Mitch Evans on His Formula E Title Pain

Mitch Evans Details His Formula E Title Pain
Mitch Evans Details His Formula E Title Pain
Mitch Evans Details His Formula E Title Pain

Mitch Evans could well be a Formula E champion after the New Zealander sat in a prime position to take the 2020-21 title before a mechanical failure let him down. Despite what never came, the Kiwi driver can be considered a veteran of the electric racing series and a star. Motorsports is a family business for Evans, so coming so close to glory only shows how talented he is.

We spoke to Mitch as he looked to get his 2021-22 season kick-started after only taking a single point in the opening three rounds. He was en route to Rome when speaking to Fortloc – a venue he explains he loves. A few days later, he walked away with two wins from both the EPrix events in Italy and sat just nine points off the lead. Mitch is a winner and could very well be a champion before long. This is his Racing Life.

I understand that you got into racing because of your dad, which is quite a familiar story with some other drivers. But other people might have followed a different path after seeing their father in a 200mph crash. Do you remember seeing it? Did it concern you when starting to look at motorsports as a career?

I actually don't remember it at all, to be honest. Obviously, I've seen the footage, but I was a young boy. I was one, and I actually had my second birthday in the hospital because the accident was a few weeks before my birthday. So there are photos of me that I actually saw last week because my dad's done this big "man cave" in Auckland with all our trophies... his trophies, my trophies, and my brother's trophies... all our stuff from over the years.

He's got quite a few photos from his accident back in '96. So I saw me having my little party hat on while he's in a really bad way on his hospital bed. Fortunately, I don't remember it at all; I was too young.

Would it have affected me? I'm not really sure, to be honest. I think the person affected the most was my mom. I think that was probably the hardest on her. To see her husband go through [it]... you know, obviously, even just the normal stress of him racing and after that huge accident... and then with the idea of her son? I suppose her sons getting into racing... I don't really understand how my mother allowed it.

I think because there's so much passion for the sport within my family, especially my father. She just wouldn't have wanted us to not give it a go just because of how embedded the sport has been with us. So that's good. I think that was really strong with her, but yeah, I think for any mother, though – whether you've had that sort of experience or not – I think it's not a nice experience to see your sons racing around at stupid speeds.

But yeah, that's basically how I got into it. And to answer your question, no, I don't remember the accident and probably for the better! Yeah, it's not exactly the dream job a mother might have, like something very, very safe like an accountant... so having all of the important people in her life doing it is a big ask.

You grow up, you find success in your home country, and then in Australia as a kid. Then you do the big jump to Europe as a teenager - a familiar story to a lot of Kiwis and Aussies. But what's it like for New Zealanders and Australians who want to make it as a racing driver compared to their European equivalents as a kid?

It's very different. And I think a lot of people underestimate that journey, that sacrifice that we have to make. But also, just for us to actually get the opportunity is the biggest thing, you know? It's all well and good, obviously racing in New Zealand and go-karts and Formula Ford, and from a personal example to Toyota racing series - that's sort of the pinnacle of it over here.

It's not much beyond that. So obviously, you need to get the opportunity to actually get overseas and try to go to that next step, which is normally either F4 or F3 or something like that. That's probably the biggest ask I would say, is to get the financial support. Every driver that jumps across from Australasia has been in different situations financially. Some have been able to fund it themselves through family, or some have had to do it, let's say, the slightly harder way and had to get the results. And on top of that, find the sponsorship to actually support them overseas.

I don't come from a wealthy family, and I would say I've been one of the drivers that [came from] the harder way, which I think has always given me a lot of drive. Because if I didn't perform, there's no way I was going to find the backing to go overseas. From a personal example, to get the interest from Mark Webber and his wife. If I was just someone hovering around mid-pack or not winning or anything, not standing out, I just would never [have] been able to get their attention and all the people that had supported financially [...] me.

So I would say, yeah, I've had to do it the slightly harder way from over here. Then I guess the next step, once you do make it overseas, is, you know, being in a completely foreign part of the world from a young age. I left school at a young age, left my family at a young age, left all my friends... everyone... to make that step. So there are a few challenges along the way.

Obviously, in Europe, a lot of these European drivers can go home, and then even if they're French, they go to Spain, and they know home is only an hour away or something. It's all pretty close once you're in Europe. But I still feel very lucky to be able to obviously be able to tell the story, but also to come from this part of the world because I feel like we have something different. We're there on pure merit, and we've had to do it the harder way. I think that shows a lot of character.

