Mr. Rast, how important is success to you?
When you start out, the focus is on having fun, of course, but at some point success becomes important. You want to win races and championships. Success is what drives you and that's why it's an essential part of motorsport.
Now you're not exactly resting on your laurels, but have switched from DTM to Formula E. Why?
I think Formula E is a really up-and-coming racing series with many strong manufacturers and many strong drivers, and I'm glad to have found a place in such a high-profile round.
You once said that you approach Formula E like a new boy at school. Is that still true?
I'm not that new anymore. Especially since I've already driven in Riyadh and did six races in Berlin last year. Nevertheless, I still feel like I'm doing something I haven't had any contact with for a long time - and that's formula racing. After all, I raced closed touring cars for years and was more or less in the DTM environment. The environment is now new again, as is the new formula car.
The question has to come now, of course: Do you miss the engine noise and the smell of gasoline?
At first, of course. It was very unfamiliar, but when you've been dealing with it for half a year, you no longer notice the absence and perceive it as normal.
What do you actually think of the fan boost?
I think it's pretty cool to let the fans participate so actively in Formula E and in the results. It also strikes a chord with the times, especially as digitization and the use of social media continue to advance. This development has been part of my life and my job for as long as I can remember. It's just part of it.
Let's talk about the preparation for a race. What exactly are the differences between DTM and Formula E?
The preparation in Formula E is even more intensive because we spend many more days in the simulator. We also have a certain quota between races, so we're allowed to test with the car. In a race, it then depends very much on energy management. That means making the best possible use of the energy you have available over the entire race distance. You can really only practice that in the simulator.
As a perfectionist, that should suit you...
Yes, that really benefits me. I’m someone who likes to dig into details, wants to understand a lot of things, and doesn't want to leave any area untouched. There are many different aspects to Formula E and I can't be an expert in everything. I have to extract the most important things for myself, then that can make the difference.
How does the DTM and Formula E car compare when we look at the challenge and the driving fun?
A DTM car naturally impresses with high performance and lots of grip in the corners. The cars are blisteringly fast and that alone offers a lot of driving fun. A Formula E car, of course, has less power and less grip, but in Formula E we drive on extremely tight city curves, where any mistake ends up right at the wall. On top of that, the cars don't have power steering. They are much more strenuous to drive than DTM cars. And you have to manage your energy very well from the first to the last lap. Ideally, you start with 100 percent and end with 0.0 percent when you drive down the home stretch. This means that Formula E requires a lot of computing power. At the same time, you also have to fight with your opponents and try not to constantly hit a wall. In the end, I have to say: In Formula E, complexity and requirement outweigh performance.
You once said in an interview that you recall a perfect round again and again. What do you mean by that?
I always have a kind of timetable in my head. When I'm approaching a corner, I know exactly where I have to brake. At which point I have to be on the inside. Where I have to step on the gas. And you can only acquire this knowledge from data. Of course you can approach each corner differently, turn in earlier or later. And I always try to find the optimum for each corner. Once I have that, I move on to the next curve. That means I open my laptop and look at my lap, also and especially in comparison to others. I also have Lucas di Grassi's data and can compare exactly what he's doing in a corner. If he's faster, I want to know why. I analyze his driving behavior and try to do the same. And that's how I draw up a plan for each corner that will get me the fastest lap in the end.
That sounds very meticulous. Is that fun, too?
I actually enjoy the precise adjustments, the extreme attention to detail. Of course it's fun to drive, but it's even more fun to be successful - and that's what happens when you tweak the little things and secure advantages for yourself.
Have you already studied the track in Rome? It's different from last year.
Of course I've already seen it, but I haven't driven it in the simulator yet. What I have seen is that it has become slower and more twisted, and there are also a lot of bumps. I'm definitely curious to see how it will be in the simulator next week.
How long will you be preparing?
I guess we'll have seven days in total.
How do you rate the competition?
Difficult to say. In Riyadh, no team was vastly superior, although Mercedes looked very strong on the first day - and without the safety car phase, we could have won as well. Then on the second day we couldn't shine as much because we started from the back. In general, you can say that the field is very mixed and nobody will be driving in front. Of course, that's also due to the qualifying groups, which mix up the entire field every time.
Your teammate Lucas di Grassi once said that racing drivers today are no longer brave. Do you agree with him?
I do believe that racing drivers still have to be brave here and there. Especially when it comes to dueling or setting a fast lap. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth. But maybe you take fewer risks than you did back then. That's hard to assess, but I'm generally not the bravest either.
I'm not one to take a high risk. I'm someone who takes the points and retires, looking more at the long term and less at individual results.
Is that the secret of your success?
Yes, maybe because I look to the end of the year and don't necessarily look for the win when a second place will do.
So you think strategically here, too.
It's more of a philosophy, and every race driver has one. You can see it quite well in Sam Bird, who doesn't necessarily go for the long haul, but often relies on overtaking maneuvers and takes a high risk. In the first race in Riyadh, this led to an accident and earned him zero points; he won the second race. And if Bird had simply taken the points in the first race, the team might be ahead. You always have to weigh that up.
Last question: Is a fast car always a nice car for you?
A beautiful car simply has to have the right overall look, both the bodywork and the paintwork. But in my career I've also had ugly cars that were as fast as an arrow. It's always in the eye of the beholder.