A season finale marks a driver’s final opportunity to settle old scores, and after missing out on two podiums earlier in the year, Norman Nato had a date with destiny in Berlin.
Heading into the final race weekend of the season, the Frenchman’s objective was clear – cast off the bad luck, don’t hold back and end the season on a high.
The weekend in Berlin was different to every other, however, and for the first time in history, the Formula E field raced on two different circuit configurations in one double-header event.
Such a development demanded versatility and on Friday evening in FP1, Norman hit the ground running to ensure that he was well and truly in the mix come race day.
With a fourth Super Pole appearance in Race 1, Norman fought hard from fifth on the grid with his eyes oset n the top three, only to miss out on the podium by a mere 0.090-second margin.
A fourth-placed result marked his best result of the season at that point, but Norman was far from satisfied, with the result feeling like yet another missed opportunity.
“The weekend started with a good result for both myself and the team on Saturday, but overall, I was quite frustrated at the end of Race 1,” he explained.
“For sure, getting into Super Pole, fighting for a place on the podium and finishing in P4 was a great result but I felt that we could have achieved a lot more.
“During the race, we made some mistakes on the strategy and I think that cost us a place on the podium. It was quite a difficult feeling to accept and to swallow on Saturday night.
“Earlier in the year, I lost two podiums in Rome and Valencia, and Saturday in Berlin felt like yet another missed opportunity.
“Heading into Sunday, I was maybe a little bit scared that Saturday would be my final chance to get a result like that, especially with the track changing completely for the finale.”
Facing another circuit change – and with only one hour of track time before qualifying – Norman adapted quickly, and very early on, his pace was apparent with another Super Pole appearance.
“The configuration on Sunday was a completely new layout to learn and because FP1 and FP2 were shorter, I had very little track time so I had to adapt very, very quickly,” he continued.
“My pace in FP1 was quite competitive and in FP2 I was P3 so arriving into qualifying, I knew that we had a really good car and that there might be another opportunity in the race.
“I was the fastest driver in my group but unfortunately, I couldn’t do a lap in Super Pole because of an electrical issue so I was a little bit frustrated again.
“It felt like bad luck was chasing me, but looking back, I think I was quite fortunate because had the problem not shown itself in qualifying, it could have impacted me in the race.”
Leaving the past behind when the starting lights flashed out, Norman was 45-minutes + 1 lap away from greatness, sitting on the verge of one of the finest races of his career to date.
“From P6, I made quite a good start and by Turn 1 I was in P4,” recounted Norman. “At the end of the Full Course Yellow though, I lost around one second on the guys ahead of me just because they were on the straight and I was still in the hairpin at the restart.
“I was able to catch up quite quickly though and I overtook Sims, Rowland and Stoffel [Vandoorne] to take the lead and opened a gap of around four seconds.
“When the Safety Car was deployed, I had to start from zero but again at the restart, I was able to continue building a gap.
“In the final few laps, I was asking my engineer if he was sure about the energy because I couldn’t trust my pace. It was just too much – too dominant.
“On that day, we put everything together and we managed everything perfectly. For me, it’s a conclusion of everything that I’ve learned during the season in terms of driving, energy management, and also for the engineers with the car set-up.
“It was incredible, and honestly, I still can’t believe that we won, especially in such a dominant way. It wasn’t far from a perfect weekend.”
Instead of being overcome by emotion, Norman felt one thing as he took the chequered flag – sheer disbelief that finally, in his rookie season, everything had fallen into place.
“The win didn’t feel real until I started travelling to Le Mans. My engineer, Jeremy, called me to say that the car passed the final technical checks and the win was actually ours.
“Initially, when I crossed the finish line, I was not fully enjoying it, just because of how unlucky I’ve been with podiums this year.
“On the in-lap, everyone was celebrating on the team radio and I was crying in the car, just simply because I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe what we had achieved.
“I waited to celebrate until I stopped the car and until I got onto the podium because I didn’t want to be in the same situation as Rome and Valencia.
“I was a bit scared because I didn’t want to lose another podium – I didn’t want to have another feeling of doing a good job and then having the reward taken away from me.”
By standing on the top step of the podium in Berlin, Norman became ROKiT Venturi Racing’s first-ever rookie race winner and also the team’s most successful rookie driver of all time.
This popular win was received by an outpouring of support and celebration, and Norman’s final haul of 25 points this season was directly responsible for our seventh-placed result in the Teams’ Championship.
“Since the win, the number of messages I’ve received is crazy,” said Norman, reflecting on his achievement. “It’s just something that I didn’t expect.
“On the last weekend of the season, people realised what I’m able to do and I think some people were quite surprised, maybe even shocked after I won on Sunday. But I wasn’t – I knew that we could achieve this result and I believed it.
“Entering this season, I had only driven the car four times in testing, so compared to drivers who have been working with their team for multiple seasons, I was at a disadvantage.
“On my second weekend in Rome, I showed that I could fight for pole and the podium, and in Valencia, I showed that that was not pure luck and I was up at the front again – it was all on merit.
“If you told us at the start of the season that as a team we would have five podiums, two wins and P7 in the championship, beating manufacturers like Porsche and Nissan, we would have signed up for it. It’s been an incredible year for the team.”
Reflecting on his debut Formula E campaign, Norman explained that he wouldn’t change anything if given the chance, recounting his season as a rookie.
“Looking back on my season, I did my very best,” he said. “I enjoyed every second of it, ended it on a high and I don’t have one single regret. I wouldn’t change a thing.”