Sacha Fenestraz & Formula E race engineer Johann Aime on their 1st season together: "The driver's feeling is more valuable than all the data"
Although they are often not in the foreground of TV broadcasts and media publicity, both the team at the track and in the factory are just as crucial to success in the race as the driver. The race engineers are an important part of this. They are the first point of contact for the drivers when it comes to setting up the car, determining the strategy or optimizing the driving style and are thus decisive for success. The key to success is communication.
It creates a basis of trust on and off the track, which is one of the cornerstones of success in motorsport. "The most important things are communication and honesty," says Johann Aime, Sacha Fenestraz's race engineer at Nissan, via press release. "Because if you are not honest, communication is pointless. We need to talk about the good and bad things, listen to each other and really take in what the other is saying in order to improve together." At the same time, it is crucial that everything is designed to make the driver as comfortable as possible with the car. Because Aime knows, "The driver's feeling is more valuable than all the data we have."
The two have been working hard on this basis over the course of the ninth Formula E season, as both joined the team in December 2022. Their first session together was accordingly at the pre-season tests in Valencia. "I didn't know it was going to be Johann beforehand," Fenestraz recalls. "The test went really well, but he wasn't really looking at his laptop, which confused me a bit."
Later the Franco-Argentine learned that his new engineer's laptop was not working properly and that Aime himself had little access to the data. "I've only been with the team for a week myself, but I've tried everything else to support Sacha as best I can. It was a good week and we learned to work together and built a very strong bond from the beginning."
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"I screamed so loud on the radio that Johann had to go to the doctor"
Together they have grown this season and found their feet in the electric series. This includes highlights like a pole position in Cape Town and a near pole position in Monaco, but also challenging days like the race in South Africa when Fenestraz lost the podium on the last lap or was taken out of the race in Hyderabad. "The best story about that is that I shouted so loud on the radio there that Johann had to go to the doctor afterwards because his ears were not okay." The latter diagnosed water in Aime's ear due to this radio outburst.
But above all, they can look back on the progress they have made together. As recently as Mexico, chaos had broken out both in the car and in the pits: "When you have a rookie driver and a rookie engineer, it's always a challenge. Everyone told me that Sacha had to use less energy. When I told him that, he asked how to do it. It was very difficult because we were both still learning. They always say that you need about half a season to understand each other well."
To improve the communication processes, they both listened to the recordings of the team radio again and again and analyzed the situations. This was the only way they could have learned to speak properly to each other in a complex environment like Formula E, which they both had to get used to. "We weren't perfect, but we learned quickly. From Hyderabad onwards, it worked well for us," said Aime.
Target for season 10: "a win"
They want to continue building on that in season 2023-24. "We have a lot of work to do in the off-season," says Fenestraz. "We had a lot of double headers, so we have a lot of data to analyse. Energy management, for example, is something we'll look at together." He also says the focus is on consistency. Last season, he said, they were able to benefit greatly from Fenestraz's pace over a lap at the beginning, but did not develop as they had hoped, especially after the weekend in Cape Town with ups and downs.
"We know Sacha can deliver very good qualifying results and pole positions," reflected the engineer. "With more experience in the races we will find our flow and good results will come. The goal for season 10 is to win." An important foundation for this can be laid at the pre-season tests at the end of October.