It’s fair to say that Sebastien Buemi will live long in the history of Formula E. The 35-year-old is one of only four drivers who has remained on the grid since the electric championship’s first race in 2014 around the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium in Bejing. He became Formula E’s second champion in the 2015-2016 season, and had he not missed two rounds in New York due to a World Endurance Championship clash, he could have beaten Jean-Eric Vergne to become Formula E’s first-ever double champion. Now the Swiss driver is about to begin his tenth season in the series in a car that can once again fight for a world championship.

Over those ten years, Buemi has driven each generation of Formula E cars, and when he reflected on his time in the series, he had to laugh in amazement at how quickly Formula E has progressed. “I never thought it would grow as fast as it has,” stated Buemi. “I never thought that the series would get the amount of manufacturers involved that it has. So, congratulations to Formula E and the FIA for what they have done.

“But for me, I thought with the car being a spec chassis at the start that it wouldn’t get manufacturers excited about the series – but it did, and the championship has grown so much because of that. The technology is so much better and I hope the series carries on getting faster cars and having great racing from it.”

Buemi joined Renault e.Dams for the first season of the championship, and would remain with the team for the following seven seasons, as the team changed its name to Nissan. The late Jean-Paul Driot headed up the DAMS run team alongside Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost.
Driot was one of the main reasons Buemi joined the team, and the Frenchman telegraphed his intention to sign the Swiss driver long before Formula E existed.

“I’ve known Jean-Paul for about ten years before I actually drove for him, and I remember one day he came to me and said ‘You will drive for me one day when the opportunity arises.’ Back then he owned a Formula 2 team and I was looking at getting into F1, so I thought it was never going to happen. However, fast forward to 2014 and there he was offering me a seat in FE.

“It was actually in 2013. I saw him at the FIA ceremony in Paris and went up to him to congratulate him on getting an entry into Formula E accepted, and he said to me ‘Come drive for me next year’ and I was like ‘Yeah, okay!’ that was it. That’s how I got into the sport.

“Then, of course, I got very close to him. He became like a second father to me. Obviously, we went through some good days and some bad ones too, but I really enjoyed my time with him.”

The inaugural Formula E season saw Buemi narrowly miss out on the championship by a solitary point to Nelson Piquet Jr. in a dramatic title decider at London’s Battersea Park, where Buemi spun out of a title-winning position; he was determined to make amends in season two. However, Buemi’s mentality took a huge hit in the weeks leading up to the second season’s finale in London.

During the 24 hours of Le Mans, Buemi and his teammates Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima were three minutes away from winning the famed French endurance race, when the car came to a grinding halt on the start-finish straight due to a failure that shut down the hybrid car’s turbocharger. Nakajima was in the car and was unable to restart it. Buemi could only watch from the garage helplessly as he saw his and the team’s victory snatched away from him at the death in the cruellest way possible.

“After Le Mans, I told my wife I’m done with racing. If I went to London and I lost the championship I was going to pack it in. But that also motivated me in a way; I remember the mistake I made in London last year that cost me the championship and I said to myself: ‘I’m not letting this one get away.’”

Then came London, the season two finale around the narrow ring road of Battersea Park. It all started the day before on Saturday. Qualifying had started in the dry for the first two groups, which did not contain Buemi or his championship rival Lucas Di Grassi.

However, as group three was about to start which contained Di Grassi the heavens opened. Buemi would go out the final group and was greeted by an already soaked race track. Di Grassi qualified in 11th and Buemi in 14th. They managed to carve their way through the field to finish in fourth for the Brazilian and sixth for the Swiss driver. This set up the title showdown. With one race to go, there were only three points between them going into the final race in DI Grassi’s favour.

“We were definitely the fastest that day,” stated Buemi. “The rain didn’t help us at all, but we fought our way through to finish in fourth and sixth, and I knew he was leading the championship, and with everything I had just been through at Le Mans I knew I had to do something special,” said Buemi.

On Sunday, everything changed. A dry qualifying meant that Buemi and Di Grassi could battle it out for pole position, and a chance to gain three vital points before the race started. It was Buemi who did something special. “I took pole by nine-tenths that day. I don’t think anyone has ever had that margin in Formula E again since that day,” said Buemi. That pole meant that going into the final race of the season both Buemi and Di Grassi were tied on 153 points. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed in London. Buemi had taken pole and Di Grassi would line up in third.

As the hours ticked by, there was a growing sense that something was going to happen in the race between Buemi and Di Grassi due to there being one extra factor that had to be considered. Di Grassi could win the championship on countback due to having one more third-place finish to his name. Therefore, if neither finished the race Di Grassi would be champion. It felt like it was on everyone’s lips in those three hours from qualifying to the race and the sentence “If Di Grassi just hits Buemi and takes him out, he would be the champion.” ran through everybody’s head. Tensions between the two drivers at this point seemed sky-high, which added to the already tense atmosphere everyone was feeling around the paddock.

