Winner of the first-ever Formula E race, the 2014 Beijing E-Prix, and the most successful driver in the history of this championship, Lucas di Grassi is also the first man in history to drive a racing car on the Arctic Ice Cap (2016 Project Ice). We spoke with the Brand Ambassador of Modex about his career – Lucas drove in Formula 1, F2, F3, and Le Mans 24h, as well – about the impact of technology in car racing and the mindset of a champion.
Born in Sao Paulo in 1984, Lucas is currently driving for ROKiT Venturi Racing in the 2021 / 2022 Formula E season. His passion for cars, and car racing, in particular, started at an early age. Driving karts at his uncle’s kart shop in Interlagos, di Grassi made his karting debut when he was 10.
Although di Grassi had many favourite drivers, the three-time Formula 1 World Champion Ayrton Senna represented a role model for him. Moreover, the car and the engineering side made Lucas fall in love with the world of motorsport. “I had many favourite drivers, but what really attracted me was the car and the engineering part of the sport. Obviously, Senna was an important role model.”
Lucas was nine years old when Ayrton Senna died. “I was beginning to compete in go-karts, and I lived the impact his death had in our country. He was a national hero, but I was too young to understand his importance. That tragic day made me see how relevant a racing driver could be. That had a big influence on me!”
The first driver to commit to Formula E
Besides being the first driver to engage in the FIA Formula E race series, Lucas played a significant role in the development of the original Formula E prototype car that was used as a proof-of-concept for Gen1, which was also raced in the championship’s inaugural 2014/15 season. In 2016-2017, Lucas became the Formula E Champion. Other highlights of his career: in 2005, he won the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix, becoming World Champion. In 2010, he got a taste of Formula 1 with Virgin Racing. In 2012, di Grassi became an Audi factory driver, clinching three podium finishes at Le Mans 24h.
Reflecting on his wins, Lucas says: “Fortunately, my career is long, and I have had many happy moments: the World F3 Cchampionship, Le Mans podiums, the Panamerican go-kart title, many other victories and, of course, my history at Formula E. Each one had special importance given the moment of my life. I am happy to know I can value and appreciate all of them.” Furthermore, Lucas highlights the important role his team had in helping him achieve those performances: “Motor racing is a team sport. That encapsulates it all.”
F1, Le Mans 24h, and Formula E thrills
We know that feelings are hard to translate into words, but even so, we’ve asked Lucas to try and paint a picture of how much the sensations behind the wheel differ between Formula E, Le Mans, and F1. “These three are quite different. So are the demands of each series. They require unique techniques for different types of racing – especially if you consider Le Mans as it is pure and tough endurance. They demand different approaches, risks, and responsibilities. I am very grateful to F1, Le Mans, and Formula E. They’ve all offered me good times and tough challenges, which I can only be grateful for.”
Dealing with the biggest career challenge
For Lucas, the biggest professional challenge came at the age of 18, when he dropped everything he had in Brazil to pursue his career abroad without speaking the language properly, with very few contacts, etc. “I was on my own,” recalls di Grassi. “I left that perfect ecosystem, family, friends, school; I left it all behind. I took a risk to try and become a professional racing driver at that age. It required a lot of struggles, for many years, before I became a professional. But that shaped me both as a man, and as a human being.”
Be open-minded and learn as much as possible
Staying competitive in the world of car racing requires many attributes on various levels. How does Lucas evolve as a driver from one race to another? Besides taking a serious approach to the fitness aspect of the sport, he tries to be open-minded and learn as much as possible. “Motor racing is both a physical and mental sport, and I believe this second element is the most important. Knowledge in motorsport is as important as having fuel in the tank. Without it, you go nowhere!”
Another important level is growing as an individual, expanding your horizons as a human being. Lucas believes that trying to understand how the environment around us works is essential. Reading several books and becoming interested in different areas and technologies is a must. “I believe the main point of evolving as a person is to educate yourself and try to interact and direct things as much as possible to make the world a better place. That constant learning makes society better. Many times, you need to be flexible in the sense of trying to understand and navigate through many different concepts and get a more global view of your life,” concludes Lucas.
Making the most of your strengths
Speaking about the values he appreciates the most, di Grassi thinks that “you have to be resilient when you find difficulty, overcome that difficulty without giving up.” Accepting that “many people know more than you and are better than you in different areas” is also a key aspect. Lucas adds: “What matters is doing the best with what you have and applying all your strength and energy. If you do the most you can, you will be happy that you did your best. And that last aspect – being happy – is more important than the result itself – which is a consequence of how focused and committed you are.”
Valuable advice for younger drivers
With his vast experience in car racing, what advice would Lucas give to the younger generation, to all the kids and teenagers who dream of becoming racing drivers? “Besides what I said earlier, keep in mind that you need a good car, a committed and professional team, as well as a sponsor. There are several components to build a racing career, but if you really have this dream, you can’t lose hope. The world of motorsport is tough, and you will have to overcome all the difficult moments along the way. Resilience and working until the end are key elements to be successful,” advises di Grassi.
Improve performance by using the latest tech available
Since the world of car racing and the tech industry are heavily interconnected, Lucas also shared his views on how the latest technologies available on the market could improve performance. “A race car is 100% technology, so in anything you do, you are dealing with some tech aspect. Today, you improve performance from one day to another by getting the data correctly, by analyzing it correctly. Tires, engine, battery – you have to combine all this data to achieve better performance.”
For Lucas, “performance in tech” means being able to gain efficiency using the latest tech at one’s disposal. “It could be in a business, a race car, or any other area. That’s a challenge I love!” How about “tech for good”? “This translates into solving problems for people,” believes di Grassi. “If you can resolve a critical issue, you are generating relevant value for a part of the population; you are improving their lives, in some way. If you manage to improve society, it’s the right way for the world to move towards a more sustainable path.”
Modex: solving problems in an innovative way
Our discussion also touches upon the tech side. More precisely, on how Lucas sees Modex and what he appreciates about the company. “Modex caught my eye as being a blockchain company that is trying to solve problems that our decentralized world has yet to deal with. How you keep your data and use it safely – a way to solve problems with the new blockchain tech in an increasingly digital world and in different areas. Modex has done this in an innovative way.”
Sports lover and UN environmental advocate
Lucas is not only an accomplished racing driver, but also a United Nations environmental advocate – one of the off-track achievements he’s most proud of. “I am also very proud of my family, my wife, and kids. I am a fortunate man in many aspects.”
Referring to his hobbies, Lucas says he loves sports. “Tennis, running, water sports – you name it, I will be with you. For me, sport is what meditation represents to many other people!”
Self-confidence, resilience, and hard work
We have seen what advice Lucas would give to those who dream of becoming racing drivers. But what advice would di Grassi give to his younger self, that Lucas about to start his first race, overwhelmed with emotions and high expectations? “That’s a very good question – makes you think, really. The main thing I would say to my younger self is that I should have more self-confidence in the more advanced stages of my career, and that I should fully appreciate what I conquered at the time. Because many times I was about to go back to Brazil because it was so difficult to get the budget, but that is part of the game any pro driver wannabe must play. The key is resilience, focusing on the work and going on, no matter what happens. Fortunately, I was able to overcome it all.”