Nicki Shields, the official broadcast pit reporter has spoken in an exclusive interview with e-racing.net in which she spoke about her thrilling chance of driving a Formula E car, also gave her impressions of this new season, and her career as presenter.
The WhatsApp Call ringtone sounds, and Nicki Shields answers as natural and happy as she is on TV. “How is it going there in Buenos Aires for the ePrix? I’m really looking forward to it”, she asks. After a quick chat about the Argentinian venue, she is ready to sit and talk with e-racing.net about her Formula E drive.
ERN: Can you recall the moment in which you were told you were going to drive a Formula E car?
NS: “It was very stressful! We were testing at Donington. Alex Tai, very kindly suggested: “We should get you to drive in a car, why haven’t you done so yet?”. I just said there had been no opportunity, but it would be a dream come true. And he said: “Then let’s do it!”. Of course we had to go through critical things, like lots of procedures, permissions by FIA, insurance checkings, track time allocations…
“It was all very much “it might happen, if we can get the ‘i’s dotted and the ‘t’s crossed”, so I then spent the next couple of hours trying to all documents in place to make it happen. I must thank all the ones who trusted in me behind the wheel, and to the ones who were doing the RoboRace, because they had the track time booked, and loaned me 10 minutes.”
ERN: Since it was unexpected, did it make it more exciting?
NS: “It was so unexpected I had little time to think about it, all I needed was to say “Yes, I’d love this opportunity”. There was some drama about if we were going to make it or not, with the FIA approvals needed, since I had to get a racing suit, shoes and helmet.”
ERN: Was José-María López’s racing suit your size?
NS: “[Laughs] Oh yes! I must thank him for donating his new suit, luckily we were very similar sized, so if he ever needs to borrow any of my jeans or dresses for any event, he’s more than welcome. I’ll happily repay the favour. He would look great!”
ERN: Once the paperwork was done and you were ready to sit in the car and join the team, how was the work with them prior to go on track?
NS: “I think the first thing to do was a deep safety briefing, with all the dos and don’ts explained. To be fair, they simplified it a bit for me. I also just kept the settings the car had after the whole testing day was done. There was no changing gear, I drove from first to second and stayed in second all the time. It was really straight forward, literally “click ‘n’ go”.
“It’s not like driving a Formula 1 car, where it’s easy to stall and impossible to find the bite point of the clutch, which could be really embarrassing. It was very straight forward, you can’t get it wrong, so that was on my side.”
ERN: After completing the activity with the Formula E car, would you say it was like you imagined previously?
NS: “It probably was just like I imagined it. It was a beautiful experience I will keep forever. It’s been amazing to watch the project grow and develop. As for the car, it was nice to hear the wind instead of a noisy engine, and it was easy to handle. Much more straight forward than I imagined.”
ERN: Did you have the chance to drive any other racing cars back in time?
NS: “I’ve driven a Formula 3000 car, which was pretty spectacular, it was a bit more powerful. The problem is that it’s quite tricky to film it. In a Formula E car I had to beware that in front of me was another car with a cameraman hanging from the back window, you have to go quite slowly. Then I could drive a few more laps with no camera in front and I could put my foot to the floor.”
ERN: What are your thoughts of the season opening?
NS: “I think Hong Kong was absolutely outstanding, I have to say the location was one of the best we’ve ever had in Formula E. Walking around the paddock was amazing. We have interesting news with many manufacturers and drivers joining, like José María López or Jaguar entering the series. I think we can say eDams are still the team to beat.”
ERN: Let’s talk about yourself: how did you get involved in motorsports and journalism?
NS: “Well, it all started with my dad and my grandfather, they were massive petrolheads, I grew up watching Formula 1 and going to Brands Hatch. It started more as a hobby, I started working in journalism later, as always, you always look after your passions. I started with science journalism, particularly around sustainability.
“I hosted a program about electric vehicles, and in an interview they told me about an electric racing project that came out as Formula E. I thought it was amazing since it joined all my passions. I managed to reach Formula E, and now I could grow my experience. You always are naturally drawned into your passions.”
ERN: What would you prefer, a normal scheduled interview surrounding or in the middle of the weekend activity?
NS: “It’s always nice to do it in the middle of a race, so you have a live environment and more natural reactions, less “choreograph”. You hear people’s most genuine answers. As for the other situation, you can actually get really nice insights and deeper stories. It really depends if you need a short interview to get to the focus, or a deep story. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to get people relaxed and to say what they really think.”
ERN: What piece of advice would you give to those young journalists who want to grow and go far?
NS: “For sure, I’d recommend to watch as many races as they can, to watch the journalists and presenters that you aspire to be. It’s important to listen to the questions they ask, how they act with the drivers. Try to be subscribed to magazines to keep updated and informed. You must absorb the information all the time, it’s not something you can learn overnight. Try to get interviews, no matter if it starts with a phone or a camera, just try to start doing things. Even if it is at university, it’s important to build experience.”
Original interview conducted in 2016.