The Season of a Rookie: Rome

Norman Nato recaps a promising weekend in Rome… 

After ticking off his all-important debut in Diriyah, Norman Nato approached the Rome E-Prix with a clear strategy in mind as to how he was going to tackle the next event of Season 7.

Competing in the heart of the Italian capital’s EUR district, a refined and direct approach to racing was in store as the French rookie continued to improve his understanding of Formula E.

For Norman, it was important to hit the ground running and by applying his knowledge from Diriyah from the outset, a weekend of promise was in store.

When practice finally commenced on Saturday morning, Norman attacked the track to find the limit early on to set up a narrative that would showcase his true potential behind the wheel.

“The Diriyah race weekend, for me, was about discovering Formula E and learning as much as possible and in Rome, I applied my knowledge from Diriyah so I could take a step forward,” explained the 27-year-old.

“As a rookie, there are many areas in which I can improve, but when developing as a driver, it’s incredibly important to be grounded and realistic.

“It’s important to be mindful that I cannot improve everything straight away from one race weekend to the next – it’s a process that takes time and can’t be resolved overnight.

“I like to spend a lot of time with my engineers looking at data, but sometimes, it isn’t good to spend too much time trying to find small performance gains.

“At some points, it can be easy to get lost in the small details and in a one-day format, you have to be straight to the point. I think the condensed format of Rome was a benefit to me, for sure. 

“By using Diriyah as a baseline, in Rome, I was able to take multiple steps forward quite quickly so from my point of view, I’m very happy with my process of development.

“From the outset, I pushed a bit harder and I was able to show my pace by being inside the top five in FP1, only three tenths off the fastest lap. I had the confidence to find the limit earlier and I think that helped.”

After showing encouraging pace in the opening session of the weekend, a shortened FP2 preceded the arrival of unpredictable weather as rain started to fall over Rome.

Facing adverse conditions, Norman was forced to contend with a new unknown in only his second Formula E race weekend, but with confidence behind the wheel, the Frenchman was unphased and completely focussed.

Taking this new challenge in his stride, Norman carried on, capitalising on the conditions to impress in qualifying for Race 2.

“Because there is a lot to think about, a normal race weekend is already quite stressful but unpredictable weather that changes every 10-minutes makes it even more stressful.

“In my case, I had only driven a Formula E car in damp conditions for a few laps in Valencia so it was a complete unknown for me. I didn’t know exactly what to expect.

“I’ve always felt comfortable in the wet though – my first-ever single-seater race was in the wet and I beat Stoffel [Vandoorne] to P1 – so Rome marked a good opportunity to score a strong result. 

“I told myself to do my best and I found the limit very quickly – the car felt great, I felt confident behind the wheel and it was really fun to drive out there.

“For sure, I think pole position should have been ours but taking P2 was still a great result and it was a good place to start the race from.”

From P2 on the grid, Norman quickly advanced to P1 to lead his first laps in Formula E and went on to fight for a place on the podium in only his fourth race start.

Despite taking P3 at the chequered flag, an energy overuse resulted in Norman’s disqualification, but even in a challenging Race 1, the potential was shown.

“Formula E can change like the tide and that means that a part of the championship is down to circumstance and sometimes, just pure luck.

“After Rome, a lot of the discussion for me was around Race 2 but even then, Race 1 – although it was frustrating – was still very promising for me as a rookie.

“We were fast on that first day and we had a lot of potential but it just didn’t come together through no fault of our own.

“My qualifying lap was hindered by debris on the circuit from one of the cars ahead and my race was destroyed by some track signage that got caught on the front of my car.

“If everything had come together, I’m sure that we could have fought at the front and this left me frustrated at the end of Race 1 because I felt like we had missed out on a big opportunity.

“Race 2, on the other hand, was completely different and the pace that I had at the start of qualifying gave me a lot of confidence for the race and also for the future.

“In the end, I think we deserved to score more points but we showed what we’re capable of over those two days and now people have realised just how much pace we have as a team. I think I showed that I made a big step forward compared to in Riyadh.”

Setting aside what was an encouraging second weekend in Formula E, Norman expressed the need to remain grounded and focussed as he looks ahead to the next race in Valencia.

“In Rome, we established a very good baseline but there are still some areas where I know I can improve and as a rookie, it’s important for me to stay calm and focussed,” he added.

“After my performance in Race 2, a lot of people seem to think that my season has really started because I fought for pole and the win but it’s vital to manage expectations.

“In this championship, all of the drivers are quick and all of the teams are strong – performance can change from one weened to the next very easily.

“In Valencia, there’s every chance that we might not have the performance we showed in Rome, or that could be the same for some of the other teams. That’s Formula E.

“As a rookie, I’m still learning and there are times where I will make mistakes. There will be good days and there will be bad days – that’s something I have to accept.

“The most important thing is to continue learning from our successes and our failures so we can emerge stronger from every race weekend, regardless of the result.

“After the disqualification, I can’t wait to be in Valencia because I really want to push but I’m being very careful as well.

“I need to accept that maybe we won’t fight for the top positions in the next race, but if we can, I will seize the opportunity and show what I’m capable of.

“If we did it once, which we did, I know that we will be able to keep doing it this season.”