Formula E rookie Maro Engel is determined to make the most of season three, despite the prospect of missing two races to compete in the DTM series and despite Venturi languishing ninth in the teams’ standings after two rounds. What’s more, he’s already eyeing prospects for season four.
“It’s a great opportunity obviously: for me, it’s somewhat unfinished business in DTM,” says Maro Engel. The Venturi Formula E driver’s voice is loud and clear despite the long-distance telephone call. It’s a little past nine in the morning in the US, where Engel is preparing for the Daytona 24 hour race.
Between this weekend and Formula E’s third Buenos Aires outing, in mid-Feb, there’s also the little matter of an Australian jaunt to squeeze in, for the Bathurst contest. “I’m a racing driver and I love racing,” he says. “It’s great to be able to start the year with these endurance races.”
Despite the heady prospects of a full-time DTM drive with German super-marque Mercedes, Engel is clear that he remains focused on his Venturi duties too.
“I’m very grateful to Venturi for allowing me to join DTM this year,” he tells Current E. “I’m fully committed to the next race and to the season. I’ve really enjoyed these first two races. It’s a great category with a very high challenge to the drivers which makes it enjoyable. It’s a great racing day. Everything goes so quickly and there are very high driver and team levels. Looking forward to progressing with the car and moving us further up the grid.”
Venturi has been something of an underdog since the all-electric series began. While the first season gave all teams the same machinery, the financial and technical resources of teams with links to OEMs or run by particularly successful existing racing outfits (such as DAMS and Renault with e.dams Renault; Audi Sport ABT with the ABT team; Carlin and Mahindra’s might with Mahindra Racing; and the Campos-run Team China Racing, which became NextEV TCR) began to show plainly by the end of the first season. Venturi finished ninth, only ahead of the ill-fated Trulli squad.
In the second season, the team evolved the first season powertrain and finished sixth. That seems like quite marked until progress until it’s noted that Dragon Racing, which bought season two powertrains from Venturi, finished in fourth place with nearly double the number of points.
After two races in season three, Venturi has just three points. Yet Engel believes there are good prospects for the outfit and good results to come.
“We’ve had a positive start to the year – finishing with both cars inside the points at Hong Kong,” he says. “We really have the tools to do some good races. Everyone is still getting to grips with this new tyre. Different tracks will suit different cars. Of course, Renault does currently have an edge in terms of race pace but I definitely wouldn’t exclude us from doing some really good races. We’ll be pushing hard to improve our package and make the most of it. There are still gains to be made, in all kinds of different areas. From where we’ve come from, building our own gearbox and so on, it hasn’t been a bad start to the year.”
Buenos Aires is up next, a fiery fast track beloved of the teams, drivers and media. It’s a fantastically aesthetic location, with lush trees, tall buildings and near-fanatical crowds packing the grandstands. The track has featured on both of the sport’s first two seasons and has written its place into Formula E history with completely unexpected results.
In the first season, a series of crashes and driver errors gifted the win to Antonio Felix da Costa, much to his surprise. In season two, Sebastien Buemi came through the entire back, beginning from the back row and ending up in P2; Sam Bird managed to defend first position with a car acknowledged to be heavier and slower than Buemi’s Renault. In short, it’s exactly the sort of place which could yield a surprise in the form of Venturi.
“With Formula E, it’s hard to predict things,” Engel starts, when asked about his prospects for the forthcoming Argentinian race. “It’s a great track from everything I’ve heard. It’s a great venue. Last year, Venturi was strong there. We’re hoping it’s going to suit us. Hoping to get both cars well into the points. I’ve had a go in the simulator. It was a lot of fun. It’s definitely a track which rewards commitment.”
Most teams are already well advanced in the design and testing process for their season four machinery, although the really big step-change in technology will come in season five. Engel is keen to stick around for next season.
“I hope to be [racing in season four],” he says. “It’s still a bit early. Teams are starting to get into that. There’s some exciting prospects at Venturi. The partnership with ZF will really show, starting from season four. It’s exciting and I hope to be a part of it.”
Engel will be back in action in Formula E in Buenos Aires on 18 February 2017.