NIO333 was at the races last season but it wasn’t racing. Such was the rebuilding process of the team after its buyout by new owners Lisheng Racing that the team was there in presence only.
Under the splendidly quirky ‘Brilliance in Excellence’ company based in Hong Kong, a season of making up the numbers in 2019-20 had to be endured before any kind of tangible upshot could be considered let alone absorbed.
This season has more than hinted that it is now actually racing its competitors once again. Oliver Turvey’s 10th and sixth places in the opening two races at Diriyah last weekend were evidence of that, so too Tom Blomqvist’s unrealised pace throughout the two events.
The incident that brought out the Safety Car #DiriyahEPrix pic.twitter.com/jvN11rsxeu
— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) February 27, 2021
From a pure resource point of view the team is some way behind most of the grid, but in terms of engineering and operational quality, which NIO333 has always had, the team is capable of becoming a prodigious dark horse this season.
“You know, we just need to be consistently there all the time,” NIO333’s team principal Christian Silk tells The Race.
“So that when other people drop the ball, we need to be picking it up and running with it and getting maximum points. That’s what I feel we did over the weekend.”
Silk self-acknowledges that he has been “burned too many times in motorsport, to go into something completely confident of what the result is going to be”.
Yet, NIO333 knew it had taken a good step forward heading to Diriyah last month and the general feeling was that other teams were also making strides but not insurmountable ones. Getting closer to the peak of the stable Gen2 rules set means it is very difficult for teams to make much substantial progress on powertrains alone.
For Silk and the NIO333 team, it was a bit easier to make the step up from where it was last season. But there’s a clear sense that it wasn’t respectability that was sought, but genuine competitiveness.
This didn’t just come about through NIO333’s network of suppliers on its new powertrain, nor from having a proper, dedicated and structured testing period. It mostly had its roots in increased team harmony and a joint purpose to concentrate on not just tossing the wooden spoon away but burning the damn thing.
It also came from an understanding that the team ethic was so vital that a combined objective to climb the grid had be achieved by using its inherent savvy and dextrousness.
The fact that the team principal also had a simple and healthy outlook on how a team should work underpinned these indicators.
“My style is quite different from the style that was reigning beforehand,” details Silk.
“They both have pros and cons. I’m not saying my style is right but I’m quite different in the way I want to work.
“We talk a lot about the psychology for the driver in terms of maximising the performance, so obviously the driver needs to feel relaxed and happy and confident that he can do a good performance.
“But I think it’s the same for everybody in the team too. We need to feel supported, we need to feel part of a purpose, we need to feel enabled in trying to do the best for the team.
“I’ve worked with quite a few people over the years and have worked with some really good engineers and I’m confident we have a really great group of people. But it’s also about the people being confident and relaxed in their position, so they can get on and do the best job without worries.”
Silk is clearly a strong believer that you get more out of people, if they’re fully enrolled in what they’re doing. Relaxed, happy and creative is surely such an advantageous way to approach sport, but you’d be amazed how many teams throughout motorsport operate through a prism of fear, suspicion and political tumult.
The team had too often been overly concerned about making mistakes.
The freedom to not worry about making them, but instead to push limits and get the maximum performance, has started to breed a more nourishing company-wide attitude.
“If they’re constantly looking over their backs, because they think their boss is going to start screaming and shouting at them, you’re never going to get a great job out of people,” says Silk.
“Lots of people in the team came to see me during the weekend and said how much they enjoy working within the team, which I definitely want. And after the race, lots of people from other teams came to see me and said they were really glad to see us back.
“We will believe in ourselves much more as we do better in each race.”
NIO333’s competitors definitely do not want to see them racing in the top 10 – something the team didn’t manage last season at all – and taking away valuable points. But it was telling in Diriyah last week that several rivals made a point of visiting their pit to tell Silk and others how they were pleased that they had pulled up the anchors of being uncompetitive.
Within these little paddock chronicles there comes the essence of racing in Formula E. Not a throwback or twee romantic notion. Instead it was one that gathers in several important parables that shadow what NIO333 has been through over the last two years.
“The Formula E paddock is quite a close-knit place and people get on well together and want to see close racing out there,” says Silk
“Formula 1 has fallen into this dominant one-team-wins-everything pattern and it’s boring like that. So we need the diversity, we need different teams winning, and I think people were glad to see us in the mix.
“They don’t want to see our cars in front of theirs, but they’re happy when our cars are in front of everybody else’s.”
Within this spirit the team will thrive. It won’t win the championship, and it would need good fortune for a win, but the men and women in the electric blue colours are racing again and for the moment that is all that counts.