After the departure of Alexander Sims from BMW at the end of season six, the vacant Formula E seat was highly sought after by many contenders. After an impressive display of his talent and adaptability, Jake Dennis ended up being the driver to secure the seat and make his return to single seater racing. The 25-year-olds’ rookie season in Formula E adds to his already versatile career spanning across Formula 3, GT Series and testing in Formula One – to name a few series he has competed in.
From the start of his career, becoming a professional Formula One driver was the ultimate goal, as is the case for many young drivers. However, being aware of how tricky the road to Formula One can be, Dennis made sure he took all of the opportunities available to achieve his personal dream of making it as a professional. One major step to achieving this came for Dennis in 2017.
“I’d obviously been sponsored by the Racing Steps Foundation for around nine years at that point, and we could see that it was very difficult to get a seat in Formula One without bringing say 20/30 million in budget. For me my main goal was to try and just make it as a professional racing driver, obviously Formula One being the pinnacle but I had a realistic view that that was going to be extremely difficult. So did my sponsors, because we didn’t quite have the funding to supply this, so we decided to take the route of moving into sports cars in 2017.”
“I felt that a better move was to move to sports cars and try and earn a living at a younger age and try to become a professional as soon as possible. That’s exactly how it worked out, so I think it was a very good move from my sponsors and also myself.”
The talent Dennis showcased early on in his career was quickly recognised when he won the McLaren Autosport BRDC award in 2012. At the time Dennis became the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious award.
“Honestly, winning that is one of the best motorsport memories I’ve ever had.”
“I think it was such a relief that I had managed to win it, and obviously being the youngest ever winner was something special to me at the time. You put so much pressure on yourself over those two days to deliver in every aspect, not just lap time but also professionalism. You are quite young, I was only 17 at the time and not massively experienced. Then the next thing I know I’m driving a GT3, which I’ve never driven, a DTM car and I’m also driving a Formula 2 car which had almost triple the horsepower to what I’ve normally driven.”
Although Dennis diverted his attention away from a Formula One seat at the outset of his professional career, he found himself getting to experience a taste of the series at only 18 years old. Even though Dennis no longer sees himself pushing for a seat in the series, he is hopeful for more opportunities to test with Red Bull Racing in the future.
“My first test was with McLaren when I won the McLaren Autosport award; I got to then drive a Formula One car the year later as a reward, and this was just a great experience.
“I was 18 at the time and was about to drive a Formula One car for the first time, I had no idea what to expect but I just went out there and enjoyed it. You obviously don’t get a huge amount of laps, so you just try and absorb everything you can, to just enjoy the moment and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Then I tested for Red Bull in 2018 for the two official rookie tests.”
“My main role was to be a simulator driver for them and they saw it as a good opportunity for me to drive the car in real life and then obviously feedback to the simulator which is massively important nowadays.”
“Hopefully it won’t be my last, I would like to continue to do some testing with Red Bull in the future and I think that an opportunity will somewhat happen later down the line but I’d never see myself now trying to push for Formula One; that’s simply not the case.”
Having followed Formula E for the past few seasons, Dennis admitted that he had always wanted to move into the series but never had the right opportunity. This changed last year when he caught the attention of BMW during their driver selection process. His racing history made a profound impression on the team, and after his performance alongside Max Guenther in a private test, he was in strong contention for the seat.
“They put me under a test with Max Gunther and we basically just did, not a head to head, but he set a benchmark which I had to try and beat and I managed to do this. I think this impressed them and they were happy with the way I sort of went about working throughout the day with the engineers and the experience I have. Being 25 now and racing at a professional level for four/five years, not just in single seaters but also different manufacturers, I can bring some exciting things to the table.
“They decided to take the plunge with me which I think was brave of them because obviously they had such a talented pool of drivers also pushing for the seat from BMW. To bring someone from the outside in, I think it shows what a good job I did, but also what I can bring to the table. So I think they just wanted somebody fresh and exciting, and I think I can deliver that. So far it’s been a very good relationship.”
Receiving the news that he had secured the seat with BMW left Dennis feeling surprised; after entering the selection process he was left feeling he was on the back foot.
“I was surprised because I just thought it would be difficult for an outsider to get the seat when they had so many different drivers also pushing for the seat. There was an article that said it looked like Philipp Eng or Lucas Auer had pretty much secured the seat.
“Reading this was a bit disheartening. I hadn’t had my test or had my simulator at this point, but it was all arranged. I was just going into it thinking it was quite a slim chance for me to get it, but obviously after the one day of simulator and one day of test it turned over and my chance increased. That’s why I was a bit surprised that the opportunity was there for me, but I am grateful and thankful for BMW for taking a risk and putting someone much younger in their seat.”
“I think they just wanted someone with single seater experience, which I had from the age of 15 to the age of 21. Obviously BMW aren’t massively into single seaters; they only have Formula E and obviously a talented pool of drivers who came through the likes of DTM and GT, so I think this was also on my side and part of why they decided to go with me. But ultimately it all comes down to how quick you are at the test, which I guess I was good and that went well. So I think this was the main leading factor and everything else after this can fall into place with time and experience.”
Looking ahead to his rookie season before the opening races in Saudi Arabia and knowing the car was capable of podiums and victories last year, Dennis was clear about what he hopes to achieve this season.
“I want to start the year off clean and try and get a couple of points on the board and then really push for podiums towards the end of the year. Maybe we can try and get a win when I am fully used to the whole car itself. The car should be capable of winning races; it was last year.
“I’ve got a good teammate who is very fast, so he will be a good benchmark for me. If I can try and match Max like-for-like then I think I’m doing a solid job and I think the team will know that I’m doing a good job. Hopefully we can try and push for podiums and wins towards the end of the year, that’s definitely a goal that I have set within myself and hopefully we can try and achieve one.”
The opening race of season seven in February saw Dennis finish 12th, just two positions away from scoring points in his first race before retiring in race two. In April he was forced to retire again in round three on the streets of Rome after contact with Nick Cassidy, before fighting from 23rd to 13th in the fourth round at the Italian capital, setting the third fastest lap of the race in the process.