At 21, Maximilian Günther is the youngest driver in the ABB Formula E Championship and, thanks to his dual nationality, also Austria’s first driver in this, the major motorsport series of the future. During a visit to the voestalpine Stahlwelt in Linz, he talked about his life as a Formula E driver, and the particular attractions of this literally electrifying series in which there are more carmakers involved than elsewhere, and yet where small private teams still have a fair chance.
You drive for the private American team, Geox Dragon Racing, one of the smallest teams in Formula E. Even so, you managed to place your car in the fourth row on the starting grid at the race in Santiago de Chile. That not only indicates your qualities, it also shows that–in contrast to Formula One–when you work well in this series, it’s possible to be a top contender even with a smaller budget. That sounds like a lot of fun.
MAXIMILIAN GÜNTHER: “Yes, it’s great. It’s super that although there are so many automotive manufacturers involved, they don’t yet dominate the series, compared to Formula One where it’s always the same two or three teams in the lead. In Formula E the mix is better. And of course, for us as a team, it’s great always being able to battle for points.”
What were the other reasons for deciding to compete in this championship at such a young age?
“It’s got such a great future! Almost all the major automotive manufacturers are here. There are already nine at the moment, and when Porsche joins next year it’ll be ten. That has never been the case in Formula One. Here it’s all about new technologies, and even in motorsport, electric drives are the future. That’s why it’s also a privilege for me as a young driver to take part in this series. And in terms of profile, it’s already on a level with Formula One. The series has only been going for five years, and you can assume that it will continue to grow.”
What creates the excitement?
It’s the series with the greatest potential. The car we’re presenting here is very challenging to drive. Anyone who’s already driven an electric vehicle on the roads knows that an electric motor has incredible acceleration. The power is immediately on tap, and we’re already going from 0 to 100 in less than three seconds. In these terms, we’re on a level with Formula One. The energy management aspect is also very exciting. We drivers not only have to be extremely fast, but also intelligent in how we apply the power appropriately. There’s a lever on the steering wheel for the energy recovery system which you use to allocate the power. The aim is not just to drive fast, but also efficiently. It’s really cool managing that during all the overtaking maneuvers. That’s what I really enjoy.”
How you do stand after the first three races of this season?
“We had a difficult start to the season in Riyadh. Because of a problem in qualifying, we had to start right at the back. So while the first race was more about gathering data, now we can go after the points. Marrakesh was a super catch up race, and I came right from the back to end up in 11th place. This weekend in Chile was a good one for us. I was placed 7th in qualifying, and in the race. It was looking very good, but then unfortunately I had a technical defect. But it’s very clear that both the speed and potential are there. We may be a small team, but we do everything possible to put in a great performance. We hope there’ll be many more times this year when we manage to be up at the front with the leaders.”
One challenge is the extremely packed program. In Formula 3 you had something like three days, three races, and long drive times. Now it’s all short and intense. How do you adapt to this? I imagine it’s even more difficult on a city circuit because it’s easy to crash into something when the walls are so close.
We have very little training time, even on a city circuit which is completely new for everyone. So you try to apply your talent as best you can in the short time available, because you don’t have much time to think about things, or to plan ahead. You just have to get there, and get up to speed mentally as quickly as possible once you’re in the car. And then, of course, to work with the team on that day, and use the data to enhance the car and get faster. In principle, it’s all about getting to a good level immediately after starting. It’s great fun, and something that you’d otherwise only experience when driving in the rain on other circuits, when it all becomes a little more unpredictable. And that’s what it’s like for us all the time in Formula E, because you simply can’t predict what’ll happen. The city circuits are extremely narrow, often dirty, and therefore slippery. That’s extremely challenging.
Another special factor is fan involvement in the race itself.
Yes, with the fanboost and the new attack mode you can tap into a few extra PS. That’s why the placings are permanently shifting in our races, compared to Formula One when the placings are already clear after only a few laps, and the race can only be influenced by the strategy. Whereas we’re busy overtaking from the first to the last lap. That’s pure excitement, and totally unpredictable. It’s what the fans want to see as well as what makes it such fun for us drivers.
During the five races in Europe–in Rome, Paris, Monaco, Berlin, and Bern–there is another exciting element: they constitute the voestalpine European Races, effectively a championship within a championship. A sort of Grand Slam…
Adding a championship to a championship makes it even more exciting, and it’s a great incentive for all of us. Plus these wonderful cities lend the European races a flair of their own. Lots of fans will come and watch. It’s also great having something like a tennis Grand Slam in Formula E, with the voestalpine trophy going to the winner of these five races. Naturally, that’s a huge incentive for us all.
Especially as you’re Austrian, as well as German.
“Very much Austrian. My mother comes from the Kleinwalsertal, and Austria was always my home, which is why I have Austrian citizenship. I also spend lots of my time in Vorarlberg where my grandmother lives. I visit her when I have a little free time between races. Austria always gives me a sense of pure well-being. And I’m a fan of Wiener Schnitzel, too!