It was perhaps inevitable that FIA Championship Manager for Formula E, Frederic Espinos, would carve out a career in motorsport.
Espinos actually won the 1978 Tour de Corse rally with his mother – Michele Petit, also known as ‘Biche’. The fact that Espinos was an embryo at the time, surely makes him completely unique in motorsport history!
“That was the first time in her life that she was sick and she could not understand why, but it was because I was there as a third driver,” Espinos laughs.
“So you see the passion for racing was there at a very early stage.”
His mother had been a long-time co-driver for legendary French driver Jean-Claude Andruet. Together they also claimed the first ever World Rally victory at Monte Carlo in 1973, sharing an Alpine A110 [pictured below].
The young Espinos was always around motor racing, as after his mother stopped rallying she worked with Mazda Rally Team Europe.
Early memories for ‘Fred’ are enviable ones, including “being with the team testing in Finland during the summer and sitting in the car with Hannu Mikkola or Timo Salonen.
Rallying became his playground and along with his best friend, future WRC driver, Antony Warmbold – who was the son of Mazda’s team boss Achim Warmbold – the two played and dreamed happily among their 1980s rally heroes.
The inevitability of Fred getting involved in the sport as a profession came in 2000. This was when he became an intern with the promoters of the French F3 and Super Touring Championships. The years of learning were fun, but not without sacrifice.
“I was basically doing all the things that no-one wanted to do,” says Espinos. “I was even sleeping in the motorhome of the FFSA as they didn’t take a hotel for me, and I had to take back the car on the Sunday night in order to return to university.”
A stint at Stephane Ratel Organisation [SRO] followed, where Espinos came under the mentorship of the respected Jacquie Groom, at that stage the media officer who then subsequently went on to become Sporting Director.
“I learned a lot from Jacquie, I really did,” he says. “Then I went to work for Zone Rouge [marketing and translation agency] and started on the Peugeot Le Mans program. It was the year when all the engines blew up in 2009! You could say it was an interesting start!”
Espinos was also working in the World Series by Renault 3.5 series as a press officer by this stage of his career.
“I met a lot of drivers in both the 2 and 3.5 litre categories which was fun, and I still work with them likes of Sam Bird, (Antonio Felix) da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne,” he notes.
Entering the racing world of freelancing, Espinos then became the Media Delegate for the FIA [in Formula Three between 2013 and 2014]. He quickly rose through the ranks before working with Frederic Bertrand on the FIA Single-Seater Commission.
“I knew Frederic from the World Series by Renault, so this was why he brought me and Gerhard Berger in at this time,” explains Espinos.
“Fred and Gerhard gave me the opportunity to come to Geneva and to be in charge at this time, to be the manager of single seaters, so I was in charge of Formula 3 and we also created Formula 4. It was a great opportunity to move to Geneva and work for the FIA.”
Espinos is a competitive soul and racer at heart. This is evidenced in the way he passionately describes one of the greatest F3 seasons ever, in 2014.
“I remember the best session I have ever seen in my life,” enthuses Espinos.
“It was qualifying in Pau with [Max] Verstappen and [Esteban] Ocon. I went to the first corner to watch the session there and I saw these two guys and they were just flying, they were not in our world anymore.
“It was incredible, as lap after lap they were taking the pole position, and you see they were both way over the limit.
“This is what I like in motorsport, when you see that the driver is making the difference and he is finding more than the limits – this is the real appeal.”
Espinos missed the first ever Formula E test at Donington in the summer of 2014 but has been ever-present since.
Along with several others, he worked on the Sporting Regulations and assisted in building all the tools needed for the smooth running of the visionary all-electric championship which commenced at Beijing in September 2014.
“We were in the mindset of a traditional race when Formula E was about to start in China,” recalls Espinos.
“And of course the standard procedure is that you do a formation lap and then the start. So we said, “ok, why don’t we not do a formation lap. People reacted, saying ‘what, no formation lap?’ and we said ‘no because it is not necessary, and for Formula E things are different.'”
“From that moment the mold was formed for Formula E to be a different and new entity,” says Espinos.
39-year-old Espinos now has a job which is to make sure that everyone has all the information possible, all the tools needed to make sure the Formula E weekend runs smoothly from a Sporting point of view.
“I am like, as you say in English, in front of the orchestra, the conductor sometimes,” he explains.
“There are the specialists, the Race Director or the Stewards, I am not here to make any sporting decisions or things like that. I am just here to make sure everything works properly and to answer to the teams, as I am also in charge of the relationships with the teams and with the promoter.
“Like I say, racing is a human sport as much as a technological one. In Formula E I feel the balance and ambience is very nice and long may that continue.”