Perhaps more than any other global motorsport series, the ABB Formula E Championship gives off the vibe of being very much a close-knit family affair. Maybe it’s because the new and exciting electric racing series is only in its sixth season of racing and is so open and affordable for fans, or that it just comes across as not so insular or aloof than its famous big brother.
Someone who knows a little more than most about exactly why Formula E offers such a friendly environment for fans and employees alike is ROKiT Venturi Formula E Team Manager, Delphine Biscaye. She should know, because she also worked in Formula One for the famous Williams team before moving onto the world of electric racing, where she has remained for over ten years.
During her studies in mechanical engineering at the Institut Français de Mécanique Avancée, Delphine accepted a six month placement at the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. An internship at Williams F1 paved the way for a career in motorsport although, interestingly, Delphine admits it was not an initial career goal.
“Funnily enough, it was not my goal when I was young, because I really did not know much about motorsport as none of my friends or family were into it. But when I started in mechanical engineering, that was my focus from there. In France, you have two years of preparation classes before going into any engineering school and at the end of those two years, you have a lot of competitive exams! That’s when you have to decide which school you’re going to apply to and what will be the course you want to study. That’s when I decided to do mechanical engineering, and I did all of my placements and projects on the motorsport side.”
Delphine’s first role at Williams was as Research and Development Engineer, working in the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) department for a year and a half before six months in the Suspension, Steering and Braking (SSB) Department as Detail Design Engineer.
“When I was at Williams, because it is such a big organisation with so many different departments, I was just involved in one thing, which was with the suspension, steering and braking department,” explains Delphine. “It was very specific. In Formula E, because it is such a small team, although you have your specific roles, you all work together and you get to work on other topics and with other people from other departments, which is very interesting.”
One gets the feeling, talking to Delphine, is that although she very much enjoyed her time at Williams and learned a great deal, the switch to a smaller, more intimate environment that a Formula E team not only allowed her to add more strings to her bow but also suited her personality better.
“The main difference moving from a team like Williams to a team like Venturi, certainly on the racing side a few years ago, is that it’s new technology, very different, a new discipline. It’s also a very different atmosphere in Formula E, a different connection between the people. It’s very friendly, like a family, and young as well. There are a lot of young engineers and very open to new technology on the racing side. It’s a bit of a voyage of discovery on the software side and the hardware side, everyone trying to be imaginative. When I was at Williams, I was working on the KERS in 2008 and I can see a lot of similarities with this research and development side of Formula One and Formula E.”
It’s not only away from the track that things are considerably different between F1 and FE in terms of the working and operational environment.
“The timing is different,” explains Delphine. “We have everything on one day, you have less time during the sessions, so you need to be very reactive and if you go too much into every detail, then the day is over. So you can see on the engineering side and with the software and the set-up of the car that you need to be very prepared in advance, because you have very little time to work on the actual day of the event. All the important preparation needs to be done in advance, so that is something very different.
“From a personal point of view, the biggest difference is that the team is very small. When I was at Williams, I was one engineer out of around 60 or 70 engineers and then the production was just huge. At Venturi, we are about 30 people, so whatever you want to discuss, you discuss all the topics and the details pretty much with everybody.
“As an engineer, especially, it gives me a much greater variety, as I am involved in many other aspects of the team. When I was at Williams, because it is such a big organisation with so many different departments, I was just involved in one thing, which was with the suspension, steering and braking department, or KERS. It was very specific. In Formula E, because it is such a small team, although you have your specific roles, you all work together and you get to work on other topics and with other people from other departments, which is very interesting.”
Another, perhaps unique aspect of working for the Venturi Formula E team, aside from the fact that it’s the only motorsport team in the world based in Monaco, is the fact that it’s almost a 50/50 split in terms of gender equality, with team principal Susie Wolff proving an inspirational leader.
“It’s very nice to work with another woman. Sometimes women have different perspectives on things. We are sometimes more organised and focused on detail. Susie is very, very focused on detail and has a very clear view on any topic and will often pick up on the little things you perhaps haven’t seen. It’s very interesting to work with her because she always picks up on the most important things very, very quickly and always striving to make the team progress.
“She’s a mother as well, so she has that same kind of obligation to her team and the people. She’s also a good asset because of her technical and driving background and she’s very protective, in a way, of her team.”
As for what the future holds during a season that has been curtailed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic remains unclear. Yet the goal remains the same for Delphine and the rest of the Venturi Formula E Team, and that is to win.
“Ask any person or any team what their goals and aspirations are, they will probably all tell you the same thing, that they want to win. We actually had a pretty good start, and the car seems to be one of the best in the field and the drivers, certainly as well. The team has worked very hard between Season 5 and Season 6, so for sure we are aiming to compete with the top teams and the big manufacturers, so that’s still our goal.
“We now have a power train from Mercedes, so we are not a manufacturer anymore. We have more time now to work on the operational side, because as a manufacturer, you need more time to work on the battery and power train, but now we can use this time to focus on our software and strategy and set-up. We really want to compete with Mercedes first, for sure, and then with all the other teams and we want to be in the top four. I wouldn’t say there is a rivalry there, as such. Yes, we’re two different teams and we want to beat one another, but it’s a good working relationship and it’s working well because everybody knows that it’s in our interests to have a good communication and to know how to work together.
“It will be tough, because the first two races were very difficult for us in Riyadh and we made some mistakes and we worked very hard after Riyadh to not make those mistakes again and to progress, and I think we managed to do it and prove we are competitive for this season. It’s just a shame it has stopped, because we were going in the right direction in Santiago, Mexico and Marrakesh. Now we just try and get ready for the restart and be even more competitive when we go back.”