image

HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

by SCMP

2017 FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

Good enough to be in F1, Mitch Evans is the Formula E young gun putting New Zealand on the motorsport map

His rookie season out of the way, the 23-year-old Evans is confident he can kick on with new Jaguar teammate Nelson Piquet Jnr guiding him

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 3:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 10:15pm

Sitting in a business suite at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central, 23-year-old Formula E driver Mitch Evans is soft-spoken and unassuming.

But you need only ask the New Zealander’s Panasonic Jaguar Racing team to get an idea of just how explosive this kid is on the track.

“Without a shadow of a doubt Mitch has the talent to be in Formula One,” says Jaguar team director James Barclay.

“It’s great to see a young driver like him early in his career saying, ‘Actually, my future’s gonna be here in Formula E’.”

Born in Auckland, Evans shone in his rookie Formula E season last year as Jaguar made its debut, taking an impressive fourth place in Mexico.

“Mitch is a really exciting driver for us to have on board,” says Barclay, whose team finished bottom of the standings last season as they worked through the teething problems.

“He has a huge future in front of him. He sees an opportunity and very rarely lets it go to waste. Now he has a season under his belt, he comes in with that experience and is really confident.

“I’m really pleased we signed a long-term contract with him, for me he was the outstanding rookie last season. Felix Rosenqvist [of Mahindra] had a great year finishing third as well but he was probably in a better situation from a car point of view.”

Decked out in black and green team shirt and shorts, Evans projects a calmness beyond his handful of years in top-level motorsport.

Winner of the 2011 New Zealand Grand Prix at just 16 years old, Evans took the GP3 title a year later – with Australian Formula One legend Mark Webber then labelling him an “exceptional talent” – and raced in GP2 for four years before signing for Jaguar.

“Last year in Hong Kong was tough,” admits Evans. “We were a brand new team, I was a rookie, it was the first race so it was really tricky. It just hit us like a tonne of bricks.

“There was so much to learn it was crazy, not just for myself but the whole team. It’s so hard to be prepared for everything that comes your way. It’s what we learnt to manage about the championship. “We’ll be taking all that experience from last year into this season – I’m a lot calmer this year than I was last year but as a team we’re really excited. We’re a completely different team now.”

That team now includes Nelson Piquet Jnr – the son of a three-time Formula One champion who himself made 33 starts for Renault in F1 and won a British Formula Three title (2004), as well as the first Formula E driver’s title in 2014-15.

“Mitch is an extraordinarily fast driver and he shined with the opportunities he had last season, but he’s young and he hasn’t seen what I’ve seen in racing, where the struggles are,” says Piquet.

“I haven’t worked with him in a tough environment yet. We’ve done one test together. Now it’s gonna be the time we’re gonna have to work well together, to build on each other and really work hard.”

There can be few better people for Evans to be taking advice from.

‘To race here really is something special’: Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi on grasping his chance to compete at the Hong Kong E-Prix

“Nelson’s input and his knowledge and experience has been a lot of help,” says Evans. “It’s just nice to have a slight direction to know you’re doing the right things.

“Hopefully I can be a lot more competitive, just start with getting consistent points finishes, get a decent amount here over two races. It would be great to get some champagne.”

Whereas Piquet has seen most things in racing, even declaring he doesn’t even get jet-lagged any more because he’s so used to the travel, Evans still has an inquisitive glint in his eye as he glances out of the window upon the Central Harbourfront track.

Three cheers for the volunteers: the heartbeat of Hong Kong’s sporting events out in force for the E-Prix

“It’s definitely one of the highlights. I couldn’t think of a better place to start,” he says. “I like the city, it’s cool, it’s very popular, very international. It’s not huge, everything is relatively close by and the circuit is right in the heart of it.

“I’m staying here as well so I can just wake up and look at the circuit. It’s also the closest place to New Zealand … so I don’t know if it’s a home race or not. But my parents are here so it’s good.”