DS Penske has recently been on a technical leadership recruitment drive that it hopes will enable it to make a big improvement on its 2023 Formula E campaign and put it among the series' big hitters for the start of the second Gen3 homologation cycle in 2025.
The Race can reveal that Penske, as hinted last month, has secured the services of former Jaguar technical director Phil Charles, who might be able to take up his position next month.
Charles left Jaguar in October after a six-year stint with the team and is widely recognised as one of the best technical leads in Formula E. His departure was unexpected, which one of Jaguar's drivers, Mitch Evans, described to The Race recently as a huge surprise.
“To be honest, I thought he was probably [going to be] the last person in the team to leave; it was pretty much his train set, the whole team,” said Evans.
Charles is currently on gardening leave but the length of that is unknown. A start close to the beginning of the 2024 campaign is believed to be achievable although it is assumed that Charles will be working more on plans for the first campaign to feature the Gen3Evo design in 2025.
In addition to his signature, Penske is also believed to have acquired Pascal Wehrlein’s engineer, Kyle Wilson-Clarke, from Porsche.
Wilson-Clarke is expected to start at DS Penske early next year although the precise role he will take up is not yet known. The Race has learned recently that his nine-year stint at Porsche recently came to an end.
He joined Porsche from Audi in 2015 and worked on the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 project with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley initially.
Wilson-Clarke then moved over to the Formula E project in 2018 and engineered Neel Jani in Porsche's first season, the 2019-20 campaign, before engineering Wehrlein to multiple victories through the last three campaigns.
Wehrlein is now expected to be engineered by Fabrice Roussel, who worked for Andre Lotterer in all his DS Techeetah seasons as well as at Porsche and Andretti.
DS Penske had a solid if unspectacular 2023, with Jean-Eric Vergne’s well-judged victory at the inaugural Hyderabad E-Prix last February one of only two wins for a non-Jaguar or Porsche powertrain.
The team struggled with its powertrain compared to the pacesetters, with Vergne’s team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne - the defending champion - only mustering a pole position in Sao Paulo and a fourth place at Jakarta as highlights.
Stellantis Motorsport, which partly orchestrates its DS and Maserati brands’ motorsport programmes, has also experienced significant change in recent weeks. Former racing director at DS Penske, Leo Thomas, has moved into the Stellantis Motorsport programme director role vacated by Thomas Chevaucher last month.
Will key exit destabilise Jaguar?
“He was controlling pretty much every aspect of the team: from race team to powertrain to future developments to R&D. It was all under Phil’s watch so it’s definitely left a big hole.”
That’s Mitch Evans on Phil Charles's departure, making it crystal clear that his surprise exit is one that is not insignificant to Jaguar, however it may want to soften the blow ahead of such an important season.
On one hand, Charles was absolutely integral to the programme, but on the other Jaguar has built good strength in depth with its teams and has several other engineers and technical personnel that can cover off some of the direction.
“Will it [Charles’ exit] affect this year?” Evans asked himself while chatting to The Race last week.
“It's hard to judge, but I feel like we're going into a second year of regulation, so I think it should be fine.
“But we're going to have to find certain replacements to fill in the hole that he’s left. But there's also a lot of depth of talent in this team that have maybe a chance, an opportunity now to show what they can do.
“It's going to be a big change for us and one that I was not expecting going into the off-season, to be going into the  season with.
"Phil made his choice to leave which is not something I really understand, but that's his life - because he's kind of got everything to where he's wanted to and then he's decided to leave at this point, so it's a bit confusing.”
Evans’s shock at the decision must have been initially unnerving, knowing that he has a glorious opportunity in 2024 to convert a title charge. But it’s not all concern from Evans, who can also see how a technical reshuffle could, from the team’s perspective, “really be used as an opportunity to make the team stronger”.
“James [Barclay] and the team are putting things in place to make sure we fill those roles in with the right people and ideally to make the team stronger,” he added.
“That's been my stress; obviously Phil was an integral part of the team and our success to this day, but I feel like we can still make this team the next step stronger. But obviously we need the right process, the right structure in place to make that happen.”
Any effects of Charles being attracted to the twinkle of gold from Penske probably won’t manifest until 2025 if they do at all. That will be when the next phase of Jaguar’s Formula E journey will begin.
It’s entirely conceivable by then that it will already have the big pots and pans to put in its new trophy room in Kidlington in Oxfordshire. Either way, it feels like a new iteration of the Jaguar Racing team has already been born.