Ever since his debut in the series, Jake Dennis has shown nothing but pure talent. Hailing from Nuneaton, the British driver defied all expectations by emerging as the surprise winner of a high-stakes shootout to land a seat at BMWi Andretti, a team that has rearranged his priorities.
From the start of his career he had a clear dream, like any racing driver, to reach Formula 1. Encouraged by his father’s passion for the sport, he began to compete and win in various karting championships that helped him to get noticed by the Racing Steps Foundation, a non-profit organisation to finance, support, and manage the futures of British talents in 2008.
Though the foundation closed in 2017, a decade after its inception, Dennis made the most of it with 36 wins, 91 podiums, and six titles, across his time in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, as well as a year in GP3. In addition to his success, he was granted two Formula One tests with Red Bull Racing in 2018 and 2019.
With increasing budgetary pressures, the Brit transitioned to sportscars, which was the most realistic path for him to continue racing. From DTM, and GT Cars series, to endurance racing such as the 12 Hours of Bathurst, Dennis has driven almost everything. The thought of switching back to single-seaters never crossed his mind until he received an unexpected opportunity for a prised manufacturer drive with BMW.
“It was a bit of an odd one.” He told Formula E Zone, “I was still doing sports car at the time. I was racing for Aston Martin, and there was one point of contact that leaked some information to us, and basically said there was a chance that Alex (Sims) was leaving the team. ”Obviously, we were very keen to do it. So then it started with a simulator day, and that was a bit of a shootout between a bunch of us, and I’m generally quite good on simulators. I went through to the next stage. Then it went down to about six of us where we had a test day each, and I was the quickest guy and won.”
He continued, “It was as simple as that to a certain degree, but the other drivers I was going up against were all BMW drivers at that point in terms of GT Racing. With their DTM programme just finishing they had six of their best BMW drivers all wanting the Formula E seat. Then there was me: The outsider from Aston Martin, and thankfully Mike Krack, who’s unfortunately no longer at BMW, gave me the seat.”
“He sort of went against the head of BMW, against the board, which was keen to sign someone they already had on their paperwork as one of their drivers. But Mike was very adamant that they just put the fastest guy in the car, and then it went from there. Even today, I am still a contracted BMW driver even though I am racing with Andretti. I still have that relationship with BMW.”
By his own admission, the decision from the team’s management that confirmed he’d made the cut was a shock. At this point in his career, Dennis made a crucial decision to switch to the world of electric racing, which he doesn’t regret, even if it means leaving his F1 dream behind.
Dennis started his rookie season with a point-less debut outing in Saudi Arabia that might have set the tone. He failed to score points in the first four rounds with two DNF’s that left the team unimpressed. Although Krack’s backing was significant, they were already looking for a replacement until the championship landed in Valencia where Dennis secured his first victory in the championship.
His race win came in the second race in a doubleheader in Spain which was preceded by a bizarre first race which saw only 12 cars reach the chequered flag due to the energy offset from reductions with each safety car activation at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo track in Valencia.
Starting from the 13th position, he battled for a top-ten finish to claim his first points, while polesitter Antonio Felix Da Costa fought for the lead with Nyck De Vries. However, the fourth safety car reduced everyone to nearly empty batteries and left many coasting to the line or running out of usable energy on the final lap of the race.
Amidst all the controversy, Dennis earned his first points after five disqualifications that moved him to eighth.
“That was a very bizarre race. Even if I experienced that now in my third year in Formula E, I’d still probably make the same mistakes. The visibility was next to none in certain parts of the track due to the asphalt change, so I was generally struggling to see where I was going, let alone dealing with the energy crisis.
“We were sort of in between both laps. So I completed half a lap still with the energy and eventually ran out, whereas half the field ran out as they crossed the line to start the final lap. We ended up benefiting from that and scored our first points of the year, but I still look back now and still don’t know how all of us got it wrong apart from Mercedes and Dragon at the time.”
“The team and everyone else learned a lot that day not to make the same mistake, but it was mainly a team learning exercise more than drivers, because we didn’t know what was going on in that situation. We’re just being told what target to hit and how many laps to go, and then we think we’ve crossed the line with energy, and then they tell you one more lap to go, and everyone’s broken down.” However, Sunday’s race was the turning point for the Brit as he qualified on pole and managed the race to perfection from the front leading every lap.
“In truth it was not the smoothest start to the season. I wasn’t quick enough, and we had some bad luck, which was mainly due to my poor qualifying performances. Therefore, you start at the back and you run into more problems.
“So by starting on the front-row it gave me so much confidence that I could race in this series and be a strong driver, and I carried that through into the next couple of races where I finished in the top 6 or 7 before we got to London where I won again.”
