“It’s part of me but it would help me to bounce back quicker if I would learn to take things a little bit more easy, not too much at heart. I hate losing more than I like winning.”
It’s the last bit of that line – “I hate losing more than I like winning” that tells you everything you need to know about Vergne. Even prior to his title successes with Techeetah, Vergne’s career would be considered a success when compared to 90% of racing drivers’ CV’s – but it’s his hatred of losing that spurs him on to keep bouncing back and striving to do the next thing better than he was able to the last time.
As mentioned at the beginning, 3 podiums, 2 poles, and a win to place 3rd in the overall standings looks like a decent season from the outside, especially when you consider how bad Vergne personally feels it went internally.
“I clearly had a pretty horrible season, with so many DNFs, problems in the race, unfortunate things, but everybody knows that can happen in motorsport. It’s like that,” said Vergne.
“The first two [titles] I won, everything was perfect like Antonio this year. It’s been definitely a tough year, but you know, I’ve got to learn from it. Try and improve things for next year. I believe that luck is always like wheels’ spinning, and at some point, if you keep attracting the good, luck will be on your side. It hasn’t been this season, but that’s OK. I take it, I learn from it.”
There’s been a lot of talk this season about the potential for his and da Costa’s relationship to deteriorate, and that speculation intensified once it became clear in Berlin that Vergne was unlikely to catch his new team-mate in the standings.
While Vergne admits he’s not as close with da Costa as he was with former team-mate Andre Lotterer, there’s little evidence to suggest the pair are heading for a Hamilton v Rosberg style fallout anytime soon.
“It’ll never be like Jeandre. I have a relationship that I don’t think I will have with any other racing drive, but that’s life, that’s fine,” said Vergne,
“Antonio’s been great, very fast. It’s always important to have a team-mate faster than you sometimes, that keeps you motivated and working very hard to try and always be better. It’s been fantastic to have him.
“I’m very pleased with Antonio’s championship. Obviously I wanted it to be me, but in those conditions he’s done a fantastic job and he fully deserves to win.”
Team boss Mark Preston confirms that Vergne was actually quite keen on da Costa joining Techeetah once they knew that Lotterer was moving on and had a significant input into his selection.
Preston does recognise, however, that some careful management might be required if circumstances like that which arose in Berlin Race 2 [letting them run close together to conserve energy] become commonplace next season.
“It’s going to be really hard being the driver that’s the one behind the other one. Even Antonio said when he was behind JEV ‘I wanna beat him I wanna beat him!’ and the same with JEV behind Antonio,” Preston said.
“If this method that we did yesterday [the second Berlin race] turns out to be quite important in Formula E, it’s going to be quite a challenge for the drivers who love to win and always want to win. I think that’s something that JEV and Antonio both said, woah, this is going to be hard!”
A challenge Preston is quite capable of handling, but it has to be said, there’s a good reason you don’t often see two champions together in the same team. Next season, it will be the first occurrence this has happened in Formula E.
Vergne will no doubt take some time out, lick his wounds and return ready to bounce back strongly back next season. It’s worth noting, however, that this is the first time since his unharmonious season at DS Virgin that he’s been beaten by a team-mate.
Clearly though Vergne will have sufficient fire in his belly when he returns to the track and he already seems keen to put the disappointment of this year behind him.
“I’ll come back next season a lot stronger, even mentally because I believe I learn more in losing than winning,” he said.
“You always do in sports. It’s just a question of how you take it when you lose. I just need to take it a good way, and make myself stronger for next season. I’m very confident next year will be better.”