Imagine racing in one of motorsport’s best championships, competing for a top manufacturer and heading for your second drivers’ title. Sounds like the dream, right? For Gary Paffett, 2018 should have been a simple: focus on winning the DTM Championship title with Mercedes.
DTM was a series Paffett had raced in for the past fifteen years with great success but that was all to come to an end when Mercedes announced they would be quitting DTM at the end of the 2018 season, in favour of the all-electric Formula E Championship.
“Shock. Utter shock,” was how Paffett described to katyfairman.com when explaining his initial reaction to the news that Mercedes were leaving DTM. “It was something that shocked all of us, it really did. Nobody expected it to happen. There are always rumours here or there about one manufacturer pulling out of this or that, but Mercedes have been the ones that have been [in DTM] through everything. They are the ones that held it together when it was struggling. They had been there for thirty years without a break. So, it was a big shock not only to the outside world but to us in the team because nobody saw it coming.”
Knowing his career in DTM was soon coming to an inevitable end, Paffett deciding he would rather follow Mercedes to another championship than join a rival manufacturer in DTM, he began to look for opportunities elsewhere. Despite it being a polar opposite to the German Touring Car Championship, Paffett looked at the possibility of racing in Formula E.
“I suppose it was around the middle of the 2018 season [when I got the call about Formula E]. My initial aim was to find something where I could stay with Mercedes. I wasn’t keen on jumping into a DTM seat with another manufacturer, after being with Mercedes for 15 years I have the loyalty there and they had been so loyal to me, so I wanted to try and keep that going.
“Obviously, not for season five but, Mercedes will be in Formula E for season six. I had a few chats with Ulrich Fritz [Head of Mercedes-AMG DTM efforts] quite early in the process when they said they would be running Formula E cars and we quite quickly decided that we would try and work it out. Then in the middle of the DTM season I suppose we initially shook hands and said “let’s go for it”.
“Once it was decided that we would go for it, we spoke to Venturi and I managed to get a couple of test days with them in the car over the summer of 2018, which was pretty busy with winning a DTM title and flying from a DTM race to a Formula E test and back again. It was a busy couple of months but it helped the transition because before I went to pre-season testing I already had a couple of days in the car.”
The transition from a beefy touring car back into an electric single seater wasn’t an easy task. Paffett had some testing experience of Formula E before making the plunge to a full-time race seat with HWA for season five. He took part in the Marrakesh Rookie Test in early 2018 piloting one of the Gen1 models however now finds himself racing the latest Generation 2 cars.
“It is a big change. Now I have finished DTM, this is now my series and what I will be focusing all my time on. We are focusing a lot more on how we can get the best out of the car and how to change my driving style to make it work. There is a lot to do and a lot to change in the way I drive the car and the way I approach things and it is difficult. It is very difficult. You speak to some of the guys here, they are in a different position, but when they race in Formula E full-time and then they go off and race something else, again the change is huge.
“The Gen2 is a much better car. It is a better example of top engineering, with the break-by-wire system making the whole breaking, especially for the first part of the races, a lot smoother. I have heard people say it made it too easy but I don’t agree with that. There is nothing about stopping these cars that is easy. The grip level we have and the downforce – they are a challenge whatever happens. But I think the step up on performance on the cars and the step up of usability and technology into the cars is the biggest step forwards.”
With Paffett pairing Stoffel Vandoorne at the HWA Formula E Team this year, both drivers are rookies in a fresh new team to the championship. Six races into the season, the team have seven constructors’ points with the team only targeting improvement as we approach the European rounds in the calendar.
Speaking at pre-season testing last year, Paffett said: “The way HWA started was excellent. Their attention to detail is outstanding so I think they have really gone at it the right way. But, although they are approaching it in a great way, they are also realistic in our expectations in the first few races.”
The next round of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship is in Rome next weekend, with the race being Saturday 13th April.