Special Feature

"We drive through incredible scenery!"

LEMO connected 6_article 2_cover

Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Prost are both amongst the top drivers who have made Formula E a success.

Thanks to them, Renault E.dams have excelled in both the first and the second season. Exclusive interview. 

Are you happy with the development of For- mula E during these first two seasons?
Sébastien Buemi: Yes, very much! When I joined the first season, I didn’t know how the competition would evolve. What Formula E required was constructors, beautiful cities and good drivers. They found all three and success followed very quickly. I didn’t think it would reach such proportions in so little time.

In what way is it different driving a Formula E single-seater?
Sébastien Buemi: The first thing you notice is the lack of noise. It feels a bit strange at first, you realize less how fast you are running. As for the rest, what surprised me most was how similar it was to a thermal car. I thought that driving an electric car would be completely dif- ferent, which was not the case.
Nicolas Prost: It is true, they are “normal” cars, similar to Formula 3. I think that the biggest difference is the constant torque of the electric engine: you press the accelerator by a certain percentage to obtain the same per- centage of acceleration. Consequently, the drivers are in perfect control of their actions. Otherwise, these cars are also slightly heavier, due to the battery.
Sébastien Buemi: The battery weighs 200 kg, a quarter of the total weight. This load at the rear of the car affects the car’s performance, creating oversteering.

The cars are similar, is it the regulations then that make the driving different?
Sébastien Buemi: Yes, indeed. Formula E aims at promoting energy efficiency…
Nicolas Prost: … therefore, the races are designed and laid out in a way to make us better manage energy.
Sébastien Buemi: This is the reason why the number of laps is not easy to complete with the limited energy we are given: if we raced at maximum speed, we would break down two laps before the end! This is done on purpose. We have to drive the fastest possible, whilst saving energy.

How do you manage?
Nicolas Prost: By adapting our driving. By lifting our foot off the pedal in the straight lines, whenever we can and by saving a maximum of energy when braking.

Do you always know about your energy consumption?
Nicolas Prost: We get a summary of consumption after each lap. We manage and decide when we spend more and when we save. The drivers must make a lot of their own decision, since there is no system in place to help them unlike F1 where everything is electronically controlled.

The races take place in the heart of big cities, what difference does that make for you?
Sébastien Buemi: There are bumps and walls everywhere!
Nicolas Prost: … bumps, walls, potholes, limited visibility and a lot of bends. These are Grade 3 FIA circuits, a relatively hostile environment, difficult to drive in. This tends to raise the level of competition. 

Do urban environments provoke any particular emotions?
Sébastien Buemi: For sure! We have raced in incredible settings. We certainly don’t get the time to look at the buildings, but when you are racing at over 200 km/h around the “Invalides” in Paris, or in front of the Kremlin in Moscow’s Red Square, it is just an amazing feeling!
Nicolas Prost: Being in a city centre, Miami or London, creates a special and unique atmosphere.
Sébastien Buemi: Off-track, the public gets much closer to us than in Formula 1, they can almost touch the cars. This close contact with the audience is part of Formula E’s concept. The fans are very much involved, just like on social networks. Host cities are fully supportive. It’s in cities that people suffer most from pollution, so the fact that we are promoting electric vehicles attracts a lot of people.

In order to avoid blocking the city centres for too long, the races are all organized in a single day. Is this tough for you?
Nicolas Prost: the race itself is not exhausting, as the cars are not necessarily physically demanding. However, the day is carefully planned and very intense. We have a preparation session at 8 in the morning, another at 10, the qualifiers at 12, then the race at 4 in the afternoon. At the end of such a day, we are pretty tired.

Alain Prost is the co-proprietor of Renault e.dams. How does it feel to race for a Formula 1 legend?
Sébastien Buemi: It’s great, because I have a lot of respect and admiration for him and because, thanks to his experience, he gives us a lot of input and ideas. Moreover, Alain is a driver: he knows what we feel and live through, he knows that we can have good times and bad times. Working with him can only be positive.

For you Nicolas, it is even more special, since he is your father…
Nicolas Prost: I also benefit from his massive experience. What is maybe a bit different, is the way we communicate: when there is a problem, your dad does not beat about the bush, he goes straight to the point! (chuckle). I have no room for error and my attitude has to be exemplary the team must know that I don’t benefit from any kind of favoritism. This means a little added pressure, but everything is going very well. Moreover, it is a privilege to share such an expe- rience with your dad.