Chasing dreams: Rosenqvist on racing, results and F1

Photo: Shivraj Gohil / Spacesuit Media

Eight races. Three podium finishes. One victory. And third in the drivers’ championship. Not bad for a rookie season, with four races still to run. But how did Felix Rosenqvist end up in Formula E?

Back at preseason testing in the summer of 2016, we tipped the combination of Mahindra Racing’s M3Electro car and Swedish speed king Rosenqvist as one to watch. Not that we like to blow our own trumpets, but what a show this pairing is providing.

Of course, the blonde-haired racer’s performance should not have surprised anyone. He took 13 wins, 24 podiums and 17 poles on his way to winning the European Formula 3 championship two years ago, but getting to grips with the unique combination of treaded tyres, energy management and short street courses that Formula E presents is no easy ride.

Yet, that’s what Mahindra’s man in red has done, beating the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Abt and teammate Nick Heidfeld to a maiden victory (all of whom have had a two-year head start over Rosenqvist in Formula E). 

Rosenqvist’s career thus far is impressive. Not only does he hold the record of being the only driver ever to win the Macau Grand Prix, Masters of F3, Grand Prix de Pau and European F3 title, but he is renowned as something of a street circuit expert. In fact, it was Formula E’s street circuit factor which helped lure the driver to the all-electric series. 

“When I got the call from the team to do the first couple of tests, I didn’t know much about Formula E,” Rosenqvist tells Current E. “I had a busy year last year and I was just focusing on my own stuff really. I started to learn about Formula E with the team and then I got really into it. Obviously I knew that there were only street circuits, which was the main factor that attracted me because I love street circuits and I’ve always had good results. 

“Once I really got into it, I realised it was something that would suit me really well. Especially as you have only one day. You need to get into everything very quickly and you don’t really have any time like you do in other championships. That’s something I always looked for. I like to just get into it very quickly.”

Mahindra’s much-improved season three machine has provided Rosenqvist with the platform to star. He hasn’t been backwards in coming forwards, sealing a pole position and third place finish in just his second Formula E race.

Following two successive races out of the points (including that spectacular smash in Mexico), the 25-year-old has scored four consecutive top-six finishes to leapfrog up to third place in the drivers’ standings; he is just 71 points behind season two champion Sebastien Buemi. 

Rosenqvist’s first win was note-perfect. After jumping Jose Maria Lopez to snatch second at the start, Rosenqvist expertly managed his battery levels and sat within 2.5s of pole sitter Lucas di Grassi in the opening stint. The Mahindra driver chipped away at Di Grassi’s lead and passed the Brazilian around the outside on the run to Turn 1, before completing his fine drive to seal Mahindra’s first Formula E victory.

After beating Buemi to pole for Sunday’s second race, only a pit stop mix-up at Mahindra (and subsequent time penalty) denied the Swede a double victory in Germany. Rosenqvist stomached the disappointment of only finishing in second place with good grace, praising his team in the direct aftermath rather than lamenting a human mistake. He was the real winner of the weekend, having clearly showcased all of the credentials needed to succeed in the sport. 

Success has not just followed Rosenqvist in single-seater categories, either. He’s notched up victories in Indy Lights, Blancpain GT and the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia, as well as impressing during a spell in DTM with Mercedes last year. In 2017, he is dovetailing his Formula E campaign alongside Japan’s Super Formula championship, while he also claimed a 15th place overall finish during his Le Mans 24 Hours debut last month. Rosenqvist believes challenging himself in a number of racing series has helped him become a more rounded driver. 

“I have the philosophy that, if I am a professional driver I want to drive everyday, I want to drive as much as possible,” he said. “I feel if I had the chance to drive something, I prefer to do that, rather than sitting back home in the sofa waiting. That’s the mentality you need to have because it’s a tough sport. It’s tough to be a professional driver. You need to constantly deliver and I think if you have the knowledge of different cars you will always have a benefit compared to other people. I have a big love for motorsport. That’s why I think I’ve been successful doing many different categories.”

Despite his promising career so far, Rosenqvist has been somewhat overlooked by Formula One teams. He was backed by Mercedes in F3 between 2011 and his title-winning season in 2015, though neither a test nor possible route to F1 materialised. Granted, it took Rosenqvist five years to claim his F3 triumph, but during that time the Swede honed his skills, matured, and made up for the lost time by blowing his rivals away in 2015 to become the most successful F3 driver of all time. 

Rosenqvist has also raced against and beaten a number of drivers who have already reached F1 in some capacity, including the likes of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Force India’s Esteban Ocon, Williams’ Lance Stroll, and Antonio Giovinazzi, who made his race debut with Sauber earlier this year. Rosenqvist says he is glad he did not become consumed in chasing the F1 dream. 

“I’ve always been realistic,” Rosenqvist explained. “I’ve had limited chances from the beginning to join GP2 [F2], where you need to bring some kind of budget. Maybe I could have managed to do a season in GP2 but definitely I couldn’t sign up for doing two in a row, which I think you need to do. You need to have a plan to try to win the championship in your second year and I never had the possibility to do that and you need to look for other options. 

“I tried many different championships and tried to find my place last year,” he added. “I think if you do well in any championship you still have the chance to do Formula One but you can also kill your career trying to chase it too much. That’s something I’m happy I didn’t do. At that stage [after winning F3 title in 2015] I obviously started looking for professional career options. By then Formula E was only one year old and it was probably too new for me to look at it like a long-term career. 

“I think now, two years later, I definitely think that Formula E is a solid career path for teenagers or like me, coming from F3. The championship has grown massively and the driver level is very high. You have a good base now to work on for the future. That’s something different from two years ago and I think it’s a great place to be.”

Having established himself as a potential championship challenger, teams will have taken note of Rosenqvist’s performance in Berlin. If he can close out his maiden campaign by sealing his target of third place in the championship, it will not just be Formula E teams who sit up and take note. Mahindra will no doubt be keen to keep Rosenqvist for 2017-18, while others will be sniffing around with interest. What is certain is that Rosenqvist has been a rich addition to the series and it can only benefit from having a driver of his calibre on the grid. Formula E will embrace his presence and enjoy F1’s loss. 

Staff writer: Lewis Larkam

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