until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Don’t count on long-term futures for Formula E’s debutant duo

by Sam Smith
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E’s two newest recruits to the grid performed adequately on their debuts last time out in Jakarta yet their chances for permanent race seats in the all-electric world championship appear negligible.

That conclusion regarding David Beckmann and Roberto Merhi is based on nothing more than the harsh reality of probability taking into account the competitive jostling for contracts in the series.

Ironically, it is single-seater veteran Merhi that will get a second go at it next weekend in Portland. He will continue in the #8 Mahindra that Oliver Rowland has vacated, meaning that Merhi at least has another chance to make his case.

Roberto Merhi Mahindra Formula E

Beckmann, on the other hand, will find that his two-race cameo, already largely forgotten, will not be of great use to him in his quest of finding a race seat in 2024. The Avalanche Andretti squad has its eye on more experienced drivers such as Sam Bird and the aforementioned Rowland.

Andre Lotterer, who Beckmann stood in for, is highly likely to concentrate on the Porsche 963 programme from the end of 2023 onwards – although a strong end to the present campaign could see an additional season being offered if Andretti feels it doesn’t have viable alternatives for ’24.

Lotterer’s problem right now, though, is that he will have to be subservient to team-mate and title protagonist Jake Dennis, meaning that even if he is in a position to finally win a Formula E race he may have to give it up depending on the relative position of his team-mate.

Avalanche Andretti has rolled the rookie dice a few times, notably with Robin Frijns and Dennis before. It did so too with Oliver Askew at the end of 2021, and while the results weren’t as glowing as Dennis’ the season before, many felt that Askew should have got a second season with the team.

That was taken out of everyone’s hands somewhat when elements of Porsche manoeuvred Lotterer into the position of Dennis’ team-mate for 2023. It hasn’t gone well, with Lotterer struggling to get to grips with the proven winning package relative to Dennis, Pascal Wehrlein and Antonio Felix da Costa, who have all scored wins this season.

David Beckmann Andretti Formula E

Beckmann was the logical choice for a Le Mans-indisposed Lotterer. But had Berlin tester Zane Maloney been available for the Jakarta race, you can’t help feeling that the Red Bull-backed young Barbadian would have made the trip to Indonesia instead.

That shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of Beckmann, who eventually did a solid job, but the body language of Andretti was that the team was super-excited about Maloney after his impressive test at Tempelhof.

“We always considered yesterday [Saturday] to be the learning day [for Beckmann],” appraised Avalanche Andretti team principal Roger Griffiths after the Jakarta weekend. “The first exposure to all the different sessions, how free practice is going to run, what’s qualifying like, etc.

“It’s one thing to do a rookie test, but now you’re here under the pressure of a race weekend and then going out there and doing the start. He kept his nose clean, accomplished everything we really asked him to do.”

David Beckmann Andretti Formula E

Beckmann brought the car home in one piece on Saturday but Sunday was different, with Griffiths describing it as a “step forward [on pace]” but one that coincided with Beckmann getting a “real taste of the elbows-out style of racing, and obviously he came across Lucas [di Grassi]”.

The resulting shuntage tipped the German into the barriers and retirement. meaning that he “didn’t go as far into the race as we certainly hoped”.

Griffiths also surmised that there was a lot for Beckmann to learn but added that the team “didn’t hold him responsible for the incident with Lucas”.

“He’s given us a lot to look at. See what happens from there.”

That’s not a glowing endorsement of Beckmann but neither is it critical. This perfectly encapsulates his performance as solid and risk-free. While that in the context of the brutal challenge of Formula E is adequate, the youngster needed more to nail down his dreams of a race seat for 2024.

Beckmann was at least in a different realm to Merhi, who had qualified last and 1.5s off the qualifying pace and a second off his team-mate – the aforementioned Lucas di Grassi – in the first Jakarta race. He pretty much halved those deficits in race two on Sunday.

Roberto Merhi Mahindra Formula E

This was all no surprise. Only finding out he had the drive three days from touching down in Indonesia, Merhi was always going to have an element of being a lamb to the slaughter.

He walked into a discombobulated Mahindra team with a few sim hours and a day of Berlin testing behind him. He was under no illusions of how difficult the task at hand would be.

“It was tough to start a race in the middle of the season,” Merhi understated. “Because everyone is already at a certain level, I had a lot of catching up to do, coming here with no experience and no testing.

The genial Spaniard put a brave face on his weekend, which, although low-key, did see improvements.

“It has been a good weekend with Mahindra though, who have really helped me get to grips with the championship and the car,” he added.

“I made a big improvement from Saturday to Sunday. My qualifying on Sunday was much more positive. I can see that the team is pushing things forward.”

Roberto Merhi Mahindra Formula E

Merhi will again be in the car for the forthcoming Portland race instead of the originally-intended Jehan Daruvala, who was initially targeted to take over from Rowland.

The juggling of drivers is tricky because the team is limited to two driver changes per car during a season as per the sporting regulations.

That puts Mahindra boss Frederic Bertrand in a tough position if he still wants to promote Daruvala into the seat. That is because the Formula 2 driver with MP Motorsport is committed to representing MP at Spa-Francorchamps the same weekend as the London E-Prix finale at the end of July.

So while Daruvala could drive in Portland and Rome, another change to put someone else in for London would be blocked by the two changes rule. It effectively means that Mahindra has to keep Merhi for the rest of the season.

Merhi’s journey into the unknown at Jakarta in the context of the troubled Mahindra team’s current predicaments of little competitiveness and the disruption of recent events around Rowland presented a giant hiding to nothing for the Spaniard.

Portland, a vastly different proposition, could – in qualifying at least – set the stage for a surprise or two from Merhi. The race, with a huge emphasis on lift-coast and harnessing great powertrain efficiency, does not offer the same optimism.

It’s likely that Merhi and Beckmann’s footprint in Formula E will be modest, meaning that the broader overall picture of where Formula E’s next great rookies are coming from is still to be answered.

A planned extra rookie day at Valencia in October is still in the works and perhaps will see a re-engagement for finding the next Jake Dennis, Sacha Fenestraz and Jake Hughes for 2025 and the next homologation step for Formula E.

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