until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

F1 rejection helped da Costa handle Porsche's painful order

by Sam Smith
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

To the outside world it might look as if Antonio Felix da Costa had an uneventful 2023, one of relative non-newsworthy mediocrity.

The truth is actually much more dynamic, initially combustible, then pragmatic, and perhaps in time could be remembered as pivotal to his career.

That’s because it was the year he began his relationship with Porsche - and had an important future sporting decision effectively made for him. It is this that arguably could fast-track him to what many believe to be a defining renaissance season in 2025.

There is already a feeling that da Costa stands a decent chance of fighting to become a double Formula E champion and that the foundations for this will be traced back to last autumn.

The decision by Porsche to ensure he focuses on all-electric sprints as opposed to a supplementary endurance programme in WEC was inevitably poorly received.

In September da Costa was called in to discuss his 2024 programmes with Porsche motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach. A short time after that meeting da Costa knew his on-track activity for 2024 was being cut in half.

The planned second season of Hypercar competition with Jota had been nipped in the bud and da Costa was far from happy about it.

It was a bit like a football manager calling time on international duty. The focus would be purely on Formula E because well, Porsche needs to win a Formula E title and it needs it now.

Right when the WEC was booming and da Costa could take a privateer fight with a brilliant team to factory opponents, the rug was being pulled from under him. He didn’t take it well.

Yet, he soon came to a rationalisation and peace of sorts. And it came in part, as da Costa told The Race this week, from a different, well-documented experience further back in his career, from a dozen or so years ago.

“When that decision was taken I wasn't I wasn't happy,” he underplays.

“I was a little bit frustrated. But then I came to accept it and I think my episode with a non-F1 seat in 2012 [when he was denied a ride at Toro Rosso] really helped me process things because I understood how good it is to overcome a frustration.

“I actually think you should be frustrated; you should be angry for a bit. But then you have to move on, which I have now.”

Ironically, the defunct Cape Town E-Prix, originally slated for a clash with the pre-season WEC test in Qatar at the end of February, and the recently-cancelled Hyderabad E-Prix make a dual programme much easier in 2024, not that these facts will be much consolation for da Costa.

Looking at the situation as an outsider you can see both Porsche’s and da Costa’s points of view.

Porsche had its best title tilt via Pascal Wehrlein last season, and when you break it down the other three drivers who looked like potential champions at different points of 2023 - Mitch Evans, Nick Cassidy and Jake Dennis – each concentrate purely on Formula E, give or take a few GT3 outings and Red Bull F1 sim work for Dennis.

“Absolutely, I can see that point of view and I can understand it,” opines da Costa.

“I can understand it, but I didn't agree with it because on the other hand, I've won both of them in the last three years [Formula E in 2019-20 and WEC in 2022].”

He’s right, of course. Yet perhaps the Lotterer-effect, of the three-time Le Mans winner being allowed to do in 2023 what da Costa wanted to do, albeit with a customer team (Andretti), was also more than just a slight irritation.

But as da Costa says the most visceral pain of Porsche’s decision has now been channelled into something more positive.

So far, da Costa‘s Porsche life has generally been positive, despite what for him were relatively mediocre results in 2023.

There was the conclusive, thrilling highlight of his exceptional Cape Town E-Prix victory in what was only his fifth race for the team. But at the other end of the scale, there was a consistently poor qualifying performance, one which too often put him on the back foot for races.

He and the team know that. They know too that a repeat of it in 2024 cannot be allowed to happen.

Quite why it occurred at all is something of a puzzle considering that da Costa was one of the best qualifiers of 2022, his last season with DS Techeetah. There were just two duel-phase appearances in 2023 compared to nine in 2022.

There is an assumption in Formula E that even the most experienced of drivers, of which da Costa is one, can simply flick a switch and deliver over one lap.

It's plainly not that easy, especially when coming into a new manufacturer. Ask Stoffel Vandoorne about it too, who although didn’t have as good a package as da Costa last season still fell way below what was expected.

Confidence is everything in Formula E, especially in qualifying, and da Costa was aware of that from an early stage in 2023.

“Last year was a consequence of a lot of things like changing teams at the same time as changing the car, new tyre and then not off to a great start,” he says.

“I was getting in the car for qualifying and driving out of the garage, and I was like, ‘man, I don't think I'm going to make the duels'.

“I was already half-defeated, not because I was weak mentally but because I didn't have the confidence with the package then.

“We were just not matching things properly for one lap. But then I was jumping in the car for the races and I was one of the quickest guys and I think I overtook more people than anyone during the season.”

When you talk about his key moments in 2023 you have to talk about Diriyah, the second and third races of the campaign. It was there that he got eliminated in a first-lap chain-reaction shunt and then had an anonymous run to 11th in the second E-Prix.

On that same weekend, team-mate Wehrlein vanquished all before him. Look at photos of the podium and da Costa is there celebrating with his new team, a genuine smile on his face. That is because he realised at that stage that he had the car but just needed time to bed in to the team still.

When he savoured the thrill of Cape Town a few weeks later it seemed it had all clicked, except it hadn’t.

Leaving Diriyah, da Costa was 70 points off Wehrlein. But after a fortunate podium in Hyderabad, the Cape Town win and being the best non-Jaguar in Sao Paulo with fourth place, he hit Berlin with added confidence.

Then Jake Dennis harpooned him on the Saturday when in a strong position and from that point on only a third in Portland would be a genuine and tangible highlight of the remainder of the season.

“After Berlin, I would have been second in the championship if not hit by Jake,” recalls da Costa.

“That gave me some confidence but still I was sitting in the car knowing that over one lap I'm not really there.

“I've been around the sport for so long and I've been in these tough positions before. I dust myself off and I'm like ‘OK, let's show that I can come out of this hole and prove everybody wrong.

“I have been a very good qualifying driver before. I've done all that winter homework very openly with my team, my engineers and I'm not afraid to say ‘I suck here’ or ‘I need to improve there’.

“It's the best way to move forward and I have to say the team has been mega to really sit down with me and work on what is needed to be more confident.”

Everyone knows that a fully assured Antonio Felix da Costa can be very hard to beat. And everyone knows that seasons like 2023 are very unlikely to repeat themselves anytime soon, which is why 2024 should see da Costa back to his most clinical, and for his competitors, from a title perspective, his most dangerous.

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