until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

'New low for me' - A Formula E champion's upsetting start

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

“I don’t know who I am when I’m not quick, when I’m not performing. I’ve never been here before.”

Antonio Felix da Costa was almost unrecognisable in Diriyah. A shell of his usual self. At first, it was shocking, then pitiful.

The ebullience, natural confidence and ready smile was gone. Hollow eyes and furrowed brows are not what you expect from one of racing’s greatest showmen.

It has all stemmed from a multitude of things recently. The lack of one-lap pace, the lack of any pace, the lack of feel, the lack of confidence, just a lack of anything positive. But agonisingly, more than anything there doesn’t seem to be any answers right now to cool the sting.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” he told The Race on Saturday evening after qualifying dead last and finishing a distant 14th. "At this exact moment, that’s what worries me; I don’t know.

"I don’t know what’s going wrong. I’ve had hard moments before in my life, and I could always have an explanation for them.

“But this weekend, I feel like it’s a new low for me. It’s a difficult moment and I cannot really explain it all.

Da Costa can feel his Porsche 99X Electric isn’t good to drive and he isn’t confident within it but isn't able to explain why. And that hurts a competitor like da Costa as much as, if not more than, the lack of laptime itself.

“One corner I’m having huge understeer, the same corner the exact lap after I’m having a huge oversteer. I can’t build momentum; I can’t build confidence,” he added.

When the track evolution is so vast, when the track is as challenging as Diriyah is, when confidence is such a crucial part, that’s when a tiny metaphorical snowball becomes an avalanche. Frankly, da Costa - series champion in the 2019-20 season with DS Techeetah - was being buried in Diryah.

“The problem is that the light at the end of the tunnel, at this moment, is still there but it’s very small,” he continues.

“I’m going to need help from everyone in this garage to help me find it.

"I’m open to criticism on my driving and my abilities but I don’t think we are this bad. Honestly, I do not think we’re this bad.

“It’s been a tricky week leading up to here. Obviously Mexico wasn’t nice and Pascal [Wehrlein] killed it [won], but I could explain Mexico, I can’t here.

“Right now, we’ll have a few weeks to go through stuff and that’s a good thing, but right now, speaking to you an hour after the race, what we’ve been through this weekend it’s hard for me to explain.”

There is a bit of an urban legend developing that da Costa can’t get on top of the tyres, and that perhaps some similar challenges he had in DTM (with Hankooks) are haunting him here. Could he be even subconsciously overstepping their quirky traits? He’s not so sure.

“Maybe last year I wasn’t great either in this tyre and car, but we’re talking about a P8, a P9, a P10. For the last three sessions here, I was last. Last on the grid!" da Costa said.

“I have a better car than the ERTs, than the Mahindras, I know that. I have to outperform these guys and I can’t. I can’t. I mean, these guys are good drivers but.....

As da Costa’s voice, clearly in an emotionally difficult place, tails off he gathers himself, clearly emotional.

“It’s a hard moment,” he whispers.

The 2019-20 champion is such a positive presence in his field, it's actually hard to assimilate the person before you when it is all this difficult.

But let’s try and find that chink of light at the end of the tunnel and presume it’s not the light of an oncoming train!

Da Costa is genuinely loved in his team, everyone within it wants him to succeed. He has excellent resources and a fine engineering team around him. After all, Porsche told da Costa to drop his WEC duties ahead of 2024 and focus solely on Formula E. It is pushing him to succeed here.

He also has the drive, skill and professional excellence to slap these Gen3 monsters in the face and re-channel his inner Cape Town 2023 (below) form once again.

This is not insurmountable for da Costa.

Now he has a seven-week gap to Sao Paulo to rebuild. Will that be a help or a hindrance?

“Honestly, Sam, it’s yes and no [if the break will help],” he says.

“I don’t think we should go racing next week because we don’t have enough time to understand.

“But also going through a whole month after a disastrous month like this, honestly mentally it’s going to be tough.

“I don’t know who I am when I’m not quick, when I’m not performing. I don’t even know which Antonio I have to be or I can be.

"I don’t know how to talk to people, how to approach my sponsors, I don’t know how to behave in the team. I’ve never been here before.

“So yeah, it’s a little bit of work to do mentally, a little bit of work to do technically, and I need this team to come around me and I think they will.

"I’m sure they will but it’s going to be a long month.”

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