Time at the top for professional athletes is often tumultuous and short-lived. It’s no different for racing drivers, who are often seen as past their sell-by date once they creep into their thirties. For those who, like Lucas di Grassi, have raced in the upper echelons of the sport for years, money is not the issue once retirement looms. The bigger question for these particularly motivated individuals with a habit of self-improvement and a carefully nurtured determination to beat the competition is simply – what next?
“Why not be the president of the FIA?” says di Grassi, when I ask what his plans are beyond WEC and Formula E. I pause, to see whether he’s joking. I ought to know better. Di Grassi is an intense character, utterly absorbed in the moment, the model of focus. Idle remarks are not his hallmark.
The top job is one hell of an ambition, I say. “You have to be ambitious,” replies the Brazilian. “It would be a good target. Maybe I’ll run a team first, or maybe an area within a championship. I don’t discard the idea of using my knowledge to get involved in commercial road vehicles. But why not be the president?”
Why not, indeed. In Formula E, di Grassi may have the perfect blueprint for a successful presidential campaign in years to come. Buying into Alejandro Agag’s dream early, the Audi works driver and former F1 racer has had much more of a hand in realising the all-electric category than many realise. The Brazilian became the cornerstone of the Spark chassis development programme, assisting a consortium that includes racing institutions McLaren, Williams, Dallara and Michelin turn the idea of an electric single seater racing car into reality. He raised the profile of the nascent sport by driving demos in cities around the world, including a particularly memorable spin through Las Vegas under police escort. He was instrumental in pulling together members of the Formula E “drivers’ club” (essentially, a means by which established racers endorsed the new series and expressed interest in racing in the category). He was the first driver to publicly sign up to race in the new sport. And, less publicly, he helped entice both ABT and Virgin into fielding Formula E teams.
“I saw the vision,” di Grassi puts it himself.
Opening up the scope of technical innovation is something di Grassi is keen to see. “The electric motor is so efficient and it can operate in such a wide range,” he says. “You could take off the gearbox and differentials. You could have one motor controlling each wheel, the braking and accelerating: four motors and torque vectoring. It’sthe future of the electric car industry.”
For now, di Grassi is content to concentrate on the present, where he’s happy competing with Audi in WEC and ABT in Formula E. “In the short term, I’ll drive for a few more years in WEC and in Formula E,” he says. “I wouldn’t change this for anything at the moment. I cannot be in a better moment.”
This is an excerpt from the October 2015 edition of the Current E magazine.