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Formula E

'I lost trust in myself' - Is this a terminal Formula E decline?

by Sam Smith, Alice Holloway
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Nissan is looking at alternatives to Sacha Fenestraz for its Formula E line-up following a difficult season that has left him describing his situation as "heavy".

Fenestraz has scored 105 points fewer than new-for-2024 team-mate Oliver Rowland - from two more races, too, as Rowland missed the previous round at Portland through illness - and is 16th in the standings.

The Portland weekend was the latest in a slew of disappointing outings for Fenestraz, who crashed in free practice and then took 18th- and 15th-place finishes in races that promised points but were punctuated by mistakes and incidents.

The starkness of the poor performances was highlighted by the fact that the last-minute substitute for Rowland, Caio Collet, outqualified Fenestraz on Saturday and then ended up higher in the final classification on Sunday. As his was such a late call-up, Collet’s performances came off the back of having no simulator running, something Fenestraz had done more days than normal of in preparation for Portland.

The performances left Fenestraz in a reflective mood, telling The Race: “I’ve been asking myself that question quite a lot, in terms of what is going on.

“It would be easy to say it’s this and that and solve it, the reality is I’ve been trying a lot of different things.

“I did one and a half days extra prep compared to my team-mate [Rowland] which is maximising everything I could and it’s just not happening. I’m not giving up, I’m never giving up, but it’s heavy.

“It’s not like I’m just sitting at home like, f*** it let’s just get on with the next race, I’m working behind it, it’s not like I’m not doing anything; it’s just not fitting together.”

Fenestraz had a strong rookie season in 2023, scoring pole position in Cape Town and Monaco (though the second of those was lost to a technical penalty). But dig a little deeper and perhaps there was some flattery in the overall perception of his campaign a year ago.

It was the first Gen3 season in which several teams and drivers took time to find the range of the then new designs. Additionally, Fenestraz had limited experience of the Gen2 machinery meaning that there was a degree of fresh eyes on a package that initially rewarded bravery, something which he has in abundance.

But clearly now he seems somewhat lost at a Nissan team that has had its best ever season statistically, but in which its second car has barely featured.

“I think I just lost trust in myself,” says Fenestraz.

“I lost a lot of belief in my talent, which that’s very easily a few tenths already out because as soon as you drive without confidence you’re doubting of yourself, and when you drive like that things are worse.

“In this championship when things are so tight already that is not helpful.”

Fenestarz is working on himself and Nissan has been supportive this season, but it can’t last forever. The reality is that had Fenestraz contributed just 25 points more than he so far has (26) then Nissan would be third rather than fifth in the teams’ standings.

He knows that he needs to excavate himself from the situation quickly but he’s running out of opportunities. The Race understands that Nissan has enquired about other driver’s contract statuses recently and that it is evaluating who could replace Fenestraz from this summer onwards.

“It’s definitely my worst career season until now,” adds Fenestraz. “I’m always self-critical and this is my own perspective of my season. It is the worst that I’ve had, I think, in my career.

“The reality is trying to find that shovel to come out of that hole that I’m in at the moment.”

Nissan's humane dilemma

You’d never want to be the person remembered for shooting Bambi, would you?

But that’s the situation facing team principal Tommaso Volpe right now. Nissan clearly loves Fenestraz - a genial, playful, and well-respected driver. And in many ways, it’s a great marriage with a team that is investing in resources to capture titles in Formula E after outlining a long-term commitment to the all-electric world championship earlier this year.

Fenestraz is one of the more low-maintenance drivers, too. Obviously quick and talented, he is also a hard worker in the sim and excellent in PR and media matters. In this sense he’s the perfect driver for a major manufacturer and very few would have forecast that his performances would dip so radically this season.

Nissan now has to either back him or fire him. There’s no in-between.

“It's not that we were not putting pressure before as well because it's mathematic; if he had done, and I'm quoting you [The Race] here, 25 points more, now we would be way more comfortable,” Volpe, speaking on the eve of the Portland E-Prix, tells The Race.

“Nobody has a crystal ball, but if Sacha had made 25 points more in Germany, he would be in the top 10 himself and we would be solid in third, and that one was just bad luck [he was wiped out by former team-mate Norman Nato] so you see why I'm not just looking at the numbers.

“We haven't made a decision, but the plan from the beginning was always having him growing with us. At the moment we have no reason not to think that, but at the same time, let's see how the performance goes in these last races.”

That last statement is crucial. Volpe and his team will have analysed Fenestraz’s Portland performance by now and it won’t have been pretty. Plainly, you have to assume that if it was 50:50 it is now more like 80:20 in favour of a replacement.

But maybe all is not lost. In London, it will be all about qualifying and if Fenestraz can dig something out then a stay of execution might be possible.

Last season he ended the first race in a crumple of carbonfibre after a sizeable shunt while battling with Dan Ticktum. This year the damage might be more psychological for a driver who just 12 months ago was one of Formula E’s brightest young stars.

Who could replace Fenestraz?

Fenestraz’s seat at Nissan is highly coveted. It is also one that the team will likely want to fill with some experience as it develops its Gen3 Evo package for the second homologation cycle of the current ruleset.

It has invested significantly in a new base in Paris and in some key hires over the last year or so. This, allied to its considerable improvement in results, mostly via Rowland this season, means there is renewed ambition.

“It’s different from when we had this conversation two years ago at the end of Gen2,” says Volpe. “We are in a privileged position where the team, I think, is quite appealing now from the driver’s perspective.

“It's true there are a lot of movements, but I feel very relaxed. We will take the decision in due time, and it will be the right decision for the team.”

Nissan has a long-term, stable deal with Rowland, believed to be up to and including at least the 2025-26 season. That means it can probably attract a second big, experienced name to the fold. It will though need to be someone who is not involved in a dual programme, which might prove tricky.

Stoffel Vandoorne might be of interest but curiously his name is linked more closely with Envision at present and the presumed outgoing Robin Frijns is hamstrung by brand conflict via his World Endurance Championship deal with BMW and the WRT team running that project.

Nissan would have been tracking Antonio Felix da Costa but his name is now off the market. So, who else is there?

Jake Hughes would seem like a natural fit with his knowledge of how Nissan works via his two seasons with customer team McLaren, and he is known to be speaking to suitors.

But could there also be the return of an old boy, much in the way that Rowland came back a year ago? Norman Nato may well be looking for yet another new deal should Andretti dispense with his services after what could end up being another one-season-only Formula E deal.

Nato was well-liked and respected at Nissan and would be an easy plug-in option. It could indeed happen should the current Andretti driver again be forced to look for another berth.

Might Nissan though invest in youth after Collet’s solid debut in difficult circumstances? It’s a risk, and an unlikely one at that, although Fenestraz himself had one start fewer than the Brazilian when he embarked on his Nissan journey in 2023.

These last few options appear to be Plans B and C, with A being a proven and consistent winner. There aren’t many of those about, which could, against lengthening odds, give Fenestraz a chance to rehabilitate - and re-establish himself as the exciting prospect he started the current season as.

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