Once the race got underway, everyone held their breath as the drivers plummeted down the first braking zone of turn two. Just like everyone feared, Bang! “He decided to make things more interesting,” stated Buemi. “I knew after qualifying that my car was dominant. I had to just get through that turn 1; the race would have been straightforward. But as soon as he pushed me I knew I had to get the car back and push for fastest lap.”

“Thankfully, you could score the point for the fastest lap even if you were outside of the top ten,” said Buemi. Then the most surreal thing in a title decider happened. Both Buemi and Di Grassi would pit and change the set-up of their cars putting them back into qualifying mode. Nothing felt more tense than peering out of the media centre window and just staring at the two drivers patiently waiting for the engineers to finish working on the cars before sending them out for a hot-lap shootout to decide who would become champion.

“It was crazy, we came in and waited in the garage as the engineers set the car up for qualifying and then we went for the fastest lap.” But it wasn’t that simple for Buemi as he recalls the events vividly. “He was waiting for me, It was not like going out there and doing the fastest lap. Every time I tried, he waited and blocked me. So my engineer came up with a clever idea of making me drive through the pit lane. When I was passing through that gave us a bit of an offset, but it also meant that I had one lap to get the fastest lap, otherwise, I would lose out on the championship.

“However, I got it and he couldn’t just try to block me anymore; he had to beat it and he couldn’t. When I won it, it was a big relief. Losing Le Mans a couple of weeks before and missing out on the season one title, it was a big relief to finally win it.” said Buemi.

In season five, the Renault e.Dams team went through a name change and became the Nissan Formula E team that is still on the grid today. Formula E was beginning a new era with the Gen 2 car and Buemi remembers that change being very seamless to begin with.

“The transition at the start was very good. Renault had decided to pull out and Alain (Prost) had convinced the boss at Nissan to come in and take over from the team. Initially, it was no different; just a different uniform. It was the same people building the powertrain, the same people in the garage working on the car. It was great to start with, but that was when Jean-Paul got sick. So Jean-Paul and Alain decided to split. I felt like we were unbeatable, but when they left, that was when things started to slip. Naturally, people started to leave, things started to change and Nissan started to do things differently. I felt like it had come to its natural end; it wasn’t the same team I joined.”

During the fifth season, Nissan developed a dual-motor powertrain which gave the team amazing acceleration out of corners that couldn’t be matched by other teams. However, this system was banned at the Paris round midway through the season which caused a huge stumbling block for Nissan. Buemi felt that the team should have been more aggressive in trying to keep the system for the remaining few races to help him win the championship.

“Honestly, I think we did a really bad job in the way we managed the dual motor system. I think I should have used it properly until the end of the championship and won it, and we didn’t, so we finished second. I think politically we did an extremely bad job, but that was the decision the team made and that was the start of the end with Nissan. We were too late in starting a new powertrain for the following season, so we were behind the curve instantly. We did well in season six despite the pushback but in seven and eight we had no chance.

For season nine, Buemi made the switch to Envision ending his eight-year association with the team he first joined. However, when asked about how the move to the current teams’ champions came about, you could hear the surprise in his voice when he spoke, as he never felt that he would ever leave the Renault e.dams/Nissan squad.

“I recently watched the (David) Beckham Documentary, and I felt the same way as him when he left Manchester United. He never thought he would leave that club and I thought I would never leave that Renault/Nissan team: It was like home. However, I was forced to leave somehow. It was hard because people started to doubt me a lot. Even though I had the data to prove it, people still didn’t trust me and people’s opinions didn’t change. When I had the opportunity to join Envision, within three days everything was done. From the first time I spoke to Sylvain Filippi, three days later, it was done.

“I know I didn’t have a mega year last year despite getting two poles and a podium. I think the surroundings made it harder for me to get used to driving for a new team. I used to speak French to the engineers; now I speak English. I knew everyone, but I had to get to know everyone.

“So after eight years with the same team, I felt a bit out of my comfort zone last year. I am looking forward to this year because I’ve had that year to settle in, and we won the teams’ championship in the first season, which was pretty special now. Amazingly, it was nice to win the teams’ title with both Renault and now Envision.”

Buemi now hopes he can be fighting for championships once again. This season, the hardware in the cars stays the same from season nine with the teams only being able to improve the software of their cars. Therefore, Buemi knows that he has a chance at fighting for the title this year and that is unquestionably his aim.

“I hope to be fighting at the front again. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be fighting at the front. The hardware is the same. Yes, people can make changes in regards to the software, but it shouldn’t be an evolution. However, we have the fast charger now so we need to see how that will change things from the racing side. On paper, we should be able to fight for the championship. I have had a year with the team now so I have the stability. So there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be fighting.”