Season of a Rookie: London

Norman Nato reflects on a frustrating weekend at the ExCeL in London… 

The world of Formula E moves fast, and only four months on from his debut race in Diriyah, the end is in sight for Norman Nato as his rookie season edges ever-closer to its conclusion.

Marking the penultimate round of Season 7, the London E-Prix was highly anticipated as the paddock returned to the UK capital for the first time since 2016.

By swapping Battersea Park for new sights and sounds at the ExCeL, Norman was on equal footing with the rest of the field for only the second time this season as everyone started from scratch at Formula E’s newest circuit.

Running both indoors and outdoors, and featuring more corners than any other circuit in the history of the series, the ExCeL posed a new challenge but nevertheless, an enjoyable one as Norman explains:

“As a circuit that was new for everyone, I think the ExCeL created quite a level playing field which was good for me as a rookie because I wasn’t playing catch up.

“The track was very different and it’s one of the most unique circuits I’ve ever raced on. It was really cool driving indoors and outdoors but it was very technical and quite tricky overall.

“The different surfaces on the track meant that the levels of grip changed quite a bit, and combining that with the evolution and then the rain, I was constantly having to adapt my driving style to match each change.”

After completing a stringent opening practice programme in the dry on Friday afternoon, rain set the stage on Saturday morning and adaptability amid an evolving environment was crucial.

In qualifying, Norman took advantage of the ever-changing conditions to progress to the Super Pole shootout for the third time this season, starting the first race of the weekend from P6.

“The rain on Saturday morning made the track very tricky to drive on, especially with the wet to dry transitions when we went from the outside to the inside,” continued the Frenchman.

“In qualifying, I tried to find the limit and I think we were quite lucky being in Group 4 because the track conditions were so much better at the end of qualifying compared to the start.

“Starting from P6, we had a good opportunity to score points but to be honest, I think we made a mistake in terms of the car balance and set-up and I don’t think we went in the right direction.

“It was difficult to pass, and at one point I tried to make a late overtake on Sette Camara in Turn 16 and although there was no contact, I was given a penalty which I was very surprised about.

“At that point, we were still inside the top 10 and then we ran out of energy because we made a mistake in the procedure and had a miscommunication. We clearly didn’t have the pace to compete for a place inside the top five, but missing out on a big opportunity to score well was a shame.”

After the disappointment of Race 1, Norman hit the reset button on Saturday evening and approached Sunday with full focus on the task at hand.

Although a difficult qualifying session put the 29-year-old on the back foot for the race, Norman showcased a promising fightback to the top 10 that would, unfortunately, come to an end through no fault of his own.

“Race 2 was much better than Race 1 but from my side, it was very frustrating. We didn’t qualify where we wanted to but starting from P13, I had a good initial getaway but I was squeezed quite a lot in Turn 1,” explained Norman.

“Obviously, three cars going into one corner was never going to work and we had some contact and I lost some positions. 

“After that though, it was going well – we did a good strategy with Attack Mode, I made up some positions, and after being P16 at the start of the race, I was fighting for P8.

“With only a few laps to go, I was defending from Sam [Bird] and he tried to overtake me into Turn 10 but the space wasn’t there, we made contact, and we both finished our races in the wall.

“He has his point of view on the accident, and I have mine, but personally, I think it was a racing incident. He has a grid penalty for the next race though.

“This late in the season, we’re all trying to score as many points as possible and we’re all fighting for position. I understand that he’s fighting for a championship, but it’s my job to defend because I’m trying to score points.”

With only one race weekend now remaining this season, Norman’s attention will now shift to Berlin where our rookie has one simple goal – ending the year on a high.

“With two retirements, London was difficult and I’m disappointed because we missed out on the points in both races.

“I’m glad to get the weekend behind me and my full attention is now on performing well in Berlin and I’m going to be pushing as hard as ever so we can end the season on a high.

“Again, Berlin is a new track for me but I’ve driven quite a few laps of the circuit in the simulator already so I know it quite well.

“Because we’re running in two different directions on Saturday and Sunday, we’re essentially running on two different tracks which will make it quite a challenging weekend because we need to be very adaptive.

“I think this could play into our advantage though and there are definitely opportunities to score well which is incredibly important with it being the final race weekend of my first season.”