Badger’s Bobblehat Sarah Merritt caught up with several Formula E drivers during the second pre-season test – here’s how she got on with Oliver Turvey.
In the second of my pieces from the Formula E Testing at Donington, I caught up for a chat with Oliver Turvey, this year driving for the NEXTEV TCR team, and we discussed how he’s combining that with his McLaren simulator commitments, as well as driving for Honda in the Japanese Super GT series.
How have you spent the break since the London e-Prix?
I’ve been busy since London with my role with McLaren Honda Formula 1 team, testing in the simulator, and that’s continuous, so I’ve been working with them closely, and also racing myself in Super GT in Japan.
And that’s linked to the Honda role, am I right?
Yes, I’m driving for Honda in the Super GT, so I was out there testing at Sportland Sugo, and also racing. We had a race in Fuji just over a week ago now, so I’ve been out in Japan for a bit, so I’ve had a pretty busy time!
But you are still able to do that, as well as the simulator role and Formula E?
Yes, that’s the plan…
That’s pretty intense! So how difficult is the transition between all of these different series? Obviously Formula E is very quiet, so you must notice the noise when you drive another car?
Sometimes you get a kind of feeling for a certain car, but I find now that I’ve been driving so many different cars recently, and I also raced at Le Mans this year in LMP2, so I feel quite adaptable now to be able to change cars.
I think it’s a skill as a driver that you have to be able to adapt quickly to other cars and be able to drive any car really, so for me I actually quite enjoy driving different cars and going from the simulator at McLaren on the Formula 1 side, to racing in GT for Honda, and also to Formula E. It’s a little bit different, but you have to adapt quickly, and get on top of everything as quickly as possible.
You drove for NEXTEV TCR in the London e-Prix, and you obviously impressed them because you are now back for this season. What’s it like driving alongside the current Formula E World Champion, and does that put you under any kind of pressure?
Not really. First of all, it was great to have the opportunity to race in London for NEXTEV TCR, and also to join the team in the final race with Nelson going for the championship. In London, I’d already matched his pace and was quicker than him in free practice on the Sunday morning, so for my first time in the car, I was pleased to be matching the guy that has ended up winning the championship!
I think also the crowd were looking out for British drivers to cheer on in their home race, and obviously we had you, as well as Sam (Bird), in the line-up.
Definitely, and I really enjoyed the London race. It’s a really strong championship, with good drivers, and to drive with Nelson was fantastic. He helped me, and I hope I was able to help him a little bit as well during the weekend, and I think going forward, to have the previous champion in the team is a positive for me.
I have someone that I want to beat alongside me, and everybody is trying to beat him, so hopefully we can push each other forward, and push the team forward, and both be fighting for the championship at the end.
Season 2 will see a lot of changes, as we start to see the cars diverging from their previously identical power train and its components. How do you feel it is looking for NEXTEV TCR? Is it all going to be about reliability?
Well, I hope not! Hopefully it’s about performance. Obviously last year everybody had the same car, and this year they’ve opened up the drive trains. Teams have gone for slightly different power trains, and different numbers of gears, so it’s certainly going to be interesting to see where everybody is at the first race. It’s an certainly an exciting time for the championship and the development of the technology.
Touching on your McLaren role, I’ve found it breathtaking when I’ve visited The McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) and walked along the boulevard. Does it still have the same effect on you when you see all the heritage cars, and think about the history of McLaren?
I’ve been with McLaren now for six seasons as a test driver, and every time you walk into the factory, it feels very special to walk down the white corridors and see the boulevard. And of course, there’s the history of the team, one of the most successful teams in the history of Motorsport and Formula 1. I’m very proud to work for them.
When I was a little kid, and as I was growing up, I supported McLaren, and now to be actually part of the team and working with them, well I’m very proud of that. They’ve been very loyal to me, and certainly I will be loyal to them.
It’s a great place to work, as a driver I learn a lot working with the engineers there, some of the best in the sport. Also, I learn from the race drivers that they have, and develop myself as a driver, and improve in every area that I can. For me it’s a very positive thing and something that I’ve used to my benefit.
Now I have a few questions from fans on Twitter:
What is your favourite dinosaur?
Erm. (laughs and thinks) Obviously the T-Rex, it’s the biggest one.
If you are having a naughty food day, when you are able to eat what you like, what would your favourite indulgence be?
That’s a good one….probably the chocolate brownies at McLaren!
Absolute Taste brownies?
Yes, Absolute Taste Chocolate Brownies are the best!
What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever been given by a fan?
I was given a fan at the Japanese round of Super GT by a fan of mine, so I thought that was quite ironic!
What classic circuit would you like to drive a Formula E car around, if you could?
Can I have a current one or a classic one?
Well the question is a classic circuit, but obviously some wouldn’t really be suited to Formula E, so really it’s hypothetical.
That’s a good question as well, actually. I think Suzuka. I only drove it for the first time this year and its one of the best circuits to drive around.
You’ve probably done it many times in the simulator though!
Yes, many times in the simulator! I can remember the first time I actually drove it on the simulator and I just thought “wow, that’s an awesome circuit”, so you could even tell in there how good it was! In reality, I’ve now tested there with the Super GT, and it’s a phenomenal track. It’s actually our next race in a weeks’ time.
Oli is always engaging to talk to, and I find that what comes through in conversation is his overall enthusiasm and dedication to whatever he is working on. I always get the feeling that his eye is on the detail, not just jumping in and driving the car, but on understanding the data and how things work, something that would, of course, make him very valuable as a simulator and test driver for McLaren.
I would imagine the information he feeds back is of great use. I look forward to seeing how his drive progresses with NEXTEV TCR because I can already see he has his team mate in his sights, and what better motivation could there be that pairing up with the current Formula E champion. Let’s watch this space.