Formula E: interview with Jake Dennis, Avalanche Andretti driver

Interview with Jake Dennis, Avalanche Andretti Formula E driver

Jake Dennis, Avalanche Andretti Formula E driver currently leading the Championship for Season 9, spoke with us about his experience in Formula E.



Ahead of the Hankook Rome E-Prix 2023, the penultimate round of the Formula E Championship taking place in the Eternal City - just two weeks before the London finale - we had the pleasure of interviewing Jake Dennis, Avalanche Andretti Autosport team’s driver.

Officially acknowledged as the fastest driver in Season 9 with the greatest number of Fastest Laps (4), Jake Dennis shared with us some technical insights about racing and his experience as a Formula E driver.

How do you make sure that you do not run out of energy during the race?

Energy management is surely the biggest challenge during the race because we have to figure out ways to charge the battery while driving. We can do this in different ways: by braking - with our foot like in a standard car - or by a regen paddle on the steering wheel, which uses the rear powertrain to put negative torque into the battery. In the end it is really up to the driver and the team to understand what is the fastest and most efficient way of doing it. Saving energy is very easy but trying to do it while racing on urban tracks and with 21 other cars around trying to beat you is very challenging. So, we do this by lots of preparation.

What are, in your opinion, the main challenges related to managing energy throughout the race?

I think the biggest challenge is trying to manage energy while racing fast and efficiently. Like I said, it is quite easy to recharge the battery while driving but trying to do it fast, maintain position and win the race is the real thing. And there is a lot of different communications going on between the driver and the team to try and figure out the best way, and the target is always moving. We always have a game plan going into the race but generally after two or three laps it has already changed, and then we are just sort of going with the flow. So, you need to be very fluid, very adaptive and prepared for any situation that comes towards you because there is a lot going on in the 45 minutes of the race. And you never really know how you are doing until the last three to four laps, which is when you get a bit more understanding of where you are probably going to finish.

What happens if the car gets damaged during the race?

If the car gets damaged during the race, you obviously upset the team. That is really the biggest thing. Everything is repairable to a certain extent, but if you pick up damage during the race your race is basically over. Scratches here and there are fine, but if you are having big contact with other cars - which the car is not designed for, obviously - then you have a problem because it gets unsafe to drive. You need to either pit and get your mechanics to fix it or ultimately, you are out of the race entirely. We are always trying to manage the risk versus reward on each overtake. This is also because this year we have a cost cap as well: if the damages go towards that cost cap, then we have to cut expenses from other areas which could be resources for development. So, it is really down to the driver to look after the car and not pick up any damage.

What is unique, in your opinion, about Formula E compared to other motorsports?

I think there are different aspects which are unique about Formula E, obviously the biggest one is that it is the only fully electric single-seater racing series. Also, the locations we race at are really special and different, since 95% of them are street circuits, which means that we really get to race in the heart of cities and promote sustainability. the choice of locations is not casual since Formula E really has every intention to promote sustainability on a large scale. Another aspect that in my opinion is unique about Formula E is the software complexity, which is far more advanced compared to any other category in motorsport. It is so far down the road in comparison to Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR… I think those three aspects really attract me to Formula E. And it is just a good, fun race car to drive. I think we all enjoy Formula E racing and promoting the message that Formula E has to offer.

What is the main difference between driving an electrical vehicle and driving an internal combustion engine vehicle? Does it feel different?

I would say that the biggest difference is the sound and the vibrations. For all of your career you are racing quite loud engines with ear plugs and stuff like this to try and reduce the sound and then when you first step into Formula E the experience in sound is really unique, because it is just the sound of the wind. Also, the battery has zero vibrations, so the car is extremely smooth to drive compared to anything we are used to. It is very bizarre. And then in terms of the actual driving techniques during the race there are small differences as well. For example, the way you brake, the way you accelerate and the way you approach the corners is very, very different to a normal combustion engine. It took me a while to get used to it for sure. It took me about three to four months of my first racing series season to really adapt to it and get my head around it. Now I would like to say that I am fully accustomed, but we are always learning.

What is the difference between driving on street racetracks and driving on dedicated racetracks?

There is a big difference for sure. Generally, I have always preferred city racing, because there is no margin for errors, and it looks really cool on TV. Also, the cars are really designed and suited for street racing, whereas when we go to circuits, for example the one in Portland which we just raced. Portland is not quite suited to the car. The racetrack is probably a bit too long and a bit too wide for the car design. So, we have to compromise in certain areas, and we have to recharge the battery more. For sure this creates quite an exciting race, but it is very different from how street circuits are designed. So ultimately, I generally prefer street circuits, even if I think that in the future Formula E will start to go more and more towards the more conventional circuits, like the ones Formula 1 races at. I do not think it will happen in the next three to four years, but as the battery develops further down the line, we will see maybe 50% of the calendar on more conventional circuits.

How do you prepare yourself for the races?

To be honest, I am one of the drivers which is probably the least likely to have a ritual before driving a race car. I have had some teammates who are really by the book and have to do certain visualizations and a certain warm up, but I have tried all these methods and generally whenever I do, I actually get worse. So, I am now just quite fluid, I always try to chat and joke with the mechanics, trying to take my mind away from the race because you can put yourself under too much pressure if you are just trying to focus purely on your job. Ultimately, I just try and keep it light-hearted, not to focus too much on the race before I put my helmet on. Then obviously it is full focus and full seriousness.

What is the best aspect of the opportunity to race around the world?

I would say that it is the traveling in the locations we race at, and I think Formula E is very advanced in these terms, since we get to travel to such diverse locations. We have the European lap, which includes racing in Germany, Spain, Italy and then the UK, but then we also get to go to locations such as Cape Town, which was definitely one of my favourite ones. I had the chance to stay out there after the race and explore a bit of the city. And I think Tokyo next year will also be a really exciting race. But obviously this comes with a downside. You are away from home a lot and you have to catch these really long flights so you are usually jet lagged, and you can still be jet lagged while doing the race. There are pros and cons, but ultimately it is not so bad.

Can you share some of the standout experiences that you lived that come from traveling globally for work?

There is always an experience from each race, but I have to say that it is hard to quantify or pick any which stands out, mainly because the trips are usually quite short: we are generally arriving on Wednesday and then leaving on Sunday night, so it is hard to really see the city and get memories or experience different aspects of the location. I think the moments we share with the race team are really the best moments in a race weekend. Thankfully this year it has been a great season, we have had lots of good memories but also bad, but these are the highs that come with the lows. All in all, it has generally been a pretty positive year so far and I have really enjoyed it.

Thank you, Jake, and congratulations for the results in Rome! See you in London in two weeks for an electrifying end of season!