He carried the momentum to Mexico, with two top-five finishes that earned him 21 points, and in London, he performed another masterclass with another lights-to-flag victory that put him into title contention.
Leading up to Berlin, he was optimistic about the title being still up for grabs. The opening race saw him claim a top-five finish that earned him another 10 points.
In the season finale, championship leader Nyck De Vries only four points infront of Dennis. It would turn out to be another crazy race as Mitch Evans and Edoardo Mortara crashed out on the starting grid after Evans stalled his Jaguar taking both championship protagonists out of the running and clearing the way for Dennis to attack De Vries.
“I sat there waiting to get going after the red flag. There was pressure rising, but ultimately I just knew I had to sit and wait and not think about it too much.
There was still about 80% of the race to go, and Nick (De Vries) was 14th at the time. ”I had to beat him, but then on safety car restart, I had a good run against (Sebastien) Buemi, but as I exited the final corner I started to hear a weird, bizarre noise, which I hadn’t heard other than my first ever Formula E test,” stated Dennis,
“I had the exact same issue, and I experienced that sound as I was coming up to the corner. I was like: ‘That sounds familiar’, but I couldn’t remember what it was, and when I lifted off the throttle the rear axle completely locked and took me out of the race. I experienced that, as I said, on my first ever Formula E test, where it broke on the final run of the day.”
Nothing could then take away the crown from De Vries who became the first-ever Formula E World Champion, leaving Dennis to finish third in the championship at his first attempt.
Looking back at the experience of losing the championship in Berlin, Dennis was shocked about how he sounded on the radio and at first he thought he had made an error that cost him the chance of winning the championship rather than the issue being one he couldn’t have avoided.
“I was on course to win the championship and that moment took it away from me. I have listened back to my radio at that moment the car failed and I didn’t think it sounded anything like me. When I report back to my engineer, my voice is high-pitched and shocked. I genuinely had to listen to it twice to make sure it was my radio!
“I wasn’t sure if it was my fault or the car had broke at the time. Once I saw the oil and the smoke, obviously when I jumped out, I was like: ‘Well, something’s broken,’ but it was a big shock to me, and I couldn’t believe what happened. It’s still a blur to this day.”
Despite narrowly missing out by eight points from the crown that could have been. Dennis still had a successful rookie season in Formula E. He finished with 91 points, enough to impress Andretti to sign another deal for Season 8 as BMW parted ways with the series which was a surprise to Dennis.
“I found out relatively soon into the season that BMW was pulling out. It was a shock, but I just knew I had to keep delivering good results, and I knew Andretti was going to continue and take over the partnership, so if I did a good job, my seat would be retained.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation, to say the least. Nevertheless, it has put me where I am now. I’m in a very good position, in a good team, and it couldn’t have worked out any better. It was something I had to take on the chin and make sure I delivered, which was the most important thing at the time.”
After his first year in the series, Season 8 was a bag of mixed emotions. Though he had a good start with a third-place finish in Diriyah and consistent qualifying results, he still struggled to find the pace needed to win.
As the championship was approaching its conclusion, Dennis climbed back to the top spot in London with another textbook win and a podium in front of his home crowd. It wasn’t enough to put in the championship fight as Dennis explains that the track layout in London suited him and the unique characteristics of the Andretti car.
“The win in London was mainly down to the track layouts. In qualifying we were always quite good. We weren’t putting it on the front row like we were in London, but generally, I would always qualify in the top five, or top six.
“I was the second or third-best qualifier that year, and our energy efficiency wasn’t good enough.
“All the tracks which we were going to at the start of the year are heavily dominated by energy efficiency. If you didn’t have a good race car, you would generally just go backwards, and that was what was happening.”
“I was finishing the best of the rest. It was always Jaguar, DS Penske, the ROKiT Venturi’s, then maybe me if I’d done a completely clean race, whereas when we went to London and Seoul, it was very energetic; you could drive the race almost flat out.
“Our one-lap pace was good, which meant our race pace was good because we weren’t energy saving much. It was more of a combination of the track layouts suiting our package much more.
“We had a very good end to the final four races and scored a lot of points, and it was great to continue that momentum into the start of the year as well. We had six out of seven podiums in a row from last year and then into this year, so we were on a really good streak
.”Now, with a Porsche powertrain underneath him, Dennis finds himself in a thrilling battle for the championship. He kicked off Season 9 as the first winner of the Gen3 era in Mexico and continued that success with seven podiums that put him into the lead of the championship.
With four rounds remaining and only one point separating him from Envision Racing’s Nick Cassidy, Dennis approaches the upcoming races in Rome and London with a focused mindset. Despite the challenges and setbacks he experienced in four races, he remains determined to claim the coveted crown.