To be in like a championship like Formula E; there's just two Kiwis in it, but there's like six British drivers, for example. It's quite dominant, so you do feel a bit unique over there. So, I would say it's definitely harder for us, but I still feel very lucky because I feel like I was able to learn a lot before I went over to Europe, sort of under the radar, where the European kids are straight into the spotlight from go-karts for their first car race.

So, it doesn't mean they get it easy as well, but I just if you look at the whole picture, they're probably gonna [have it] easier than us, but I still feel very lucky to learn all the ropes down here and before I was able to hit the big world stage in Europe when I was 16.

You're talking about the financial problems of motorsport, which are well documented. But at that junior level in lower series of racing, is that something that you, coming from New Zealand, are at even more of a disadvantage because you have to find accommodation costs and then several 24-hour flights? That's like another $10,000 that you're going to have to sum up just immediately.

Yeah, no, totally. I think just in general; it's harder right? Because you're trying to find sponsorship to race in a market [that] is on the other side of the world compared to New Zealand. So obviously, to find sponsors that believe in you... [for] it to make sense for them to put their money into you for years to go and do your race overseas and not get much commercial benefit out of it... apart from obviously trying to see the long-term goal of you reaching your dreams and then being part of that journey. To find those sponsors that understand the sport, know your vision, believe in you, and don't expect much of a return... but need to fork out quite a bit of money... that's a really hard thing to find.

On top of that, obviously flights, accommodation, I've got to rent somewhere over there in my first year. In my first year... obviously, it's a big step. So, coming back and forth from New Zealand just a couple of times... the cost starts to add up pretty quick. So yeah, I would say there are a few more challenges from that side, just financially. Let's say you're British; there's a big market for you to be able to sell yourself in this world because a lot of the races are done within Europe and also in the U.K. So these companies can sort of justify it a bit easier.

Fortloc – They can just jump on a Ryanair flight, go home and stay with your family for no cost.

Yeah, exactly. So obviously, for us, I would say it's just a little bit different, and it does add to the pressure and the financial pressure. So I think, just generally, it's just more difficult for us in a lot of different ways and aspects that I think a lot of people don't realize and appreciate – especially my European friends and drivers that I race against. They understand it, but they don't as well. They've not seen all the little bits and pieces that we have to go through to just even race and get over there, let alone be successful and be in the right team and perform.

So not necessarily from a New Zealander and Australian perspective, but for any youngster reading this... do you have some tips for forging a path in Formula racing? Or is there something that you'd tell a younger version of yourself to do differently from what you did?

There are a few things I would have done differently, but that was sort of more my F2 years. [When you're] growing up, there are so many different ways of approaching the pathway of motorsport. It depends on where you want to end up; what's your passion? Where do you see yourself? Is it F1? Is it F.E.? Is it V8 supercars? Is it IndyCar? Then your sort of work backward from there.

There are steps that you have to take to get there, but it all sort of starts from go-karts. Go-karts is the main thing, that's where you learn all the basics, all your racecraft, and that's where you work out if you got any talent or not. It's very competitive, very tough, it's very even, and it's really challenging. So it's very easy to get found out in that sport, but also it's very technical.

In motorsport, there are so many variables that can hinder performance and can hinder your own confidence. It's not just playing soccer [where] you can practice every day and the more hours you put in, the [bigger] return you get. It does work like that a bit, but obviously, there's a big cost that comes with that, and it's not so accessible to be able to do that every day, especially as a young kid.

I'm probably not the best person to get the advice from, but I think there's no wrong way, there's no right way. It's, first of all, finding the steps of where [you] want to end up and what steps [you] need to work backward from there... What do I need to do, and then work out if it's for you. Obviously, you have to realize a financial commitment that you'll have to take, and a lot of that comes off the back of results.

That's what I would say in a very simple form. That's sort of what you have to try to work out. And it's like anything in life, right? If you really back yourself, if you really believe in yourself, if you understand the industry.... nothing really can stop you in terms of getting off the ground and trying to make something out of the sport.

