The headline may seem overly dramatic right now amid the lull of Formula E’s lengthy off-season. But as revealed by The Race earlier today, DS Techeetah is reeling from a last-minute collapse of a significant investment, which is likely to affect its short and long-term future.
Formula E’s 2019-20 champion da Costa, on holiday in Ibiza celebrating his 30th birthday this week, will be thinking deeply about whether he will race in the black and gold ever again.
What he might be considering is whether he wants to undertake a gruelling Gen3 development testing programme, with 6am starts in the middle of rural Spain for weeks on end, with modest recent investment in the team; if he wants to commit his future to a team that has had such an uncertain future since the end of 2019; and if he wants to go through another season of checking his internet banking as regularly and as nervously he has been doing over the last year.
These are fundamental questions for a driver of da Costa or indeed team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne’s standing in one of the most baffling situations in the whole of motorsport right now.
It is a question echoed through the whole Formula E paddock right now. How does such an excellently-operated and technically-gifted squad that wins multiple titles get to a state where it has little investment and two of the championship’s best drivers that are so unsettled they are actively looking for drives elsewhere?
It’s been going on for at least a year now. The Race can reveal that last August, during the Berlin finale races, both Vergne and da Costa explored the possibility of leaving the team for the upcoming 2021 season and even held talks with rival manufacturers and teams.
On that occasion the drivers came back from a precipice but it was so serious that The Race has learned that a kind of industrial action was considered, with threats to boycott important sim preparation sessions for races.
The levels of their frustration around the higher management issues of the team, and the knock-on investment concerns, have made them feel that they had little choice other than to look around for alternative drives.
Long gone are the days when these two drivers specifically were in racing just to cultivate a career, be damned with the business side of their profession.
They’ve earned their places at the top tables of international racing and they deserve to be recognised as such – as professional drivers. Anything less would simply be disrespectful.
On one hand, da Costa has a deal to continue at DS Techeetah next season, but from a commercial perspective – should his standing in the team continue to be compromised – then his manager Tiago Monteiro will not think twice about looking for an alternative programme. In fact he would be no kind of manager at all if he wasn’t already doing that right now, which he is.
Da Costa is also known to be considering at least one significant Hypercar endurance programme offer from 2023 onwards, which may also influence his decision on where his Formula E career will go right now.
It is unclear to what extent this may have continued in recent months but da Costa is known to have been at least evaluating other options for 2022 even though his contract status theoretically ties him to his current team for the final season of Gen2 competition.
One obvious possibility could be to replace Nyck de Vries at Mercedes EQ should the reigning champion be made an offer in Formula 1 for next season.
Should the Dutch ace get what many believe is a justified F1 chance, and the indications are this should be known in the next few weeks, then da Costa would surely be a no-brainer for Ian James to consider as a direct replacement, even if it were for one season only.
Mercedes EQ does have a strong, experienced and ready-made standby in Gary Paffett but even for a single season that would seem unlikely as it stands.
Jake Hughes and Esteban Gutierrez have tried out with the Silver Arrows but with respect to both of them an available da Costa would be hard for James to resist on the criteria of experience and results.
The future of the Mercedes EQ team beyond 2022 will be forming over the coming months so da Costa could even get a decent long-term deal via the new entity for Gen3, which would be the ideal scenario for him to dovetail with a lucrative Hypercar programme.
Then there is a possible opportunity to go back to Andretti, a team that da Costa drove for from 2016-2019. There will certainly be interest from his old team but with a largely unknown structure there right now it could also be risky.
All these hypotheses seems very distant right now as da Costa plans a future that may not include the team he won a title with just over 12 months ago.
Whatever the future holds, Formula E itself could easily be thrust into a new existential crisis this autumn if DS Techeetah cannot re-group quickly.
Formula E began last season with four prestigious German OEMs and ended it with just one committed to Gen3. Its most successful ever team is now on the ropes, while at least one other team on the grid is presently chasing a major sponsor for a seven-figure sum for last season’s campaign. Some things in racing, no matter how progressive the championship, never seem to change.
It all constitutes to, at present, a less than positive outlook for the championship, which has had little in the way of constructive news over the last 18 months at least.
It’s not all existential issues though.
Some are very real, such as significant partners leaving teams. Panasonic at Jaguar, Renesas at Mahindra and GEOX at Dragon are just three examples of this.
Conversely and somewhat ironically, DS Techeetah’s commercial team has brought a host of names to its programme with Verizon, Mahle, Rakuten and eToro among the big names concluding deals with the Franco-Chinese team.
That’s the challenging news but the light at the end of the tunnel is there if you look closely enough, it’s just that it needs to be illuminated much more, and it should be in time.
Formula E issued the latest draft of its commercial agreement for the teams at the New York City E-Prix in July.
The commercial parameters for Gen3 – let’s call it Formula E’s Concorde Agreement for nothing other than convenience reasons – are now clearly on the table and outlining commercial inventories on several aspects, including the specifics of the cars, sponsorship categories, prize money and so on.
But the other side of the equation here is the cost cap, which will come into play in 2023, with some ‘soft launch studies’ next season too.
An advanced version of this will again be communicated this month.
Yet the fact remains that issues abound and something needs to be done now if Formula E is to start regaining traction and any kind of positive semblance as the world championship enters a crucial final season of its second rules set in 2022 and a rapid metamorphosis into Gen3.
It’s the same kind of traction that DS Techeetah and da Costa is used to applying so successfully on the track.
But right now the former of those successful entities needs to generate a whole new momentum off track if it is to ensure its initial investment and subsequent success aren’t to be squandered entirely.