The man to beat – Antonio Felix da Costa braced for tough Formula E title defence

It is a little over six months since Antonio Felix da Costa was crowned Formula E champion at the Berlin Tempelhof Airport Circuit.

That there was a season at all for the world’s premier electric racing series was thanks to organisers hosting six races in nine days with three different track configurations, albeit sadly behind closed doors.

At the end of that whirlwind finale, one man handled the situation and rose to the challenge better than anyone else. Having already secured two second places in Chile and Mexico and a victory in Marrakesh, da Costa nailed back-to-back wins in the Berlin opener before a fourth and second place finish proved more than sufficient to see him home. And all that in his first season driving for a new team in DS TECHEETAH.

Now, as the first season of the FIA ABB Formula E World Championship dawns, da Costa is the man to beat. Motorsport Technology caught up with the champion to pick his brains on the forthcoming season.

MT: You come into this season as defending champion and the one everyone is out to get. Does that put more pressure on you or less pressure because you have already done it?

AFDC: “I would actually say more pressure. My family, my friends, my niece… Now everybody thinks I’m going to win every race again! I’m just trying to manage that expectation again for everyone in a super tough and competitive championship. I’m pretty sure we’re going to get out butts kicked every now and then, but we are here to fight back from those moments and try and fight back whenever we can. I’m sure we are going to have some great days as well. So getting focused, trying to do a job well done like last year, I’m pretty sure we’ll be ok.”

MT: It was a curtailed 2020 for obvious reasons. How much are you looking forward to a full season and hopefully some fans back at the circuit?

AFDC: “This would be the best thing, actually. This is what we all need at this point. We like to go racing but to be honest, without the fans, without people here it’s… I don’t want to say meaningless, but it’s weird. Sport exists for the fans. Without fans, every category or sporting activity does not fit, does not happen properly. So it’s weird when you win a race there is nobody there to celebrate. When you score a goal in football there are fans to make the stadium super loud, so it just doesn’t work. I’m happy to still go racing, obviously, and if this is what it takes to go racing and we’re still able to give the people at home in lockdown watching some cool stuff on TV, that is good. But hopefully it is almost done now, and we can go back to having the fans on track.”

Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT), DS Techeetah, celebrates on the podium

MT: Diriyah will be the first night race in Formula E. How have you prepared for this and how much are you looking forward to it?

AFDC: “I think it’s going to feel a little bit like a video game, because obviously the track is really well lit but it’s only the track. Everything else on the outside is going to be dark. So that’s going to be a very cool thing to experience, for sure, because normally with endurance racing, Le Mans and similar, everything is dark. But this is going to be different. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s a great story, the cars will look amazing at night, so I’m really keen to get started. Everyone arrives here well prepared but, in the end, you put the helmet on, drive out on track and there’s always new things to adjust to. The grip of the track may be more or less than last year, some walls have moved, so you’ve just got to keep your eyes open, try and stay sharp and adapt to those things as quickly as possible.”

MT: DS TECHEETAH are also the ones to beat, having now won three drivers’ titles and back-to-back team titles. There must be a lot of confidence flowing around.

AFDC: “We are. And it’s impressive how these guys have won the last two years now. If you count Techeetah, the last three years and they just come back even more hungry because it has to be that way. It’s very easy to fall behind. It’s super hard to win but even harder to stay there, so a lot of credit to these guys for that, and we have kept that mentality and hard work and hopefully we can still be one of the teams to beat. We are expecting a tough time here in the first race starting the season with last year’s car, but I still think it’s a strong and competitive package and expecting a step forward once the new car comes on board. I just don’t know how much the others have improved.”

MT: Your teammate said that last season didn’t meet his expectations and that he would come back stronger this season in a bid to win his title back. How good is it to have such an experienced former champ pushing you on?

AFDC: “Absolutely. I think it’s only good for everyone. It’s strong for the team to have two drivers really pushing each other. Eventually we just keep on improving everything. Of course, it has its downsides when we both want the same thing it’s not possible physically. But I think we’ve managed every situation pretty well. Even the ones we failed to manage well, we reacted to them well afterwards. So I think we are all more mature and we all know better what to expect.”

Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20, 1st position with Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20, 3rd position

MT: Aside from JEV, who do you see as your major challengers in terms of teams and drivers?

AFDC: “I have been asked this question a lot, but it’s so hard to answer because you have the two of us, you have NISSAN, you have Jaguar, you have the four big German teams. Each of those teams I just told you, not even counting Mahindra, but each of these teams has two amazing drivers. So there are 14 guys who can easily win a race. So it’s impossible to tell. I think it’s going to be constantly changing and that’s why I need to know my opponents really well, know who I’m racing and how they race because every day I might need to change my approach to whoever it is.”

MT: Have you had much time to enjoy being the champion? It seems to have come around pretty quickly again!

AFDC: “That joy you feel of being champion, it goes away pretty quick! It’s such a high, but also goes away pretty quick. But that’s what makes me hungry to come back and do it all over again.”

Antonio Félix da Costa (PRT), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20, wins the Formula E Championship

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.