I think that's probably the main thing. I've always had a big belief in myself from probably when I won my first race and my first championship when I was seven. I just always have this inner belief, even when I had down days... and on those down days, you can always have little doubts creep in. I always had this sort of inner belief that kept me going, and it just grew stronger and stronger. The more little wins here and there, the more championships, then obviously, it just grows a lot. So yeah, I hope that makes some sort of sense.

You've got the legendary Bruce McLaren. You've got F1 champ, Denny Hulme... Le Mans winners Brendon Hartley and Chris Eamon. Now even Liam Lawson and Marcus Armstrong are knocking on F1's door... you already alluded to Formula E's Nick Cassidy. For such a small population, there's a lot of motorsport heritage. Why do you think that is?

That's a great question... and I don't really know to be honest. You mentioned some of the greats, you know, Chris Eamon... Bruce... Denny... that sort of paves the way for Kiwis and puts us really on the map. Even to this day, the McLaren name is one of the biggest car brands in the world, obviously in Formula One but also in the automotive industry. That all started from back in the day with Bruce.

I feel like racing's always been a big part of New Zealand's culture, especially when F1 used to come here when guys like Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jim Clark... you know, these big, big names used to come to the shores of N.Z. and Australia. I think people still feel that, even though it's decades later and we've always had just a big culture of racing, even just nationally, it's always been quite big.

I think in sport in general, for our population, and I would include Australia in this as well, we do punch above our weight. I think New Zealand has been quite exceptional for that. Across a lot of sports, considering our population, the amount of professional athletes across the board is quite impressive. On top of that, with motorsport and at sort of an elite level, and the level that all the guys you mentioned, it is really remarkable to see what we've achieved over the last probably decade or even more in Europe with all of us.

Even in the States as well, with Scott Mclaughlin, Scott Dixon... you know what Scott Dixon's achieved is just astonishing. So, yeah, honestly, I've got no idea. We have to work hard at it from a demographic point of view, and I just feel like we don't do things by halves. We give it full beans in anything. There are a lot of really top businessmen from New Zealand that are overseas. We just seem to understand industries, and I think we learn well in New Zealand.

Even from a motor point of view, the level is so high from go-karts. It's a great breeding ground. There are a lot more drivers down here that would have the talent to go overseas if they just didn't have those financial barriers that a lot of us face. I've got no exact like, "Yeah, that's why there's a few of us over there." I think it's just a combination of a few things.

I briefly spoke about Brendon Hartley as well, and you've had your own Le Mans experience with LMP2. What's it like sharing the car after a lifetime of single-seaters? Do you think you'll return to endurance racing?

I'm not sure. I mean to start with the first part of your question... sharing a car is different because, as you have mentioned, I've always been in single-seaters and had my own car. Endurance racing is just a completely different challenge. Obviously, the races are very long, but sharing the car makes it a little bit more of a team sport. What I mean by that is... even with Formula E, it's a team sport... but you know, normally drivers are very selfish, and they want things very specific to how they want it. Whereas in endurance racing, between the three drivers, you have to compromise.

I think that's quite an art, it's quite a unique skill, and the pairings are very, very important to get right because your seating position is always compromised. The setup is always compromised. The run plans and the tire strategies are always compromised, so you never are really in the perfect, you know, state or situation. I think [that] is very hard for some drivers to to get their head around. So some drivers really get it, and there are some that maybe would struggle.

I really loved my Le Man's experience back in 2015 and obviously, being on the podium in LMP2 was incredible. I loved that. For the short term, I see myself wanting to stick to sprint racing for a bit longer. The endurance stuff is getting really popular again, which is great to see, but I do see myself more in Formula E, definitely for the short term. I love sprint racing, and that's how we grow up... that's sort of where I see myself. But I do have a lot of respect for the endurance stuff, and I would never say never, but just for the next few years, I see myself more in F.E.

Fortloc – We'll see how those LMH cars come and change your mind potentially because it looks like WEC's gonna go nuts!

Exactly, yeah, things are changing a lot in endurance stuff. So there's a lot more interest now, so let's see how that starts. Because at the moment, no one really knows how it's gonna be, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I can't speak to you and not talk about Formula E... and a question I'm sure you've had to answer a million times. The first time you stepped into the car... I can go and do a track day experience with single-seaters and somewhat feel like a Formula One driver – minus the aero and insane speeds. But I can't do any experience that is similar to jumping in a Formula E car. What was it like, and how alien was it to anything you've driven before... that first time?

