Formula E’s first race of the season introduced a new name to the winner’s list and there may be more than meets the eye too…
Alexander Sims dominated the opening weekend of the 2019/20 Formula E season Photo: Motorsport Images
Of the 24 drivers on the grid last weekend for the opening rounds of the Formula E season, three had won the championship, ten had won races in the series and 17 have had F1 contracts.
None of those accolades applied to Alexander Sims, but it was the 31-year-old who emerged as the surprise championship leader after dominating the opening weekend: taking pole position in both and winning the second with a smooth, commanding drive.
His performance also looks set to revive a tradition that’s largely dying out in the modern age.
Apart from Daniel Ricciardo’s Honey Badger tag, the days of nicknames such as Jumper, The Bear, Monza Gorilla and Super Rat have long passed into rose-tinted nostalgia.
But could Sims be an heir to Alain Prost’s ‘Professor’ moniker? The powersliding professor of Formula E?
Let’s tick off some clichés. Bespectacled, check; Softly spoken and mild-mannered, check; technically engaging, check; a genuine affinity and knowledge for his racing car, check.
Sims is also, according to BMW i Andretti Motorsport team principal Roger Griffiths, as low-maintenance a driver as they come.
“He is probably the easiest driver I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Griffiths tells Motor Sport.
“There is no neediness at all, it’s almost the reverse image of a racing driver stereotype. If you didn’t know he was a racing driver, if he was just a guy down the pub, then he’d be the last person you’d think does what he does for a living. I like that.”
The Powersliding Professor? Photo: Motorsport Images
It’s a character which has mean that Sims has flown under the radar since winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award in 2008. He’s won in British F3, as well as Euro F3; competed in GP3, and raced for BMW in various GT and sportscar series.
He moved to Formula E with BMW i Andretti Motorsport in 2018, but the first year was forgettable. His performance in Saudi Arabia suggests that this season will be somewhat different.
Sims is a family man having just welcomed a third child to his brood in leafy Stratford-Upon-Avon. But when the visor flicks down, another character emerges.
“One of our senior performance engineers described him as a ‘qualifying animal’ in Riyadh last week,” recalls Griffiths.
“If you just look at the way he drives and his commitment, it’s very impressive. He is so analytical, so calm and precise that yes I could buy in to the professor tag completely.”
That ‘qualifying animal’ description will resonate with anyone who saw Sims’ qualifying laps in Saudi Arabia last weekend, where he secured three pole positions on the bounce if counting last season’s final pole of the season in New York City.
On his Super Pole lap last Saturday Sims executed a delicious drift at the exit of the track’s quickest corner.
“See my slide out of 17!,” he excitedly asked his team as he toured back to the pits.
It is these tiny moments of deadpan joy that endear Sims to so many. There’s no bluster, nor pre-thought soundbite. As much as the deep-dive analysis and preparation there is also just a pure joy of being a racing driver.
“He’s absolutely enjoying it and that is the bit that stands out, he just really enjoys his motor racing,” says Griffiths.
“Some drivers seem to think it is a God-given right to be a racing driver, whereas it seems that he is just thankful for being there so he makes the most of it.”
“You know, whether it’s sitting there for a day when you’re testing and things are not going right and there is loads of downtime, even if somebody else is driving too, he’s super engaged during that process.”
It is this focus and dedication that finally saw Sims scratch his Formula E victory itch last Saturday. Starting from pole he never once looked like he would do anything other than dominate the race, and so he did.
But while an early championship lead and the plaudits of the paddock decorated Sims’ start to season six there was still plenty for Griffiths and his team to work on.
“Sometimes Alexander needs a little bit of a prod to say, ‘hey, come on, you can be a bit more aggressive here’
Sims has established himself as an early title contender for the 2019/20 crown Photo: Motorsport Images
“We were definitely looking for spirited performances and he did that more on Saturday with his starts after Safety Car periods and just knowing when to push. He got the job done and was in total control, which in Formula E is a very rare thing.”
Sims worked in harmony with BMW stablemate Antonio Felix da Costa last season, even when the pair of them, with poor management from the team, conspired to throw a likely 1-2 finish away with a collision in Marrakesh.
Sims now has a rapid, young and ambitious teammate in Maximilian Guenther. Could we see him breaking the nice guy mould and corralling the team around himself to ruthlessly exploit his fine start to mount an at all costs title campaign?
The question is tongue-in-cheek and Griffiths laughs and semi-scoffs at the same time in knowing acknowledgement.
“I think he’s strong enough to stand on his own two feet but he’s very much not a driver who will start getting big for his boots. I mean it seems ridiculous even just thinking of Alexander doing that doesn’t it,” he says.
“In fact, it’s not about his success, it’s about the success of the team and he really feels this and he really lives that view.
“Like I said, he’s just such a great guy to work with and I think he’s been underestimated because of the character he is, but I don’t see that happening for much longer do you?”