Alexander Sims’ Formula E career will come to a close later this summer when he steps out of his Mahindra M8Electro for the final time in Seoul.
The decision to cease his activity in Formula E comes after a lengthy period of reflection. It has resulted in him eschewing a possible deal with another team to focus exclusively on his endurance racing career from 2023 onwards.
Sims has spoken to at least one other team in the Formula E paddock and could have taken up an offer of a role. But he declined the opportunity in favour of a concerted push to ride the sportscar boom that will wash over international motorsport like a colossal wave in 2023.
In a candid interview with The Race conducted at last weekend’s Marrakesh E-Prix, Sims says that he’s now mostly rationalised a painful final season with Mahindra.
His Formula E career has so far seen several key highlights including a win (Diriyah 2019) and three pole positions (New York and two in Diriyah both during 2018) since he made his debut with the factory BMW Andretti squad in 2018.
But results with Mahindra over the last two seasons have been scarce and, particularly since the start of 2022, there has been an excess of unforced errors on his part during some events.
A podium at Rome in 2021, a front-row start at Berlin earlier this year, and the odd flash of pace and promise aside, Sims’ races have at best been patchy.
Those are the hard and cold facts, and they are ones that the typically honest and forthright Sims confronts head-on rather than shies away from.
Ironically it is one of the rare peaks, in Berlin, that disappointed him the most.
It was there that he gained a front-row position for the first Berlin race largely through luck in that he benefited from a Sebastien Buemi baulking penalty in the group session to make it through into the duel stages.
But that was when he delivered, and some. Despite being compromised by an unspecified technical issue hampering his ultimate pace – which he believed would have been good enough for a crack at pole – Sims was back in action at the sharp end.
“The car felt good for me that day, but we couldn’t understand why,” says Sims.
“That’s my biggest issue; I don’t know what to try and achieve with the car because even when we are fast we can’t see much difference in the data, we can’t understand what it is that is giving me that feeling.
“Those laps in the knockout stage were like, I don’t want to say easy, but it was just like we do a lap – boom, we’re competitive, we’re in the mix – boom, another one, yup, we’re competitive – boom, another one.
“It was like… normal, and I’ve done plenty of those laps this season where it’s felt pretty OK but I’m a second off or five tenths off or whatever.”
Sims acknowledges that he has been “a little bit behind Oli [team-mate Oliver Rowland]” but praised his side of the garage, saying that “the people directly around me are brilliant.”
“I’ve worked with Andrea [Ackroyd], my performance engineer, since the start of Formula E, and my relationship with her is brilliant.
“Tom [Davis, race engineer] understands me very well too,” he added.
“He’s calm, he’s methodical when we have bad sessions he’s very much ‘yup, alright onto the next one, no stress,’ which works for me.
“I don’t have any major- well, no issues with the people around me that I work with.”
Top-level international drivers like Sims do not forget how to drive competitively.
Sims has performed against the best of the best this year at the Nurburgring and Le Mans 24 Hours. He arguably would have won Le Mans had it not been for an LMP2-triggered accident on the Mulsanne Straight.
Further analysing his situation in Formula E now, Sims says that the difficult moments have been difficult to digest.
“It’s been tough at times honestly and it does start to impact my outlook on what I want to do, where I want to be longer-term,” he said.
“Because nobody likes to be less competitive than they want to be and not have any real answers as to why. That’s really the big thing for me.
“I’ve made the decision actually [to not race in Formula E after 2022].”
“Naturally I wanted to explore what other options there would be in Formula E. There were some and I’ve actually decided myself, off the back of Nurburgring and Le Mans as well, I gave myself like two to three months of ‘we know the situation with the team, look elsewhere as well’.”
Sims appears to have come to the conclusion that, for him, endurance racing is where he thrives the most.
Whether this amounts to a character trait that is competitive but just not ruthless enough for Formula E right now is certainly possible. But to address this point it’s important to hear his opinion first and foremost.
“The single-seater championships, this racing takes me back a bit to my F3, GP3 days which I didn’t enjoy so much,” he admits.
“I went to GT racing after that, and it was like ‘woah’ – new lease of life and I loved racing again. I think it’s just sort of the single-seater format, especially in Formula E, it’s a very short amount of driving time, high pressure, a very competitive environment – which is great because when you do well you feel like you’ve beaten some of the best in the world, it’s just not 100% me. Endurance is a better place for me personally.
“It’s [Formula E] is just not the format for me personally, which is a shame because with EVs being something I’m so keen about and passionate about it seemed a really good fit.
“Just more from a sporting point of view I just tend to overthink things and there are too many unknowns in Formula E that I’m not confident enough to just brush off and just get on with it.
“I overthink things a bit too much and that probably works to my advantage a bit more in endurance racing because you have so much more time in the car, and you can actually fine-tune into things, but this will be my last season in Formula E. I made that decision myself.”
Whichever way you choose to look at racing drivers, and each personality is of course different, Sims has always incubated something of a contrast to motorsport stereotypes when it comes to drivers.
A family man, a staunch sustainability advocate that is imbued with a considered wit and wonderfully quirky sense of humour, Sims has a personality that is tremendously difficult to dislike in any way whatsoever.
He also inhabits a kind of quiet humanity that his friends and colleagues in paddocks all over the world absolutely treasure.
Exuding the traits of a genuine team player to the extent that most often than not he will not leave a circuit until his team does, he’s a model professional in ways that many of his colleagues could only dream of being. While some are at vacuous post-race parties, Sims is packing away trolley jacks and pit boards.
“I feel really strange talking about the fact that maybe racing in Formula E isn’t something I enjoy hugely now,” he adds.
“That’s because I think to the slightly more untrained eye on the outside, and to be honest even before I joined Formula E, I used to think, ‘oh God, that’s amazing’.
“High-end, now world championship level, why wouldn’t you want to be there?
“But at the end of the day it’s the daily work, it’s the work that you do day-to-day and the feeling and enjoyment that you get from that.
“As I said, I get on with everyone in the team really well. I’ve got no issues with that; it’s more the format of the racing doesn’t work for me so much.
“Mahindra being closer to home has definitely been a good factor, we’ve ended up doing a lot more simulator days than I did at BMW.
“I’ve wanted to go and do the work to try and improve and to try and get things a bit more competitive, particularly on my side of the garage but it just, unfortunately, hasn’t translated into too much improvement and results.”
The future then is clearer for Alexander Sims.
His time in Formula E will be over this August and you’ll do well to find a single soul in the paddock who won’t be rooting for him to go out on a high and to close a chapter in his career which has seen demanding and joyous experiences in equal measure.