until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Derided Ticktum might be on the verge of a breakthrough

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

During the Rome E-Prix weekend, Dan Ticktum was openly mocked by a host of his peers in the new Formula E TV ‘drivers’ room’, which gauges reaction immediately after the race.

This was for tagging the back of a Dragon Penske car heading into the first corner in race one after locking up.

It was a mistake everyone on the grid has made at some stage in their careers, but because it was at the rear of the field in the opening few metres of the race, it caught the eye of his competitors.

For the neutrals, this will add some appetising spice for when Ticktum is up among his deriders – and the indications are that he could be there sooner rather than later.

For someone of Ticktum’s instinctive desire to win motor races, just one point from five races looks less than notable with almost a third of his maiden Formula E season completed.

Dig a bit deeper, though, and there are plenty of clues that indicate a more positive scale of effort and reward will tilt toward him soon.

Spacesuit Media Shiv Gohil 279320

Even Ticktum himself may not see it that clearly, but those closest to him in the NIO 333 team do and they are rightly excited by their new firebrand.

The combative spirit has been there since his first laps in a Formula E car (just ask Antonio Felix da Costa) but this skirmish and one with fellow rookie Antonio Giovinazzi at Mexico City apart, the carbon fibre piles at the back of the NIO 333 box have been scant.

Surly demeanours are a regular feature in Formula E media pens after races and quite often they illustrate frustration at a result that escaped a driver. Probably for the first time in Formula E, Ticktum could rightfully indulge in these emotions after the second Rome E-Prix earlier this month.

To borrow a phrase from the global trope phrasebook, Ticktum has been ‘a young man in a hurry’ his entire career. Sometimes it’s backfired spectacularly, but if ever there was a test to gauge newfound patience and sturdiness it is 2022 and Formula E with NIO 333.

That is no slight on the team at all, more that in the last season of a rules set it would be tough with whatever team he was driving for from the very beginning.

But the frustration-to-demeanour ratio appears to be well in check just now, something that remains all the more impressive after his Sunday in Rome.

Formula E Mexico City E Prix 2021

He reckoned he could have sneaked into the qualifying duels had it not been for a brake split imbalance he had to drive around in his group.

Earlier that day he had put the NIO 333 001 in fourth place in practice with a laptime that astounded even his own team. That it couldn’t be repeated or even be touched upon in qualifying was bitter gall.

But it is in fact only what his team describe as “little nuances” that have stopped Ticktum from stringing together eye-catching race performances so far this season, and the only thing stopping him is that vital ingredient – experience.

“Dan, I think, has got on top of the car incredibly quickly and done really well so far,” NIO 333’s chief operating officer and deputy team principal, Russell O’Hagan, tells The Race. “There’s just lots of little Formula E bits that he’s still learning, and they’re small things really.

“There are so many things that are so different to every other race series that it takes time to kind of understand what they are.

“I would say that probably the two main things I think he’ll have under his belt soon is one; at the very start when the cars are cold, the tyres are cold, the brakes are cold, you have a high state of charge, you’re not having regen, that takes time to get used to.

“The experience that some of the guys have got on how to make the car work in the first lap is something that takes time, which actually he [Ticktum] did a very good job of in the race [in Rome on Sunday].

Formula E Rome E Prix 2022

“The second one has been qualifying. If you think of every other race series, you go into qualifying with a kind of step change in performance, you have low fuel, new tyres and all the little elements that you get from a practice session to qualify, knowing that the car is capable of a few tenths to half a second of improved performance.

“I think in all the junior categories, drivers have that mentality of a step change, they know they’re going to brake harder and later, they know they’re going to do A, B and C.

“In Formula E the car is essentially the same in qualifying as it is in a practice session, because there’s no big gains on new tyres, there’s no fuel elements so the car’s the same weight.”

Motor Racing Fia Formula 2 Championship Friday Monte Carlo, Monaco

This is all relatively unnatural to a Formula 2, Super Formula and Formula 3 regular such as Ticktum, but O’Hagan reckons he’s getting a “very quick handle on all these things”.

“He’s just done a mega job, and I think by the middle of the season, all those little bits will come together and he’s going to be a bit of a force to be reckoned with, so I think it looks very positive for him.”

Should that be the case for Ticktum, who is already attracting the attention of rival teams, he might just become an asset needing ring-fencing quickly for NIO 333, which is currently negotiating its driver line-up to go into the Gen3 era as deals begin to be done further up the grid.

For now, Ticktum has a great deal of momentum to take to Monaco, a track where he stood atop the podium last May by winning in F2.

The NIO 333 team though isn’t resetting expectations just yet – not for the team and certainly not for Ticktum, despite the feeling that he can deliver something exceptional and surprising this season.

“In terms of expectations, I don’t think that’s really changed because we’re all competitive and ambitious people, and when we wake up in the morning we look in the mirror and we can all see that we regularly want to be scoring points,” says O’Hagan.

“It’s definitely looking more possible. But I think it’s not really a change in mentality, it’s just getting there, and once we get there, we’ll start raising the bar a little bit higher and higher and see where we can go.”

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