Has the driver that will join Rene Rast at the newly-entered McLaren Formula E team really been hiding in plain sight all along?
This might well be the case as Jake Hughes has recently emerged as the favourite to line up alongside three-time DTM champion Rast at the new McLaren Formula E team in recent weeks.
The former Mercedes EQ team officially transitions into McLaren this month and is set to move into new premises in Bicester, Oxfordshire soon, with the majority of MEQ staff being retained.
McLaren will use Nissan powertrains for the first homologation period of the Gen3 era in 2023 and 2024 and recently announced a deal with Rast, which is believed to be up until the end of this period.
The Race understands that Hughes’ name has now come firmly into the frame after a shortlist of drivers was reviewed between McLaren team principal Ian James, team owner Zak Brown and several senior team engineering staff recently.
This list is believed to have included Maximilian Guenther, Oliver Turvey and Sergio Sette Camara in addition to Hughes.
While Sette Camara inked a deal with NIO 333 last month, Guenther became a free agent when Norman Nato and Sacha Fenestraz were announced at Nissan shortly after the final race of the season in Seoul, while Turvey is known to Brown through his F1 work.
These names were collated after it became clear that Felix Rosenqvist would continue to be based stateside for 2023, even though the knock-on disruption of Alex Palou’s contractual conflict with Ganassi Racing is not yet resolved.
Rosenqvist is understood to have several options for continuing his IndyCar career next season.
Hughes, who attended the vast majority of races as an official reserve driver for first Venturi in 2021 and then Mercedes EQ in 2022, is seen as a highly-rated proposition by the team for his simulator and team integration work at the title-winning squad.
He has been mentored to some degree by team manager Gary Paffett, who is overseen by the same Mark Blundell-fronted MB Partners management company.
Hughes recently tweeted that he would focus on Formula E by stating that “due to my growing commitments and focus on Formula E, I won’t be continuing in Formula 2 with Van Amersfoort Racing this season”.
“The next chapter is one I’m looking forward to,” he wrote.
Hughes had been speaking closely to the NIO 333 team earlier this year but it’s set to run Sette Camara with Dan Ticktum for 2023, although no official confirmation from the Chinese team has been made yet.
Should Ticktum decide to compete in a second Formula E season with NIO 333 it would mean that Oliver Turvey would have to find a drive elsewhere for the first time since 2015.
He and Guenther are known to have held discussions with Mark Preston and Keith Smout at Techeetah, which is aiming to carry on with a newly-structured team next season. However, it is presently looking unlikely that Techeetah will be able to compete in 2023 meaning a 22-car field will start the Gen3 era in Mexico City next January.
One further possibility for both Turvey and Guenther could be joining the Maserati MSG Racing team. The ex-Venturi squad has signed an agreement with Nyck de Vries but this includes an option for the 2021 champion to race in F1 should an opportunity arise ahead of the 2023 season.
De Vries has spoken to Williams at the recent Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix and is believed to be a serious option to replace Nicholas Latifi at the team for 2023.
All this activity has contributed to Hughes being able to get a shot at a race seat at the new McLaren squad to partner Rast and make his debut in the series next January at Mexico City.
In a statement issued to The Race this week, McLaren team principal, Ian James said: “Jake has been a part of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team for the last two seasons and in his role as reserve and development driver has contributed to the tremendous success of the team.
“Jake is a great talent, and I believe he could be a valuable addition to any FE team.
“We will make an announcement about the full McLaren Formula E 2023 driver line-up in due course.”