“It’s a kind of trust exercise”
Formula E’s condensed race schedule, with all sessions taking place on the same day, puts drivers and teams under immense pressure. As a result, one of the most important relationships is between a driver and his performance engineer - who have to understand each other perfectly. We spoke to Antonio Felix da Costa’s performance engineer, Jack Thomas of BMWi Andretti Motorsport, about how to make that relationship work.
A new start
Season Five has presented a total change for all teams in Formula E: the switch to the Gen2 car and a new strategic element with ATTACK MODE, rather than car swap pit stops. Jack explains, “This is the first season that I’ve worked with Antonio on this car. Last season I worked with the other car,” which presents the challenge of finding new ways of understanding each other. “When I give him some feedback or he tells me something, I need to understand what he’s saying and make sure he continues to understand the information I’m trying to give him.”
Achieving a dream
For a long time, working in motorsport was Jack’s personal goal. He worked previously in the automotive industry, designing engines for road cars – and spent his weekends working at local racing championships. “I had my normal job working for car companies during the week. On Saturdays and Sundays I worked as data engineer for a British Touring Championship team.” Even working that hard, success didn’t come instantly: “I did three or four seasons working with them in this kind of way, without much of a break from working in the car industry during the week and then motorsport at the weekend. But it was a great way to gain experience in motorsport.”
Squiggly lines and psychology
Performance engineers are the bridge between data, driver and race engineer – so on the one hand, “it’s a lot of squiggly lines” but on the other, Jack has to work very closely with Antonio, “trust is very important.” There’s a strong psychological aspect to the role, acting as the translator between data and driver. “During the races, it’s my job to update the race engineer and then the driver on the strategies, energy management and in that aspect it’s quite a big responsibility,” he explains.
Communication is everything
Jack’s job is to extract the maximum performance from the car – and Antonio, “in any way possible, be it from his driving or from systems on the car.” That means they have to build a relationship as important as the driver’s to the car itself, “He has to be able to believe in the feedback I am giving him – you can’t mess him around, you can’t hide anything, he knows this because he is in the car.” The most important aspect of Jack’s job is providing “clear and concise” messages that the driver can easily remember – even while under pressure.
Sustainability: “It’s all aspects of life”
Coming from the automotive industry, part of Jack’s motivation to enter Formula E was its emphasis on sustainability: “Working with gas engines was all about reducing emissions, but Formula E is the next step on. Working with this new technology gives me an opportunity to push myself as an engineer, it’s relevant to the world, and the sustainability aspect is something I’m very interested in.” Sustainability is a core element of the Formula E championship, with efficient technologies translating from track to road. “It definitely changes my attitude, it’s something present in all aspects of my life now – I think about it more and more, and looking ahead into the future, buying an electric car is something I’d definitely do.”
Formula E people
Every racing driver will tell you that it takes an entire team to make sure he and his car are ready to hit the track on race day. The same is true of Formula E. We take you behind the scenes to meet the engineers, mechanics, team managers, logistics coordinators, track engineers, PR managers – and many more – who make it possible to race in over ten city circuits each season.