In two weeks time, Jake Dennis will be navigating the London street circuit, a home race where he topped the podium last year but had to face a more immediate challenge beforehand Formula E.
It’s New York City and the Dockside route for the all-electric car FIA Championship, a double-header with key points on the line in the title fight and a chance to say goodbye to an iconic backdrop in style.
Dennis is still a relative newcomer to the FE scene, but in broader racing terms he has almost completed the set: two Formula 3 seasons included third overall in 2015, while he has also tried the World Endurance Championship and Le Mans and is a Formula 1 development driver for red bull.
For now, however, the focus is on the subtleties and specialized approach required in FE, where there is still work to do to try and secure at least a second top 10 finish in the 22 riders’ championship.
Last season, New York was not a friendly venue for Dennis. A DNF in the first race and a zero-scoring 16th in the second was largely an aberration in a great debut campaign, meaning he and his Andretti team are naturally looking for improvement.
But as he says The Independentit’s not always just about the pace of the car in Formula E, it’s about controlling and timing the power distribution and regeneration as effectively as possible, which leads to points.
“The biggest thing is that it’s a battery-powered car. In qualifying you don’t have to charge the car, you have to drive as fast as possible, but in the race it’s a completely different philosophy,” he explains.
“You have to change your mindset and listen to what the car is telling you.
“There’s a series of different beeps and tones in your ear that tell you when to regenerate energy, when to lift the steering wheel…generally, the person who can do that best wins the race.
“It’s a completely different drive in Formula E [to F1], the different techniques from qualifying to the race. That’s one of the most unique and enjoyable things about it.”
Dedicated, thoughtful and clearly invested in the team, Dennis explains how the software contributes as much to race day success as the bodywork of the car, removing the steering mechanism to reveal the rear panels as we make our way through the team garage.
There, at the back, are the controls that affect how efficiently the car can refuel and lead a Formula E driver to success.
As you’d expect at the elite end of any competition, it’s a tough crowd to sustain consistently, but changes to the pre-race process have made it a more comfortable and rewarding feel for those who triumph.
“The level in Formula E is so high that you don’t get any points at all if you don’t give 100% top performance, the team and I. You absolutely have to be able to finish in the top 10 in this championship.
“This year FE has taken a big step forward with the new qualification format. I was on either side of it, but even when I was at the back it was like, ‘You know what? That’s just the pace of what I had and I didn’t deserve to be at the front.
“Wherever you finish in the race this year, you probably deserve to finish there.
“Last year you could have been one of the slower guys but if you were in group four and you started up front you would be around eighth.
“Last year it was a bit wrong, a bit artificial, when 16 drivers were able to win the championship after Berlin [for the final race]. This year is really good what Formula E has done. The fight for the title this year, even if I’m not there, is really exciting.”
Dennis is one of six Britons to compete this season – and the top placed heading for the New York double-header – and they will next be destined for the ExCel in East London.
Along with the obvious benefits of not having to travel – and “sleeping in my own bed!” – Dennis has the added incentive of trying to repeat his own performance after last year’s triumph.
“London is my home race, whether we’re fast or not it’s always going to be something special for me,” he said. “It’s a nice track for me, the car is performing well. London is quite difficult to overtake, so we’re hoping to qualify at the top.
“But New York is also a highlight of the season for us as an American team, that’s what I enjoyed the most.
“Formula E wants to race in America, but it’s about finding the space to do it. This year we actually got to see it after being in the bubble last year!”
After London there is only one more race weekend of the season, with another double header in Seoul.
Dennis and Andretti are hoping for a strong conclusion to the campaign, but soon attention will also turn to what comes after: Gen3 vehicles are coming next year and while only a handful of riders have enjoyed a test drive with it so far, more will be doing so shortly.
Driving an F1 simulator has clearly made an impression on Dennis, who has signed an extension with Red Bull to continue doing so, but his “main focus” will not change: he is certain that his own future will be in this particular one discipline lies. The future of Formula E, on the other hand, seems to continue to grow.