The Formula E drivers and teams who need to save their season - The Race
Formula E

The Formula E drivers and teams who need to save their season

Jun 15 2022
By Sam Smith

Several teams and drivers have flattered to deceive in the first half of the 2022 Formula E world championship season.

While the reasons are varied, the upshot is that they all need big results for a wide range of motives as Gen2 runs into Gen3 later this summer.

The Race takes a look at who’s been on the ropes and whether they can come back swinging in the final seven races of the campaign.

Nyck de Vries

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Nyck de Vries is the standout name circling the shadows of the ‘Gang of Four’ – Jean-Eric Vergne, Stoffel Vandoorne, Mitch Evans and Edoardo Mortara – that has so far eclipsed the field and formed a breakaway faction for a tilt at the 2022 title.

The reigning champion’s season has been a curious one. It began with him sitting out half of the very first free practice session of the season in Diriyah after a slight mistake damaged his car. If that were not ignominious enough, he watched the rest of the session with The Race at the side of the track.

But it seemed to matter little when he did a stellar job of clawing back this disadvantage by starting his title defence perfectly with a well-judged win less than 24 hours later.

Those events feel almost like a microcosm of his season because after that, despite knowing he had the pace to get into big points-harnessing positions, there have been too many issues to action them and gather in those points.

A disastrous quartet of races in Rome (times two), Monaco and the first Berlin race meant he accrued just two points and the fact remains that outside of his two wins in Diriyah and the second Berlin race, he has only gathered in 15 points from seven races.

That’s very much not conducive to a successful title defence but de Vries himself still believes it’s doable.

That is because when things click he’s often irresistible. His season has featured genuine misfortune but some of the incidents that he has been involved in could have been avoided and a sense of the bigger picture utilised much more with some points collation, no matter how small, could have been the overarching aim.

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With fifth-placed Robin Frijns and his Envision team seemingly having lost their way in recent races and that relationship coming to an end anyway in a few months’ time, de Vries appears to have much more capacity to drag himself back into the title fight.

He’s in the same boat as Frijns, in the sense that he will not be sticking around with his present team in 2023 – Becoming a McLaren driver a second time around just didn’t appeal.

But de Vries will be keen to sign off in the best way possible from Mercedes EQ. Being 56 points away from team-mate Vandoorne is not insurmountable but if a big dent in it isn’t made by the time they head to New York City in a month then Mercedes might have to start making some tough decisions.

One of those would likely at the very least touch upon whether de Vries should become a wingman to Vandoorne in order to take points away from challengers for both Vandoorne and Mercedes’ own teams’ title defence.

Antonio Felix da Costa

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Will Antonio Felix da Costa’s recent brilliant LMP2 win at Le Mans act as a catalyst for improved results as the season goes into its second phase?

Obviously, it has no practical relevance, but from a psychological point of view, it can only bolster his armoury and confidence.

It’s been an oddly meek season for da Costa. He’s scored decent points in Mexico, Monaco and Jakarta, yet his last podium came 11 months ago now in New York City.

His Porsche deal is completed and will be announced at the end of the season. Has this affected his application to execute races the way he did in his title season or at Monaco in 2021?

That seems like a slight cop-out question to even ask. But in a way da Costa, in part at least, psychologically checked out of Techeetah sometime last autumn when it became evident that the planned acquisition was not going through, and the future of the team essentially became stagnant.

From more of a practical perspective, Da Costa has suffered difficulties with his braking in the early races of this season. Then there has been plain bad luck, like in Berlin when he should have had at least a fifth place before a plastic bag lodged itself into his battery cooling duct and derated his unit.

For the upcoming races, a major da Costa renaissance should in fact be expected. He has the car to battle for victories, and a little like de Vries, the bigger question will actually be if he is seconded to be part of a support structure for Vergne to seal a historic title hat-trick.

Sam Bird

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Bird’s recent demeanour has been as downbeat as anyone can remember. He looks all out of sorts in and out of the cockpit.

Perhaps it’s better to phrase it as brutalist self-acceptance that he simply hasn’t delivered his best this season that has irked this famously driven but always considerate racer.

