In this new series, Speedway Media catches up with international drivers who are currently sidelined at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During these interviews, drivers will be talking about what they have been doing with no racing taking place, sim-racing, some topics about the 2020 season and other topics regarding their stay at home.
For the first column, Speedway Media caught up with FIA Formula E, Mahindra Racing driver, Jerome D’Ambrosio.
SM: It has been a while since you have been on track. How have you been holding up during this time off? What have you done to keep yourself busy?
JD: “First of all, it’s not really time off, “d’Ambrosio said. “I haven’t been driving a race car but we’ve been in communications with engineers. I’ve been working out and using the time constructively as much as possible to train and do things that perhaps I struggle with in a normal year as we’re always on the go. Definitely one of those things is physical training and now, we have also been doing sim racing with the Race At Home Challenge. So no real racing, but definitely we’ve been keeping busy.”
SM: During the last few weeks, you have been participating in the “Stay At Home Series” hosted by Formula E. How has that been going for you? Are you on the sim often to practice?
JD: “It’s a really cool initiative from Formula E and it’s for a good cause, raising funds for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), “he said. “It hasn’t been going great for me as it’s more gaming than a simulator and that means one really needs to get used to something very different. I haven’t done gaming in probably 15 years. So, in terms of results, it hasn’t been the best but I’ve been practicing during the week, trying to improve. The last race on the Hong Kong track, I had my best qualifying position so far in eighth, but unfortunately, the race was over at Turn 1. It’s all for a good cause, it’s good fun and I’m happy we’re doing something.”
SM: On a scale of 1-10, how good of a sim racer do you think are compared to the rest of the field and do you feel like it is helping you keep yourself prepared on tracks that you race at in real-life?
JD: “On a scale of 1-10, I’m probably a 3,” D’Ambrosio said. “There’s a few guys struggling more than I am, but I’m definitely not a gamer. We call it sim racing, but it’s really a game and you can’t compare it to the real car. To a certain extent, even a professional sim is not exactly like reality, but this one is a step further away. So, I don’t think it particularly helps in terms of keeping me prepared for the real thing, but it’s good that it’s creating content and it’s good to produce a show for the fans.”
SM: Shifting to real racing, you have been a series regular since the first season in 2014. What is it that you like about Formula E so much and how did you get connected with Mahindra Racing to keep your success going?
JD: “I love Formula E,” he said. “I’ve loved the concept since day one. I think trying to make racing relevant again and coming with a completely different concept to racing while keeping the core values in terms of putting on a good show and having wheel-to-wheel action but with different technology and in cities was an amazing concept. And I’ve had loads of fun, especially in the races. It’s a series where you can start P20 and still finish in the top five. There’s not many racing series with cars at a similar performance that can offer that, so that’s something that has been amazing. Being part of something that is upwardly mobile and connected to today’s world, in general, is something that I really enjoy. I’ve known Dilbagh [Gill, Team Principal of Mahindra Racing] since season one and then I got the opportunity to join the team two years ago. It’s been a really good time. We had a really strong start to our collaboration which was amazing; we had a win and were leading the championship until halfway through last season. We’ve had some challenges, but we’re working hard and I think this year we’ve brought back qualifying performance. Unfortunately, we’ve had some bad luck and reliability issues in the races, but we’re getting there and the field is getting more and more competitive. But, we’re working hard and we want to be where we were last year; fighting for wins and podiums and the championship.”
SM: Going into the sixth season of Formula E, there were obviously some expectations you had in mind. However, your best finish so far is ninth in the season opener. What more do you think you need to help improve your overall results?
JD: “As I mentioned it’s a frustrating one, as I’ve done my best qualifying so far this season; two Super Poles in the season opener in Saudi and last time out in Marrakesh was pretty good as well,” D’Ambrosio said. “So, it’s been a pity that we haven’t been able to convert those strong starting positions into stronger points. But, what we need is basically to improve our race pace and consistency. I think we made a step forward after Mexico.”
SM: Before the season halted and now that a long break is ongoing, how has this break shifted or altered your expectations? Would it be disappointing to you if the season never got restarted?
JD: “Obviously, if the season didn’t restart it would be very disappointing,” he said. “But, my expectations haven’t shifted at all. The only thing is that this time gives us the opportunity to work on a few things to hopefully, when the season starts again, we continue on the streak of good qualifying results and convert them into strong points in the race.”
SM: As drivers, we know you are always on the go and busy. Was it difficult for you knowing that you would not be racing for a while, despite being always on the go?
JD: “Definitely, although I think it’s not about always being on the go,” D’Ambrosio said. What is difficult is that a race car driver wants to be in a race car. Unfortunately, I haven’t been in a race car for too long for my liking, so I’m looking forward to getting back to it.”
SM: If the season resumes, what tracks do you have circled on the calendar that you think you can perform well or win at?
JD: “I’m not a track specific guy,” he said. “Of course, there are places I love to go and race, like Rome, Berlin and New York, but I think what’s important for a race car driver is to feel confident that you can perform anywhere. So, there is not a particular track that I feel I can perform better than another.”
SM: Knowing these current situations can be a little discouraging for everyone, how have you been able to stay positive and look at the bigger picture?
JD: “I don’t think that the current situation is discouraging in itself,” D’Ambrosio said. “I think it’s something that people are facing. Unfortunately, it’s of course challenging and not easy. But, I am not a person that tends to get discouraged in particular situations. This is a reality that we need to face for now and I think making the most out of whatever situation you are in or whatever card you’ve been dealt is part of who I am, and who I want to be and so this is how I looked at it. I stayed positive by finding things to do, training, keeping in touch with the engineers, working to improve on the Race At Home Challenge and so on.”
SM: Are you a driver that goes back and watches old races? If so, have you done that during this break? If so, which ones have you enjoyed watching?
JD: “It’s funny you should mention that. I do watch some old races now and again,” he said. “But actually yesterday, I don’t know why, I watched a few Formula E season one races. I thought it would be nice to watch to see how much we’ve evolved as a championship over these five seasons. And I also watched the Silverstone 2003 Formula 1 race which was entertaining.”
SM: Have you been able to discover any new hobbies during this downtime that you otherwise might not have if you had been while racing?
JD: “I’ve not really discovered new hobbies,” D’Ambrosio said. “I’ve done something that I haven’t had time to do since I’ve been racing, which is educate myself and study a little bit so this has been interesting for me the last two months. During my normal season, I definitely don’t have the time to do such a thing, but it’s nice and not something I’d done since I graduated high school. In terms of training, I’ve really been able to get into swimming and I’ve been doing a few kilometers a week, which I’ve really enjoyed.”
SM: What is one thing that you miss about being at the track?
JD: “Being in the car and racing wheel-to-wheel.”
SM: Wrapping it up, what are you going to do when you are done quarantining and what do you hope to accomplish in Formula E this season, if racing resumes?
JD: “Get back to work and hopefully, we can get back on the real sim at the factory, improve on some points, and hopefully get back in the car. What I want to do is, convert good qualifying into good results on track and that’s my goal for the remainder of this season.”
So far in his FIA Formula E career, D’Ambrosio has made all 62 starts dating back to the first-season in 2014, while also having three career wins, nine top-fives and two top-10 finishes. The Belgium native has a best points finish of fourth that occurred in 2014.