It was completely alien. It was the most unique experience I probably had in a race car for a lot of aspects. When I first drove the car, I was driving for Jaguar. We're a brand-new team, so everyone was new. I'm still learning this new hack; you know, this new car. On top of that, I was obviously brand new as well. So, a lot of us didn't have a clue what was going on, so they're learning as they go. But the car is just naturally very different.

Also, when I first drove Formula E, it was when the car was still very new. We came in season three, so everyone was still learning how to maximize these cars. The first thing was obviously the sound. It was always an obvious thing. I came from F2, which when I did it, it was a V8 [engine]. It was a screaming engine, obviously huge grip, downforce, and a lot of power.

[Formula E] was pretty much silent... a lot slower, road size, no downforce, a lot less grip, regen, and the rear axle... which is probably the biggest difference I would say... as under braking it's probably the most difficult. And yeah, just a whole new style of racing. Energy management! Like, I had no idea what the hell that was before I got into F.E. Managing the energy within the race is a real art and a huge part of Formula E, but I had no idea what you had to do to be fast doing that.

There were just so many things to learn, and my evaluation day before I was signed with Jaguar was very intense. Even though the team did their best to sort of guide me through the day, a lot of it I just learned lap-by-lap, corner-by-corner with a very tricky car to drive. I think even to this day that it's probably the most difficult car I've driven.

I think that's quite consistent for people that jump in a Formula E car because there are a lot of aspects that are just very different to how we grow up learning, especially the braking technique and acceleration. We all know the instant torque that the electric power train offers, so trying to manage that is also a different sort of challenge. But on top of that, we're on road tires. It's very low downforce; we're going around street tracks which are normally quite low grip. Then on top of that, you've got some of the best drivers in the world as well. That very first time I was lost, I was confused, but luckily I got the hang of it pretty quick. And that was sort of what led to me getting my seat.

Then you've gone from the Gen 1 to Gen 2 cars, and imagine you'll be there for Gen 3 at current rates. Is the change of generation something you get excited about, and how much relearning was there in that 2018-19 season?

Yeah, there were a few things to relearn or just learn in general. But there are a few things that were made easier for us, like brake-by-wire coming in. Obviously, when we first drove in gen one, we had to have two cars for the race, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. But that obviously stops with one battery that could last our race. So, it was a big step up in a lot of ways, a good step up for the championship, I think.

Also, aesthetically, the car looked very good, and it still looks very good, very futuristic. Then obviously, next year, we go to Gen 3. I will be with Jaguar again for my seventh season with them, which is pretty crazy. So that's exciting to again have another step in this generational change of race car because we've been through it before, so I feel like we can go through that process, and they know how I work and how they work in this development stage of a new car, which is really important.

I think each step is going to be quite a good step, and the way that Formula E and the FIA are trying to manage each generational change and step up is quite controlled. They don't want to get too crazy and make the budgets too – you know, they could make the cars not far off F1 next year if they wanted to – but it's not sustainable for the teams that are involved; it's too expensive.

They're giving us really high-end tech, which is very relevant to the automotive industry. Fast charging will come back will come into F.E., so will pit stops again, a whole new look of the car, and, you know, this new battery tech. There's a chance for four-wheel regen, potentially four-wheel drive in the future, but to begin with, rear-wheel drive.

There's a big step up again, a lot of things, and probably a bigger step up than Gen 1 to Gen 2, to be honest, just because there's a lot – especially on that front motor front. There are a lot of aspects that we have to learn. More power, obviously. So yeah, to be able to drive Gen 1, Gen 2, and hopefully, Gen 3 soon... is quite an exciting thing to be part of, so I feel quite lucky for that.

Now, we're speaking in early 2022. Formula E is off to Rome shortly, and it's a track that you've got good memories of with your first win there, podium there last time out. You've clearly got an affinity for Rome. Why do you think that is?

I'm not sure... the food?! To be honest... ever since we went to Rome, I felt really good. Just the nature of the track, the grip level, the character that it gives. The layouts changed a bit over the years, but it's the same location. I've just really enjoyed that circuit, and obviously, when drivers enjoy a circuit, it brings the most out of them. Normally a driver enjoys the circuit when they feel the most comfortable, and it just feels right.

