Jack Nicholls on Monaco, making history and signing autographs.
As Formula E makes its way to Europe for the second half of its inaugural season, we caught up with world feed commentator Jack Nicholls between glasses of something definitely non-alcoholic to talk Long Beach, Monaco and podium predictions.
If you could pick one highlight of the Long Beach race, what would it be?
Nelson Piquet winning his first Formula E race 35 years after his dad won his first F1 race at the same track. It was a great story and I make no apologies for going on about it. On the Thursday before the race, I remember wandering into the paddock for the first time and I saw this red and white helmet, like the one that Piquet’s dad wore back at that 1980 F1 race. Nelson has had these really bright helmets – in fact, his usual Formula E helmet has been gold glitter – but that helmet was something else. Red and white coolness. We didn’t know if Nelson was going to wear it for the race because he said there was an issue with the radio or something in shakedown, but then he wore it on Saturday. It just felt like it was going to be his weekend, and it was.
My other highlight was being asked for an autograph! I was walking around the paddock with Dario Franchitti, who is a bit of a legend, especially in the US. This couple came up to us and asked me for an autograph. I expect to be signing a lot more autographs in Monaco – but only because my family are coming!
Piquet drove away from the field like he was in a different car. How did he do it?
Sometimes, you can’t tell. It was like Sam Bird in Malaysia. How did it happen? I don’t know. Drivers talk about being “in the groove” at a race track. With Formula E’s limited time on the circuit, it can be hard to find that groove. If you’re Nelson Piquet, and it’s Long Beach, and you have all of that history, maybe it does get you into the groove earlier. If it’s two or three tenths a second a lap that you’re pulling out, normally that wouldn’t be a massive advantage in other race series. But in Formula E that can make a huge difference.
Six winners in six races: will the trend continue in Europe?
It can’t carry on, can it? We can’t have seven different winners….but then you look at the people who haven’t won a race yet. It’s a ridiculously strong grid. When we arrived in Long Beach, I think Piquet was the only one in the top six who hadn’t won a race, so it was kind of his turn. I think now it’s Heidfeld’s turn. I think he’s led more races than anyone but hasn’t actually won one yet. The only way we’ll get seven winners in seven races is if he takes it. Saying that, this is Formula E and, as we’ve already seen, anything can happen! Malaysia and Long Beach are the only two races that have had similar victories. It hasn’t all come together yet for Jaime Alguersuari – he’s one to watch out for. Trulli won the Monaco F1 race in 2004 from pole position so this could be his race, too.
Alain Prost’s e.dams-Renault team is looking formidable. Can they be beaten?
How can you say that when China Racing won so convincingly last time out? The team that operates e.dams-Renault, DAMS, has a lot of experience at Monaco and they’re a very, very good team. But e.dams were favourites from the outset and they haven’t converted that into the same sort of unchallenged winning performances as Sam Bird managed in Putrajaya and Piquet in Long Beach. There are still five races to go in this championship, remember.
Monaco is a fantastically historic track but isn’t known for the most exhilarating racing. What sort of show can we expect from Formula E?
I don’t know if it’ll be as thrilling as the Buenos Aires race but Monaco is one of the greatest F1 races of all time. It’s super that Formula E will be racing there. The track is a slightly shortened circuit and it doesn’t have the tunnel, but it takes in the essence of the place. Formula E cars are totally different to F1 cars, so it’ll be a different sort of spectacle. It might be easier on energy levels, but no one will really know until we get there. Coming into La Rascasse will be similar to the hairpin at Long Beach. There should be some decent overtaking places, but there’s more to a good race than just overtaking chaos. I think Monaco will have a similar vibe to the Long Beach race. Plus, entry is free, which is great.
Who’ll take the podium positions in Monaco?
It’s not a particularly quick circuit and I don’t think they’ll be energy limited. So it will all come down to the driver, as Monaco always does. No one has yet won from pole position in Formula E and this could be the track where that happens for the first time. Who can get into the zone fastest? I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Sam Bird turn up and say: “I know Monaco. I like Monaco. I can win at Monaco. Off we go.” My top three? Buemi, Bird, Trulli.