A day in the life of Jaguar TCS Racing's reserve driver Norman Nato
The role of reserve driver – someone who is responsible for taking over for the full-time racing driver should they miss a round – is vital in motorsport, especially with COVID-19 still posing an issue this season.
In his Formula E career, Norman Nato was Venturi Racing’s reserve driver for two consecutive seasons (2018-19, 2019-20), until he was promoted to race full-time for the 2020-21 season alongside Swiss driver, Edoardo Mortara. He also has experience in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), and is currently preparing to begin his campaign this season with WRT in LMP2.
Credit: FIA Formula E
Now working with Jaguar TCS Racing in Formula E, Norman will fulfil reserve duties alongside fellow Frenchman, Tom Dillmann.
We caught up via Zoom, and he gave me an insight into his role with Jaguar, and what it’s really like to be a reserve driver in the all-electric championship.
Norman’s experience in endurance racing has a big impact on his mindset towards his duties as a reserve driver. Of course, there is a big difference between the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a 45-minute Formula E race, but the skills are transferrable, and Norman makes sure to point it out.
“You have to jump into the car and be precise when you give any feedback, avoid mistakes and don’t push the car to the limit whilst being able to manage the pressure,” he explains. “You can’t really practise these things in the simulator or outside of the race weekend, and this kind of thing is the same in endurance racing, even if it’s a longer race.
“It helps to drive different things and be able to jump from one car to another.”
Readjusting after not racing for a while can be difficult, which is another reason why Norman appreciates his endurance racing schedule.
“You have to be focused all the time so it [racing in endurance] keeps your mind busy.”
From working in the simulator to being in constant communication with Jaguar’s full-time racing drivers, Sam Bird and Mitch Evans, Norman’s job – particularly at the factory – is to prepare the simulator for the drivers ahead of race weekend preparation.
“It’s really important that the simulator is set up as close to reality as possible, in terms of driving position and for getting the feeling of the car,” Norman explains. “It’s a very important tool for us as we don’t have much time to practise on the proper track.”
So far this season, Norman has travelled to the opening rounds of the Formula E championship – Diriyah and Mexico City – with Jaguar, and this is an important aspect of his reserve role with the team.
“My job is to be ready – at any time – to jump in the car and race.”
Whilst at Venturi, most of Norman’s colleagues were French, so communication on the radio and in meetings was in English, whilst general conversation away from the car was French.
“It’s not completely new for me to work with an English team because I’m racing in endurance and I’ve raced in other series,” Norman explains. “But I was questioning how different it was going to be.”
Adjusting to differences in working ways can be a challenge, but Norman immediately felt comfortable around his new teammates, which made integrating into Jaguar TCS Racing much easier.
“Many people were quite surprised not to see me continue full-time in Formula E,” he says. “Jaguar were pleased to have a reserve driver who has experience and who is able to race.
“I’m still learning and trying to improve in my new role as a reserve driver, and to adapt to the culture.”
Last year, when racing for Venturi, Norman’s car was powered by a Mercedes powertrain. At Jaguar, this is different, just like the team’s philosophy and approach to racing. So, although this might seem insignificant, for a driver, it’s an important thing to adapt to. Also, working with a new team means forging new relationships with those around you.
“I have a really strong relationship with Sam and Mitch,” Norman tells me. “I’ve known them for a long time. We’ve raced each other in the past.
“The relationship in the team is really important.”
Credit: Andrew Ferraro - LAT Images
To help Jaguar TCS Racing reach their ultimate potential on track this season, Norman is constantly trying to use his previous experience to make notes and give detailed feedback to Sam, Mitch and the engineers.
“I know that, as a driver and as a person, we respect each other,” Norman says. “Race by race, I’m asking Sam or Mitch what’s different, what they need, and what they expect from me in my new position in the team.”
As a reserve driver for Jaguar TCS Racing, Norman divides his time between the factory and the race track.
A day at the factory involves meetings with the engineers and completing laps in the simulator.
“It really depends what the team needs,” Norman explains. “We try new things with the set up or just follow a run plan.”
Norman works hard to ensure that his previous experience – both as a reserve and full-time racing driver across Formula E and endurance – is useful and helpful, at the factory and beyond.
“I’m trying to find the right balance,” he says. “To help, but not to be too much.
“I know what it’s like across a race weekend.”
A day at the track, however, is much busier and looks very different.
Mornings consist of meeting with Sam, Mitch and other team members, then heading to the track together. Of course, still new in his role with Jaguar, Norman has only worked trackside across two weekends so far this season – Diriyah and Mexico City.
“We go to the track together, then we have a meeting to plan the day, so we know exactly what’s going to happen and at what time,” Norman says. “Mitch and Sam are much busier than I am.”
Norman takes his role as reserve very seriously, and works closely with Sam, Mitch and the engineers to discuss the weekend’s events. Friday is an important day during race weekend, because if the drivers feel like something needs to be changed ahead of upcoming sessions, they’ll share their perspectives and ideas with the team, Norman included.
“I do track walks with them because I have to be ready to jump in the car in any situation,” he says. “The track walk is maybe my only opportunity to have a look at the details of the track.”
Credit: Norman Nato
Saturday – often race day – can be an early start for Norman and the team, depending on time zones and race start times. At the most recent Formula E round in Mexico City, they arrived at the track at 6:15am. After breakfast and a quick briefing with the engineers, the day can get really busy.
“Physically, it’s not really difficult,” Norman explains. “But mentally, you’re really, really tired because there’s a lot of information and you have no time to rest.
“It’s much busier than people expect it to be.”
Credit: Jaguar TCS Racing
Typically, Norman follows the day’s events with Sam and Mitch, whose main focus is to drive the car.
“Even if I’m not driving the car, I have to stay focused, listen to everything and look at the details,” he says. “I take notes to give back to the team during the briefing.”
Norman’s main priority is to help the team succeed and achieve their best result after finishing second in last year’s championship, but also to be as involved with everything as possible, in the hope of potentially improving his skills and knowledge as a racing driver.
“I’m in this position right now but my target is to come back as a full-time racing driver in Formula E,” Norman says about his hopes for the future. “I’m sure it’s going to helpful for my career.”
Credit: Norman Nato