If he swapped his race gloves for boxing gloves, Antonio Felix da Costa would have been called one of the best, pound-for-pound, in Formula E. A first season race winner, the popular Portuguese driver had to make do with first season tech in season two, which meant he had a comprehensive disadvantage when compared with constructor titans Renault and Audi. However, if he seemed to spend last season fighting to get off the ropes, the BMW factory driver has now moved to the heavyweight division with Adretti and is ready for his title shot.
AFdC has been in Formula E since the beginning. He signed up for the 2014-15 season with the then-named Super Aguri team, missing the opening round due to a clash with a previous commitment. His first race was the second of the series, in Malaysia. Victory soon followed, at just his third race, in Buenos Aires. It was a remarkable victory given the resources already in play at the Renault, Audi and Virgin camps, and marked one of the biggest underdog successes the championship has known in its short life.
Impressive performances saw him signed to one of Formula E’s constructor teams in season two, only for the deal to fall apart over the summer break (and not through any fault of AFdC). At the last minute, AFdC signed again with the Aguri squad. For the second year in a row, he missed out on preseason testing but showed his mettle in the heat of battle, managing to secure a pole position in Buenos Aires despite the team running a first generation powertrain (before being excluded over a tyre pressure irregularity).
Speculation mounted in the paddock that AFdC was set to make a move for season three. With BMW in talks with Andretti over a possible tie up, Felix da Costa being one of the German marque’s factory drivers and Simona de Silvestro struggling to get to grips with the Formula E car, it was a link that made an awful lot of sense. Confirmation came through in August, ahead of preseason collective testing at Donington Park.
“It was probably one of the worst-kept secrets in Formula E,” AFdC said of his move, talking to me with a smile on his face. “But we really had to do it this way because there were a few other things in play and we could not jeopardise or compromise other things. Shortly after London, we were able to agree on everything and went straight to work.”
The BMW-Andretti deal remained a poorly-kept secret, with no official statement until as late as last week. BMW formally announced a technical tie-up from season three with a view to turning the entity into a works team in season five, when the new batteries capable of completing an entire race hit the grid.
Felix da Costa’s arrival is about more than just his ties to BMW, though. Andretti wanted a driver to complement Robin Frijns, another one of Formula E’s (and, indeed, motorsport’s) rapidly-rising stars. Felix da Costa fitted the bill perfectly and he, too, was keen.
“Very happy to be joining a racing family like the Andrettis,” Felix da Costa told me. “They need no introduction to the motorsport world. To be joining this team is a very good thing for me and especially on the other side, I love America. I’d love to race there. I love the way Americans do sports in general, so it’s all very good.”
Perhaps one of the most immediate changes for Felix da Costa has been the size of the operation at Andretti compared to Team Aguri. Going from somewhere where survival was the focus to a brand where success is not only desired, but expected, things have been noticeably different.
“They bring a lot of people from America as well so the guys know each other and that’s already a massive step forwards [compared to Aguri],” Felix da Costa said. “Almost by looks and gestures, the mechanics get into the same groove and the working effort is very good. I’m happy with that. Very happy with the technical team as well.”
Felix da Costa and Andretti went into preseason testing in a very similar position. Both had hoped to be racing season two technology last year. Both were lumbered with the season one cars. Both managed to claim some notable results all the same, punching above their weight. Both know they are capable of much, much more.
Yet, while Aguri had never planned to use a season two car, Andretti had developed a powertrain and brought it to Donington Park with high hopes in the summer of 2015. Software gremlins so persistent meant that the decision was taken to move back to the season one-spec. As a result, the jump for season three needs to make up for the lost time.
“Aguri and Andretti ran the season one package for two years so we needed to find a double-step for season three to match the other guys,” Felix da Costa said after his first public run in Andretti’s car this summer. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet but we have a pretty decent package. Reliable, hopefully, and try to be as close as possible. I don’t know, it’s hard to say where we are really.”
While Felix da Costa remained unwilling to pin down any key aims or hopes for the season, his mindset is clear: if winning is possible, nothing else will be good enough.
“If I have a winning car, we need to win races,” he asserted. “If not, then just bring home maximum points possible. I think me and Robin together, we can do a good job.”
The AFDC and Robin Show should be a thriller in season three. The pair spent a great deal of time battling each other on-track through season two and have raced together for much of their careers. “It will be a fun year,” Felix da Costa said. “I’ve known him for many, many years. We’re both very competitive and I know him well, I know what he’s like, I’ve raced against him. To have him on my side now and push the team in the same direction is very, very good.”
So is this Felix da Costa’s best chance yet in Formula E? “Yes,” is the instantaneous reply, barely giving a second for me to finish my question.
It’s worth noting that AFdC moved from Aguri just prior to that team being taken over, renamed Techeetah and purchasing Renault powertrains for season three. The Renault machine was by far the quickest in season two and looked very, very fast over summer testing. Still, the BMW connection should promise a long-term future for a driver who many agree should have long ago had a shot at a top-level international series.
The excitement exuded by the Portuguese racer is evident. For a driver whose career has been filled with “almosts”, his move to Andretti finally offers the chance to truly succeed in single-seaters. Andretti’s preseason form was steady if unspectacular, but given the feats both Felix da Costa and Frijns managed in season one cars through the last campaign, nothing is out of reach for this dynamic duo. Watch out for the Portuguese prizefighter this season.