Back in November I had the good fortune to attend the Marrakesh ePrix with the Techeetah Formula E Team and Jean Eric Vergne. Marrakesh played host to the second round of the 2016/ 2017 Championship and gave me my first behind the scenes experience of an ePrix weekend.
At 26 years old, you would still consider Jean Eric Vergne to be a young driver, so when you take a look back at his career in motorsport it’s incredible to think of what he has already achieved. As with many successful drivers, Jean Eric’s career started in Karting. At the age of just 4 years old he first got behind the wheel at his fathers karting circuit on the outskirts of Paris. At the age of 10 he entered his first competition and went on to become a junior French champion in 2001. He continued in karting competing in the European Championship and others until 2007 when he graduated to Formula Renault
Driving for Formula Campus, Vergne won the championship with ease securing 10 podium finishes from 13 races. His performance attracted the attention of the Red Bull Junior team, who navigated his career through the British Formula 3 Championship with Carlin where he won 12 races in 24 events securing the championship with 6 races remaining. Alongside his British F3 outings he also competed in GP3 and in 2010 Red Bull promoted Jean Eric to Formula Renault 3.5. A championship he secured his first win after only 3 races in the championship. He took the championship fight down to the wire and whilst ultimately lost out to another competitor, his skills in the championship were enough for Red Bull to bring him into Formula One initially in a test capacity then joining the Toro Rosso team as a driver in 2012.
Reaching Formula One can be the pinnacle of any drivers sporting career. From the very outset Jean Eric’s pace with Toro Rosso was unquestionable. More often than not Jean Eric would be found ahead of his teammates on the track, unfortunately he found himself in a situation of wrong place at the wrong time. Poor reliability left Jean Eric seemingly trailing his team mates Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kyvat at the wrong time. Resulting in him being overlooked for the Red Bull Racing drive
Despite these stumbling blocks, for which many insiders say were no fault of Jean Eric’s, 2015 saw him transition to Formula E with the Andretti team. The Frenchman instantly found a new home in the series setting pole on his debut in Uruguay. JEV went on to complete the season with Andretti and for season 2 moved to the DS Virgin Racing Team. A team which with the freedoms offered to teams as the championship found its feet took an alternative approach to technical gearing and power delivery compromising the team’s ability to consistently compete at the front of the grid.
For Season Three Jean Eric Vergne has become part of the newly formed Techeetah Formula E team, a team built on the foundations of the Aguri team with power unit supply from championship leading Renault. Edmund Chu, Techeetah Team President on Jean Eric joining the team commented:
“We are tremendously excited to have Jean Eric on board. He has a great experience in the upper echelons of racing and his experience in F1 and FE is going lend itself to us as being a competitive team.”
During pre-season testing Jean Eric showed the pace fans had become accustomed to in his early career, topping the time sheets on 5 of 6 days. Pace at the Hong Kong ePrix gave indications of the team and driver pairing potential, unfortunately with the team still familiarising themselves with their new surroundings the ultimate result did not quite meet expectations.
Bringing us full circle Marrakesh. Meeting Jean Eric on the eve of the ePrix the Frenchman comes across as relaxed and engaging. The characteristics of the circuit, look set to suit the Techeetah team, something Jean Eric demonstrated in shakedown testing setting the 3rd fastest time.
As we head into race day the air of quite confidence resumes, something which Jean Eric manages to carry all the way through qualifying, bringing his car into the super pole session setting the fastest time during the group sessions. Unfortunately, team teething troubles strike again leaving JEV unable to repeat his earlier efforts and he heads into the race starting P5, which later becomes P4 as Buemi is hit with a post qualifying penalty.
Between qualifying and the race Jean Eric and the rest of the grid compete in an eRace in preparation for the $1 Million eRace taking place in Vegas in the new year. Whist the crowds in Marrakesh are smaller than some may have hoped the fans that are at the circuit flock towards Jean Eric at any opportunity and relish this chance to meet their hero.
Heading into the race as we circulate the grid Jean Eric has a quiet confidence about his ability to turn his P4 into something special. Early race performances vindicate this confidence with JEV moving into a strong P2 ahead of the car swaps. Then disaster, the pit lane speed limiter fails and JEV incurs a drive through penalty. Whilst able to recover and score vital points for the team. Jean Eric is left feeling as though a possible victory has been snatched from his grasp.
After such a challenging result you might expect Jean Eric to be frustrated, and there is no doubt he is, not so much for losing a race win, but because he knows the team can do better. After a few hours debriefing, Jean Eric puts the race behind him, firmly resetting focus towards the next race. He is commitment undiminished, Formula E is his home. A home in which he is determined to win.