Some of the races have been most un-Bird-like. Poor positioning of his car, unforced errors and especially poor qualifying executions have delivered 89 fewer points than his team-mate Mitch Evans. In a phrase, those are the basics.

That will be playing on Bird’s mind right now, just as it will on those of his Jaguar team bosses, who in the past have been swift in their decisions to change things within the team if they feel that chances of not maximising their cars for points is costing them championship positions.

That is exactly what is happening at the moment. At this stage last season, Jaguar was third in the standings and nine points off the summit. One year on and it is fourth and 47 adrift of Mercedes.

It seems improbable that Bird is heading into a Formula E career-defining second half of the current season. Yet, should the nosedive in form continue, then the mild alarm could easily become full-scale fluster.

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The saving graces appear to be an already confirmed deal for 2023, allied to his knowledge and technical experience being a natural fit to the recently activated Gen3 development process.

Before all that, though, he needs to get a big result soon. He’s got them before in Marrakesh and New York City, both of which come thick and fast in July.

Few doubt that Bird can turn it all around and finish the season how he started it with a fighting fourth in Diriyah, yet the longer the trough goes on the greater his own and his team’s worries will become.

Envision Racing

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Envision has descended the points table at a disconcerting rate of knots since Monaco when it left the principality fully ensconced in the title fight.

Perhaps it was even fanciful from the start to assume it could get amongst the manufacturers – Mercedes, DS and Jaguar – and again be the true David to their Goliaths.

That Robin Frijns contributed to that notion with some excellent drives in the first events of 2022 probably masked several deficiencies in the Silverstone based team’s make-up is partly true.

The other aspects are simply the fact that Envision appears to have lost some of the cohesion it was once famous for. There have been a raft of errors in races this season, notably in Mexico City with confusing strategies and then again in Jakarta when it doubled down on disappointing showings after yet another anonymous Berlin weekend.

That’s worrying for all manner of reasons, not least because it will lose its talisman Frijns at the season’s end when he is expected to race for ABT and be replaced by Sebastien Buemi.

Across the garage at Envision, Nick Cassidy has cut a frustrated figure for most of the season. His ardour has been essentially neutered by a variety of travails but it’s not difficult to pick up on the fact that he has been far from happy with the way some of his races have been run.

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He’s made a few mistakes too, but his paltry haul of 16 points from nine races is simply not reflective of his potential to mirror the brace of third places he achieved in his rookie 2021 season.

The pressure shouldn’t be on Cassidy, who will be a key continuity hook as the team morphs into a Jaguar-flavoured entity in 2023, more so that the team should probably look inwards to see why its famed lean efficiency and positivity has gone and how it can retrieve it quickly before the end of 2022.

Not that the team used it as an excuse, but Audi’s withdrawal from Formula E didn’t do Envision a lot of favours and, perhaps like Andretti with BMW, both are paying the price for that to a large extent in the final year of their respective deals.

Mahindra

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How does a team go from the winners’ circle to also-rans in less than a year with the same car?

It’s a question that the team itself is striving to get answers for in the break between Jakarta and Marrakesh. Yet the reality is that apart from random flashes of pace, the Mahindra M8Electro has even looked a pale shadow of its occasionally potent 2021 self.

Oliver Rowland and Alexander Sims have managed just 12 points from nine races and merely pick up crumbs from a much more congested points table this season.

Rowland has more often than not led the chase for points, although Sims finally got his act together in Berlin with a brilliant front-row grid slot and a couple of points for ninth.

There were several staff changes in the pre-season period and other staff have joined in recent months. Dilbagh Gill’s reign as team principal has often ushered in new eras in terms of the sporting and technical structure of the team he manages and the latest one is said to need more time to gel properly.

The first season of Gen3 competition will be Mahindra’s most important in its history as an ever-present entrant. Its collaboration with the ZF Group will have matured by then and it will have continuity in Oliver Rowland and, if the paddock whispers are to be believed, Lucas di Grassi.

The 2022 season has essentially been written off already. Mahindra is therefore racing only for pride until Seoul in August.

However, that is not to say that results will not be important. For the morale of the team, Gill’s latest visions and the yearning he has to return to the days of regular podiums and occasional race wins, at least a trebling of its current points should be a bare minimum objective for the remainder of 2022.

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