Formula E is witnessing its best-ever rookie season - The Race
Formula E

Formula E is witnessing its best-ever rookie season

Jul 1 2021
By Sam Smith

Rene Rast’s diverse motorsport career is helping him mount a sustained bid to become the first ever full-season rookie Formula E driver to challenge for a title.

In his maiden season in one of the sport’s most difficult disciplines, Rast sits fourth in the standings on the same points as reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa, with just six races remaining. That’s 12 away from the lead.

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The remarkable and often forgotten aspect of Rast’s first full season is that but for two mistakes that ruled him out of points-scoring positions, he could have had a comfortable cushion leading the standings right now.

But where the German’s errors have been severely punished, his drives throughout the other races have yielded either strong points scores or eye-catching fight backs from adversity yielding deserved minor scores but a busload of plaudits.

Rene Rast Audi Formula E

Yet, should we be surprised? For Rast’s career has been consistently spattered with greatness. Far from being a Jackson Pollock style scattergun application, his canvas of success is much more planned and structured. Rather, Kandinsky if you will.

There isn’t anyone in Formula E that has won more titles in their professional senior careers than Rene Rast.

Rene Rast DTM Audi

Since he won the 2005 ADAC Volkswagen Polo Cup he has taken 11 others including three DTM crowns. It’s an astonishing track record but one that would reach a new zenith if he took a Formula E championship this August.

Back in May 2016, when Rast made a brief cameo appearance for the Team Aguri outfit on the streets of Berlin, his appearance was greeted with little other than curiosity. He was then amid a GT3 campaign with Team WRT and also a World Endurance Championship programme in which he performed with remarkable pace and consistency with the then Jota-run G-Drive squad.

It was in this diversity of mount that he astounded many an engineer and other specialist observer, notably his current boss at the Audi team Allan McNish.

Rene Rast Aguri Formula E

“This current generation of car is very different to the Gen1 car, it’s much more connected, it’s more in-line, it’s a little bit easier to understand,” McNish tells The Race.

“I think the Gen 1 car allowed drivers that were there from the start to build up their experience bank and it was difficult for newcomers to come in.

“The Gen2 car I think is definitely much more connected. It’s more normal in its reactions, and so if you look at [Nyck] de Vries, [Stoffel] Vandoorne, [Oliver] Rowland, these guys jumped in and did pretty well straight away.”

Rast by no means found Formula E easy. He faced the same conundrums that others faced when he tested in private just prior to his public Gen2 debut in Berlin last August. In the first few races he was still finding his feet but something clicked midway through the Berlin week.

Rene Rast Audi Berlin Formula E 2020

It resulted in a superb run to third place in only his sixth ever Formula E start and his fifth in an Audi. It included him elbowing Andre Lotterer, a seasoned wheel-to-wheel ‘enforcer’, out of the way as his nostrils adjusted to the scent of a Formula E podium.

“Rene has got a couple of key attributes,” says McNish.

“One is he’s pretty adaptable, you can see that by jumping into DTM straightaway and being a contender for the title in his first year, also what he did in the LMP car without any experience of downforce too.

“I think his experience in this variety of cars, multitasking between different categories, has helped enormously.

“There’s no question it has helped and it’s helped him to be able to also analyse what he needs to do.

“And don’t forget too that he isn’t afraid to get roll his sleeves up and get stuck in.”

While the Lotterer pincer to the wall movement paid off last summer, a similar move on Nick Cassidy at Saint Devote in Monaco earlier this year didn’t.

On that occasion he damaged his car and lost a probable top six position. Add that to the mistake he made in Rome by just glancing the wall and breaking his steering arm and there’s your probable points lead gone.

Still though Rast is in contention, which emphasises just how good he has been so far this season.

“Monaco I think was a little bit of over-exuberance,” opines McNish. “But I don’t see those incidents as much different to what other people in their first year actually do.

Rene Rast Audi Formula E

“If you go back to Vandoorne in his first season [2018/19], in Santiago he ran into the wall, yes he was quick and he was at the front on a few occasions, but he had a few shunts and scrapes.”

So the overview on Rast is that he has been quick, energy efficient because he invariably has a percentage in hand on his direct opposition, but that a few mistakes have meant a stellar first season is merely excellent.

The Audi e-tron FE06, the last of its kind, is a very strong car as evidenced in flashes before the Puebla 1-2 but in a more sustained and productive way in Mexico.

It is also too easy to not regard Rast as a rookie given his previous starts but that is essentially what he is because however many races you do at Tempelhof, it is very different to a traditional Formula E circuit.

As much as you can prepare in private testing, the 75 minutes of practice, or average 28 laps, comes as one hell of a shock to drivers in terms of paucity in track time before the all important qualifying session.

Rene Rast Audi Formula E

“It’s not like WEC where you get three, four hours before you go into qualifying,” adds McNish.

“That puts a lot of pressure onto everybody, including the drivers

“Go through everybody on that grid and tell me one driver that has not made at least one mistake this year. I can’t think of one.

“So for Rene to be in the position he is in right now, I think it tells you a lot about his all-round quality and potential this season.”

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