How Nissan picked its new FE driver from an F1-tinged shortlist - The Race
Formula E

How Nissan picked its new FE driver from an F1-tinged shortlist

Sep 8 2021
By Sam Smith

Two drivers topped the stat charts when it came to making superpole appearances in Formula E last season.

One was Alex Lynn, who quite criminally does not have a place on the grid next season, and the other is Maximilian Guenther, who very much has. They each made seven appearances in the crucial one lap shoot-out session from 15 available opportunities.

Maximilian Guenther Alex Lynn Formula E

Such is the fickle and often cruel nature of Formula E that this statistic could now almost be dispensed as just a curiosity amid the often maddening narrative labyrinth of 2021-spec Formula E races.

More pertinent is that Guenther is travelling to the UK for his first day on duty as a Nissan e.dams driver, where he will be flashing that familiar smile to his latest colleagues in the team and meeting his new teammate Sebastien Buemi, who will also be in attendance at a media day.

“I’ve got a super good feeling,” Guenther tells The Race.

“My first discussions we had, I thought ‘yeah, we’re really all on the same mindset’ in terms of approach.”

His first day will not include driving the car. That will have to wait until his simulator days begin later in September.

Almost exactly a month ago there was a period of uncertainty on who would partner Buemi for 2022, and it was reaching a judgement day all of its own.

The Nissan e.dams senior management team had two different strategies formed to elect an Oliver Rowland replacement for 2022. It had become increasingly evident that one was going to be more practical than the other.

On the one hand – let’s call it project ex-F1 – the team had a deep interest in both Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat, the latter of who was likely to have run for the team in the ultimately cancelled rookie test that should have taken place at Valencia in April.

Daniil Kvyat Alpine F1

In the case of Albon, the interest was generally quite one-sided though. That was because the former Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing driver still harboured an understandable ambition to get back on the Formula 1 grid.

There was also just the pure timing to factor in, too. Nissan e.dams is known to have wanted to plug in a driver soon after the end of the 2021 season and that was always going to be impossible to do for any F1 prospect.

Like awkward kids at the end of a school disco Albon and to a lesser extent Kvyat were forcing themselves to skulk in the shadows for one final dance.

From a more practical point of view, Nissan e.dams needed a driver to be embedded well before the pre-season Valencia test in November.

This was because with no private development testing on the run-up to the new season, due to the present elongated homologation period, a complete Formula E novice, no matter what their potential might be, was going to be one major risk.

This is where Nissan e.dams’ second strategy came into its own. It consisted of experienced Formula E racers who were proven winners and who were available. The shortlist was Lynn, Guenther and Lucas di Grassi.

The Race reported that some discussions with ‘camp di Grassi’ had in fact took place. But the fact was that di Grassi was already eyeing a Mercedes sugar-coated package on his Monegasque doorstep at Venturi. This is expected to be formally announced soon.

The concurrent discussions with Guenther and Lynn went further though.

Lynn had understandably lost some faith in Formula E politics through Mahindra’s eye-opening decision to sign Rowland so early. This maelstrom also made his soon-to-be-announced sportscar deal seem all the more attractive as he seeks to add many other achievements to his already impressive endurance haul.

Alex Lynn Mahindra Formula E

Therefore it was Guenther who came out on top and got the Nissan e.dams gig.

“I was kind of selecting my options and I then made my decision to join the team,” he says.

Guenther swiftly countered any notion that Andretti signing up Jake Dennis for a second season at the Berlin E-Prix had caused any rancour.

For one thing, The Race understands that the signing of Guenther came prior to the Berlin E-Prix meeting in mid-August and was, in fact, completed before Dennis was handed another deal.

“I can understand for Andretti that they wanted to announce their first driver for the next season,” says Guenther, who exited his former team in an immaculately cordial fashion.

“But for me this did not really influence anything because my decision was really independent of that anyway.”

Nissan e.dams ultimately chose Guenther because he ticked valuable boxes in the first instance.

Obviously he was available. But more crucially he was coming direct from a rival manufacturer, so he didn’t need as much transition time as a candidate outside of Formula E.

Guenther also gets Formula E. I can’t recall another driver who so relishes the qualifying and superpole format, even when it was as archaic as it was last season.

Maximilian Guenther Formula E BMW Andretti

“I’ve said it many times in the past, and I can underline once more that I really see my future in this championship,” he said.

“I’m a big fan of it. It’s a world championship and, for me, the place to be.

“The decision I’ve made, for me was at the end very clear and I see a very strong partnership with Nissan e.dams.”

Guenther, as pleasant a person as you could wish to meet outside of a racing car, at the same time knows precisely how to extract the most from other members of any given team.

Also notable is Guenther’s rationale of Nissan e.dams’ 2021 campaign. It was the team’s poorest-ever season, with an average of just six points per race and just 18 of its 97 total points coming in the final five races of the season.

Nissan Formula E

This all constituted to a worst-ever position in the points table with only Dragon Penske Autosport and NIO 333 scoring fewer points.

“I can just talk about myself how complicated it was this year – weather conditions and the qualifying format and so on,” says Guenther.

“I think to just say, from the points and black and white in the championship, it would not be fair [reflection].”

Guenther’s move to Nissan was a surprise to some. But this is no passive driver we’re talking about here, and his new team knows this because it has seen how he kept fighting in a disastrous Formula 2 campaign with the BWT Arden team in 2018.

Maximilian Guenther F2 BWT Arden

That experience would have broken many others. But Guenther was one step ahead and realised that an opportunity with a chaotic Dragon team was one worth pursuing.

It was, against some significant odds, a smart move because from it he now has two experiences with manufacturers notched up on his CV, as well as three E-Prix wins.

This is one more than Stoffel Vandoorne, Robin Frijns and Mitch Evans, all of whom have competed in more Formula E races than Guenther.

Now that is a stat that is worth some merit!

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