The Formula E paddock contains a lot of experienced racing personalities, on and off track. Dario Franchitti is one of them. Editor Andrea Perilli caught up with the Scot to find out more about how he feels the series is developing.
It usually takes time for something new and innovative to gain general acceptance. In motorsports, particularly, fans often seem reluctant to welcome new series which depart from the loud, internal-combustion engine cars, to bring the public something ground-breaking.
Such was the case with Formula E. In its first season, the series received lots of criticism from fans and people within the industry. Yet, the fully-electric championship went on, and almost four years later, it is ranked as one of the most competitive and best regarded series in the racing scene.
“I think the growth has impressed me the most”, says Dario Franchitti honestly. The IndyCar legend has been involved in the series from the commentary box since day one; and has seen first-hand the evolution it has had.
“We are now in Season 4 and when you look back at some of the earlier races, like the Season 1 here, it was very early in the season”, he comments as we stand in the Punta del Este ePrix TV compound, with everyone getting ready ahead of Formula E’s third race in the beachside resort.
“So when you look at that and see how the series have changed in terms of fan interest and manufacturer interest, the driver, team, and competition level; it’s really incredible, and maybe not something I expected, to be honest”.
The Scot, along with England’s Jack Nicholls and Nicki Shields, and USA’s Bob Varsha, are part of Formula E’s world feed commentary team, an unmistakable team which has been praised throughout the series’ history, as well as developing a fantastic fan engagement.
“I think people’s perception has changed quite a lot. For anybody who is a ‘traditional’ racing fan, it was a shock having a series with no internal combustion engine sound, but I think now everybody has maybe got used to it and a lot of people love it”.
With Season 5 shaping up to be a significant step forward for Formula E and electric racing itself, Franchitti is certain that Formula E occupies an important place in the racing world. “It’s definitely earned its place in the framework of all racing. Just look at the interest from the manufacturers that are coming on board; I think it’s getting the attention of a lot of people”.
As a racer himself, Dario understands what drivers think of the Formula E cars. “I think the cars are very difficult to drive. You talk to any of the drivers and they say that it’s a real challenge to master the car over one lap, and then to understand how to race one, with energy management and everything. I think it’s not easy”.
“Look at the grid, look at the type of drivers that are on the grid. I think even some guys who dismissed earlier and now are on the grid enjoying a lot”, he adds.
Formula E’s competition level has only risen since the start. Season 4, in particular, is delivering some exciting races with nail-biting on-track action and an open championship where more drivers can win.
“To me, in my job as a commentator, it makes it a little easier, because there’s so much going on all the time”, the 44 year-old laughs. “I think we’ve seen more players. You know, we’ve seen more people getting involved in the fight already.
“If you look back at Season 1, it was the typical fight between Buemi and di Grassi. Last season, we saw Felix Rosenqvist come into the fight. Obviously Nelson Piquet Jr. won the championship in Season 1. Now you just look at how there are so many people involved and so many potential champions, potential race winners”.
Franchitti has raced in some of racing’s most competitive series, and speaks from experience when looking at the Formula E grid. He believes that the fully electric-championship is “definitely up there. I mean, if you look at the grid of a lot of other series around the world, there are very strong lineups, and Formula E is in there with them all”.
Having won the Indy 500 three times (2007, 2010, and 2012), and the IndyCar championship on four opportunities (2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011), the Bathgate-native is one of the most knowledgeable people within the American racing series, where he is still involved these days.
As an insider in both IndyCar and Formula E, Franchitti believes both series have things in common when it comes to their lineups. “I think IndyCar and Formula E share this breadth of talent on their grids. You know, from first to last, there is a strong lineup”.
But there are further places Formula E has reached within racing. For instance, many drivers have acknowledged their desire to race in the fully-electric championship. But to which extent has Formula E become a career choice for racing drivers?
“I think it has positioned itself [as so] already. I think it’s a career choice for some drivers and I think we’ve seen that with sort of young drivers”, Dario says. “Maybe Felix Rosenqvist, when he won the Formula 3 championship he had a lot of options and he came here”.
But drivers graduating from junior series are not the only ones who step into Formula E. “Then you look at a guy like André Lotterer, who’s won almost everything, he’s won in some many different formulas, he’s a multiple Le Mans winner, he’s won a lot in Japan, and he’s chosen to come here too”.
“Those are examples of two people at different stages of their careers; that shows the attraction of Formula E for a driver”. There are more examples similar or with some differences to Rosenqvist and Lotterer’s cases, but all of them have taken on the new challenge that is Formula E.
As the season goes on, we will see how the fight for the title evolves and who will finally claim victory. Dario Franchitti, whose passion for racing is always intact, will continue to bring the public, along with the whole world feed commentary team, the action that Formula E is known for.