On Sunday 19th June 2016, I witnessed first hand the true drama of motor racing. In the legendary 24hrs Le Mans, after leading the race for 23hrs and 55 minutes, the Toyota LMP1 inexplicably lost power and hence the race; Sébastien Buemi was one of the Toyota drivers.
Now, two weeks later, Sébastien Buemi – with the Renault e.Dams team - enters the final race weekend of the FIA Formula E season leading fellow Le Mans combatant Lucas di Grassi in the Championship by a solitary point. I caught up with Sébastien in London at a hotel, not far from the Battersea street circuit on which he would be racing for glory in two days time.
EA | First of all commiserations for the result in Le Mans – I won’t dwell on it but if anything has this given you extra incentive to take home the Formula E crown?
SB | No I don’t think so because at the end day they are two different matters. I wanted to win Le Mans because I was racing for Toyota and we had a good car, and obviously I want win this race, regardless of what happened in Le Mans. I’ve realised that sometimes even if you prepare yourself as well as possible, do everything you can to win sometimes you don’t win. So I want to do the maximum, I want to do my best, I want to win, but if I can’t win then life will go on – like it did in Le Mans [smiles].
EA | Lucas di Grassi is your closest contender for the Formula E title. What is your relationship like with him and the other Formula E drivers? Is there a similar edge to in F1?
SB | It’s a similar kind of relationship when compared to Formula 1. Obviously, everyone is really busy with their own teams, we have so many things to do so we don’t really have much time to spend with the other drivers, other than on the track [laughter]. You always try to beat the guys, and that is more or less it. You would hopefully go on holiday with them, we have a good relationship with each other. I have lots of respect for Lucas [Di Grassi] because he had a very good season and he’s a great driver. Obviously I want to beat him, but I have to say, he’s done a great job.
EA | The race will take place on back-to-back days in Battersea. What are the extra challenges of having back-to-back races?
SB | There are a lot of challenges for the team first of all, because when those cars race on a track like London where the road is so bumpy, they go through a very hard time. They have to get them ready for the next day and make sure that the reliability is going to be good, and so there’s lots of work. And for the drivers, it’s like two weekends in one so you feel exhausted by the end of Sunday, because you have so many events on and you want to do the best you can to score as many points as possible. It’s going to be very important to be very well organised, obviously it’s the finals and we have lots of sponsors turning up. We'll try to do everything right, but it’s not easy, so organisation is everything.
EA | I’m aware Luca di Grassi competed in Le Mans as well, but do you think your endurance experience at Le Mans will help you over the two days?
SB | Yeah, I guess why not? I never thought about it like that, but clearly as a driver the more racing you do, the better it is - as long as you have time to recover between the races. I had one full week at home and so I feel fully charged and pumped for the weekend. The more races you do, the more prepared you are.
EA | You have had experience of Formula 1 racing through your 3 years at Toro Rosso. What have been the main challenges in changing driving style between the two formats?
SB | Everybody would expect us to say that there are huge differences, but there are not. The car is a bit heavier in Formula E and it has a bit less grip so you go a little bit slower through the corners; the car is very tricky to drive, perhaps even more tricky to drive than Formula 1. You have to drive on tracks that… well for example London you can’t really call it a circuit [laughter] and there are walls everywhere as all the races are in city centres. From the drivers' perspective, we go on power, brake, gearbox – looks kind of the same. That said the weight at the back because of the heavy battery, makes it difficult to control.
"I’ve realised that sometimes even if you prepare yourself as well as possible, do everything you can to win sometimes you don’t win. So I want to do the maximum, I want to do my best, I want to win, but if I can’t win then life will go on."
EA | There has much been made about electric cars in the consumer space, with Tesla, Toyota and BMW doing a lot of interesting work in that space. Do you feel Formula E is the future of motor racing?
SB | I think it’s an alternative, I don’t think it’s the future. I think we’re helping to promote electric cars in city centres. Clearly it deserves to have its space in motorsport, but I don’t think the concept is going to replace what we have in Formula 1 or LMP. The good thing is that the format is condensed so you can race in really interesting spaces in the city, because you’re not going to block the roads for too long. When you have a Formula 1 race, you more or less block it for a week, which would be impossible in London. I think the Formula E concept s great.
EA | How do you feel the tracks perform in Formula E compared to Formula 1? What makes them so interesting?
SB | They are very narrow, very bumpy. Some of them look a little bit simple but most of the races we’ve had so far have been very interesting so I think its more down to a combination of circuit, cars, track , drivers spec of tyres – it just works. Even in London when you look at it you think it’s going to be impossible to see any overtaking because it’s so narrow and the roads are bent like this [he gestures] but last year we saw some good moves out here so, I think it’s going to be great.
EA | Finally, what does the future hold for Sebastian?
SB | Hopefully I’m going to win the Championship and then I’m going to come back next year and try and win it again [he laughs]. That’s the short-term future then after that we don’t know!
The final two races will be taking place in Battersea on Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd July; more information and tickets (free for under 16’s) are available via the link below.
Θ Interview ~ ELI ANKUTSE
EDITOR | SAMSON