‘It’s a completely different drive’: Red Bull’s development driver thriving in Formula E

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 (Simon Galloway / LAT Images)
(Simon Galloway / LAT Images)

Two weeks from now Jake Dennis will be navigating London’s street circuit, a home soil race where he topped the podium last year, but before then he faced up to a more immediate challenge in Formula E.

It’s New York City and the dockside track for the all-electric FIA championship this time out, a double-header with major points on the line in the title fight and an opportunity to wave goodbye to an iconic setting in style.

Dennis is sill a relative newcomer to the FE scene, but in broader racing terms has almost completed the set: a pair of Formula 3 seasons included finishing third overall in 2015, while he has also tasted the World Endurance Championship and Le Mans and is a Formula One development driver for Red Bull.

Right now though, the focus is on the intricacies and specialised approach needed in FE, where there’s work to do to try and secure at least a second top-10 finish in the 22-driver championship.

Last season, New York was not a kind venue to Dennis. A DNF in the first race and a zero points-earning 16th in the second were mostly an aberration in a tremendous debut campaign, meaning he and his Andretti team are naturally looking for an improvement.

But as he tells the Independent, it’s not always just about the pace of the car in Formula E, it’s about managing and timing the power distribution and regeneration in the most effective way which leads to points.

“The biggest thing is that it’s a battery-powered car. In qualifying you don’t need to recharge the car, just drive it as fast as possible, but in the race is a completely different philosophy,” he explains.

“You have to change your mindset and listen to what the car is ‘telling’ you to do.

“There are a series of different beeps and tones in your ear which tells you when to regenerate power, when to lift on the steering panel...generally the person who does that best wins the race.

“It’s a completely different drive in Formula E [to F1], the different techniques from qualifying to races. That’s one of the most unique and enjoyable things about it.”

Engaging, thoughtful and clearly invested in the team, Dennis explains how the software plays every bit as much a part in race day success as the car’s bodywork, removing the steering mechanism to display the back panels as we move through the team garage.

There, on the rear, are the controls which will affect how efficiently the car is able to replenish power and steer a Formula E driver to success.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As might be expected at the elite end of any competition, it’s a tough crowd to thrive in on a consistent basis, but alterations to the pre-race process has made it a more enjoyable and rewarding feeling for those who do triumph.

“The level is so high in Formula E that if you don’t perform at your 100% best, the team and myself, you don’t come away with any points at all. You have to absolutely nail it to finish top 10 in this championship.

“This year, FE has taken a huge step forward with the new qualifying format. I’ve been on both sides of it but even when I’ve been at the back, it’s been like: ‘You know what? That’s just the pace of what I had and I didn’t deserve to be at the front’.

“Wherever you finish in the race this year, that’s probably where you deserve to finish.

“Last year you could have been one of the slower guys but if you were in group four and start at the front, you’d be about eighth.

“It was a bit false last year, a bit artificial when like 16 drivers could win the championship going to Berlin [for the final race]. This year it’s really good what Formula E have done. The title fight this year, even though I’m not in it, is really exciting.”

Dennis is one of six Brits racing in the competition this season - and the highest placed, heading into the New York double-header - and they are next bound for the ExCel in east London.

Along with the obvious benefits of no having to travel - and “sleeping in my own bed!” - Dennis has the added incentive of attempting to replicate his own performance following last year’s triumph.

“London’s my home race, whether we’re quick or not it’s always going to be special for me,” he said. “It’s an enjoyable track for me, the car performs well. London’s quite difficult to overtake at so we’ll hope to qualify at the front.

“But New York is also a highlight of the season for us as an American team, it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most.

“Formula E want to race in America but it’s about finding the place for that. This year we’ve actually been able to get out and see it after being in the bubble last year!”

 (Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)
(Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

After London, just one further race weekend remains of the season, with another double-header in Seoul.

Dennis and Andretti will be hoping for a strong finish to the campaign, though soon attention will also turn to what comes beyond: Gen3 vehicles cars are coming next year and although only a handful of the drivers have so far enjoyed a test drive in them, more will do so in short order.

Driving an F1 simulator has clearly made an impression on Dennis, who has signed an extension with Red Bull to keep doing so, but his “main focus” won’t be changing: he’s clear that his future own lies in this particular discipline. Formula E’s own future, in turn, looks set to only continue to grow.

The 2022 London E-Prix will be broadcast live on terrestrial television on Channel 4 on July 30 & 31. Buy tickets and follow all updates from the race at ExCeL London here.

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