There are always some tracks on the calendar you just can't get your head around, and this is one that I feel just so at one with... well, historically anyway... hopefully this year, it's the same. But I just felt very comfortable and just got it straight away, so I hope again this year. We've had a slightly 'off' start this season, so I'm hoping we've found better pace again and we can keep our track record at this location. I guess we'll find out soon.

Because of the pandemic, before we did those crazy six events in Berlin to finish off that disrupted season. Was that hell to be the same location for so many races, or did you kind of welcome the simplicity of it?

I welcomed it obviously because everyone was going through that tough time, and there was so much uncertainty, and no one really knew what was going to happen. So, great to get back racing again. That's probably one of those tracks that I was mentioning that sometimes you just can't your head around, and that was that's definitely one for me.

So those six races there were quite painful because I had a really strong start for that season. I won in Mexico, got a podium in Santiago. I was second in the championship, just a few points behind Antonio, but [in] one of the strongest cars. We just went to Berlin, obviously high hopes, and we just got absolutely smoked.

So, it can work in your favor if you're strong on that particular track, with that surface, and a car works well there, and you're sort of in shape with it – obviously, it can be a real blessing. But for us, it was the opposite, and we struggled a lot. So that was really a shame, and look, I feel like it was the best that they could probably do, Formula E in that position.

I think the pandemic hurt Formula E the most because the DNA behind the championship was to be racing in the city center, which was obviously not possible. So, in a controlled environment, six races, two...three... different layouts, all sounded good, but I think looking back, it wasn't really that great for me. It wasn't great because I lost the championship but... yeah... it was tricky. They did the best they could. There were not many options they had to be honest. But yeah, that's not a good memory for me... so thanks for bringing that up.

Well, to bring up even worse memories, let's talk more about Berlin, haha. Last year's season finale. Losing the last race on the start line like it, does it keep you up at night thinking about what might have been?

Haha, it doesn't really keep me up, or didn't really keep me up, but yeah, it's definitely crossed my mind for weeks and months post-that race. Things change when you win championships. You know, this is why I race. I race to win, and I race to win championships. To come so close to... especially a Formula E championship, which is such a tough category... and for the past few years, I've been battling for the championship as well, and it's just not worked out.

But I would say this was probably my most genuine shot. Then for it to be taken away, not on pace, not on being taken out, or me making a mistake... it was out of my control because the car didn't start... which I don't want to put the blame on the team because there was a component that failed, which has never failed before. It's just no one's fault. But everyone knows what it takes to win these championships and to put ourselves in that position when all our closest rivals were, you know, towards the back of the field, just hurt, you know, just really, really hurt.

I think it was more shock at the start, and then once that wears off, you're just gutted. You don't know if that was your last chance. You just need to take any opportunity in the sport. Yeah, it will probably haunt me for a while, but you also have to dust yourself off and keep going. That's the nature of life, the nature of motorsport, the nature of sport in general. I don't want to feel sorry for myself, but that will always hurt just because of what was at stake, and also, we just did nothing really wrong. So, yeah, tough, tough, but I feel like I'm over it to a degree now, so I can sort of press on and get on with my new season. That was a dark moment.

Where will we see Mitch Evans in 20 years' time?

Twenty... wow! Probably not racing... that's a very good question because I haven't really got an answer for it. It's something that I think about a lot. But I've been racing since I was six, and I'm 27 now, so I've been racing for 21 years. And I'm not really good at much else. So, I'm starting to get into more of the business side of life, you know, through investments; I've got an investment company now.

So, I'll probably say I'll be, hopefully, a well-seasoned investor to keep me occupied, to keep me stimulated, just to get into that sort of next phase of my life. So I see myself probably more in that. In motorsport probably, because I think it'd be silly not to be in motorsport because this is my expertise, this is my life, this is what I understand. So, I would say a balance between an investor and some sort of a role in motorsport... and I've got absolutely no idea what that could be!

I think the older you get, the more you sort of realize what interests you, what you are passionate about, and what you're good at as well. I can be honest to myself and say that "this doesn't work for me" because I know I'm probably not the best person. I feel like I understand I can add value too, so who knows?

In 20 years' time, hopefully, I've got a nice family, a nice wife, and a happy life. And then hopefully a bigger trophy cabinet than I have now and some championships to have a nice glass of red wine over with everyone that supported me and everyone that I've raced against. That would be pretty cool!

Fortloc – Well, we'll drink to that, Mitch!