Neel Jani Shares Challenges Facing Porsche In Debut Formula E Season

Porsche's Neel Jani at the official pre-season test in Valencia before the start of the 2019-20 Formula E Championship
Porsche is the most-exciting team entry in Formula E – making their debut this season. Neel Jani talks to us about his preparations for the upcoming season, the close competition and the benefit of Andre Lotterer as a team-mate. 
  • Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer will be racing for Porsche this season.
  • In the several seasons they competed in the World Endurance Championships, Jani and Lotterer raced for rival teams, Porsche and Audi respectively.
  • Jani-Lotterer teamed up with Porsche in 2017 to help the manufacturer clinch their last and final World Championship in the WEC.

As we gear up for the first race of the 2019-20 Formula E Championship, all eyes will be on Porsche’s debut in the all-electric series. There are a few factors that make Porsche’s debut that much more interesting. Firstly, the sheer heritage and history that the brand represents in the world of automobiles and Motorsport. Secondly, their bold decision to quit the World Endurance Championship at the end of 2017, the year when they were crowned World Champions, to solely focus on their Formula E campaign. Lastly, it is their decision to wait a full season (2018-19) to observe and learn from their rivals rather than make a hurried entry into the series. In their year away from a big Motorsport series, Porsche has spent time reogransing and optimising their setup for success in Formula E.

Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer will be racing for Porsche this season. In the several seasons they competed in the World Endurance Championships, Jani and Lotterer raced for rival teams, Porsche and Audi respectively. However, they teamed up with Porsche in 2017 to help the manufacturer clinch their last and final World Championship in the WEC.

Porsche’s logic in the Jani-Lotterer pairing seems understandable — a Porsche veteran (Jani) teaming up with a Formula E veteran (Lotterer). Jani-Lotterer teamed up with Porsche in 2017 to help the manufacturer clinch their last and final World Championship in the WEC.

In this exclusive interview, Neel Jani discusses all things Formula E and Porsche:

The 2019-20 Formula E season could be considered as your debut in Formula E too. However, you did race in the Hong Kong ePrix for Dragon Racing two seasons ago (2017-18). Why exactly did you part ways with the team after just one round?

I have been looking to join Formula E since 2014, but back then, I knew I was going to sign with Porsche — the commitment was to race in the LMP1 class (in 2014) and focus on that. The opportunity to join Formula E came again in 2017, but by then, I knew that Porsche would enter Formula E two years later. Obviously, the aim was to move over to Porsche (for the current season). We tried to find a comfortable deal with Dragon Racing but both of us had different opinions on how the future would look. It had nothing to with the race performance itself (Jani finished 18th in both races). It was just a different outlook for the team and myself towards the future and it didn’t make sense to continue.

2019-20 FIA Formula E Season – Same Same, But New?

Any learning from the solo round of the Hong Kong ePrix that will help you at your first race? We have this quote in German which, when translated to English, loosely means — one is like never done! In 2017, the car was different (it was the first-generation car), the track isn’t on the calendar this year (Hong Kong has been replaced with Marrakesh) and the team preparations have changed quite a bit too. The bottom line is, no, the solo round doesn’t help! How excited are you as you gear up for the new season? I am excitedly looking forward to the first race (Ad Diriyah ePrix in Saudi Arabia). Honestly, we have had a year to prepare, but our preparations have been in the dark. The difficulty in Formula E is a lack of reference — you don’t have track time with competition. This is one of the key things we are looking forward to in the first race — our reference point against the competition.

How have you and Porsche prepared yourself for the upcoming season?

I think I have watched all the races I could. The idea is to observe what others do, learn from their mistakes and difficulties. As for Porsche as a team, a lot of effort has gone into developing our powertrain and the spare parts for our cars. It is quite a big workload for the team to get everything under the hat. But once the season is rolling, it should settle into a routine. The start is most crucial and then we will build from there. Formula E hosted a pre-season test mid-October, what were your and Porsche’s key takeaways from the test? The pre-season test was eventful, both of us crashed. We found a lot of question marks, ones we didn’t find before. But we learned with every lap and in every area of our operations. We are more aware of our strengths and know where our weaknesses lie. We prepared well and frankly, the competition (reference) helped.

Formula E prides itself on its format — the city racing and one-day race format. As a driver, do you get much time in the car before the race? Given Porsche and your limited experience in the series, how would you cater this in your preparations?

Actually, there’s very little driving time. It is a one-day event, so you have to arrive ready. If you try to prepare during the day of the race, it (the race) is already over. The simulator is important to learn the track and help with certain preparations before one gets into the racing car. This is where prior experience helps and this is also why Formula E is difficult. This is also why experienced drivers are wanted on the (Formula E) market. At Porsche, we are lucky to have Andre!

Andre Lotterer will be competing in his third season in Formula E. How valuable would his experience be for you and Porsche?

Andre’s experience will help us understand how a race week actually plays out, what’s the best plan for FP1, FP2, qualifying and even the race preparations. His experience will also come handy in understanding how to handle tyres. In Formula E, we don’t use classic racing slicks. In fact, we have a tyre that is better when it is used and not new. Andre’s experience will also help us understand how temperature affects performance and so on. Honestly, whatever we’ve done before in other series, like in the Le Mans, it doesn’t count here. I expect Formula E to be very different.

2019-20 FIA Formula E – Key Talking Points For The Season

Formula E uses road-focussed tyres. How different are they from what you have used before in your career?

The Formula E tyre is an all-weather tyre — we race it in the wet and the dry. It isn’t too hard, else it won’t work well in the wet. Also, we race on low-grip street circuits, so the tyre needs to warm up quite well. The Formula E tyre has its own specific characteristics.

What are your goals for this season?

We want to be competitive, but what does being competitive mean? We want to be there, be in the fight for the points, maybe the podium, if it comes. We want to showcase our speed, but at the same time, Formula E is so unpredictable. This isn’t like a classic Motorsport series where a good car means that you are always there and can get a good result. Take Mitch Evans, for example. In one of the races last season, he won a race only to be 20th in the next. We have to see how things come to us. We have a lot to learn. We will keep our fingers crossed for our package and discuss goals in the mid-season.

Are Formula E drivers under pressure to live a sustainable life outside of the cars too?

Just because we’re racing in Formula E doesn’t mean anything, especially in terms of sustainability. In the end, it is to each his own. One has to be aware, like sorting your waste, for example. Actually, that’s how I grew up, that’s how I spent my Sundays, sorting out different types of waste. For me, it was normal and logical. I am glad that there’s more awareness about living a sustainable life.

Finally, If you had to choose one car for the rest of your life, would it be fossil-fueled or electric?

Honestly, the engine isn’t the first on my list of considerations before deciding on a car. I would think of its usage and practicality. At the moment, maybe I would choose a hybrid over all else.

This interview was first published on Firstpost.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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