until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Masterstroke or misstep? The Formula E driver turned team boss

by Sam Smith
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Will Jerome D’Ambrosio be a pioneering standard-bearer for the driver turned team principal union in Formula E, or could it be too much too soon?

That’s a question a lot of people are asking right now in the chattering corners of the Formula E paddock.

The Belgian has been somewhat fast-tracked to the position of team principal after initially joining the team in September 2020 as deputy team principal to Susie Wolff.

That came after he took the decision to hang up his helmet following the 2019-20 Formula E season which was his second campaign for Mahindra.

D’Ambrosio has said on more than one occasion that he doesn’t miss driving at all, and perhaps that’s the key as to why he has seemingly taken to his new challenges with such aplomb.

When Susie Wolff was unable to attend last June’s Puebla E-Prix after a COVID-19 contact case, D’Ambrosio got an initial taste of being team principal.

Formula E Puebla E Prix 2021

That weekend ended in a conclusive victory and Venturi’s first on the road win after its first had been handed to them via a slightly too aggressive Sam Bird at Hong Kong in March of 2019.

Such a position as team principal in a Formula E team requires specific leadership and understanding that a cool head usually garners strong returns. In short, an ex-driver could be as close as fit as you can get for a decent team principal.

Wolff and Audi’s Allan McNish showed this on several occasions in the past, and he as a decorated ex-professional driver, was one of a kind.

All of the other team principals in Formula E in 2022 have little experience behind the wheel, save some former karting and club racing exploits for Jaguar’s James Barclay and some touring car success for NIO 333’s Alex Hui.

D’Ambrosio understands why a cohesive team is critical in Formula E because he benefited from it. Firstly, when Dragon was a serious front-running proposition between 2014 and 2016, and then when Mahindra became a surprise early 2018-19 title prospect when it hit the Gen2 ground running.

“I love what I do, and I think that’s an important thing,” D’Ambrosio tells The Race.

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“I enjoy trying to improve things, observing how things are working, and trying together with everyone else in the team to try and see how we can better ourselves as a whole.

“That’s really important because in the end, it is working with people. Everyone’s got a role, team Principal, chief engineer, mechanic, engineer, press, commercial.

“In the end it’s a team, and all the pieces of the puzzle just need to get together. Everyone’s got their own responsibilities.

“I am a firm believer in there’s not one role that’s more important than the rest, it’s just about finding the right dynamics, so that people work well together, assume the responsibilities and, and feel empowered to do.”

Venturi will arguably be stronger than ever in 2022. A cabinet reshuffle hasn’t just been restricted to Wolff moving to a more commercially-focused CEO role and D’Ambrosio stepping in as TP.

From a technical standpoint, it has been strengthened, too. Former Felipe Massa and Norman Nato race engineer Jeremy Colancon has been promoted to chief engineer, while Cyril Blais has been recruited to engineer di Grassi.

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Blais enjoyed a successful relationship with D’Ambrosio’s former Mahindra team-mate Pascal Wehrlein, before going on to taste success with Alex Lynn last season.

Then there is the structure of the operation. It’s one that has its own curiosities in that the two majority stakeholders entered their first investment in motorsport in 2020 at a curious time.

Six months into the global pandemic Scott Swid and Jose Maria Aznar Botella cemented the discussions which had been going on for several months to complete a deal that saw them take over the ownership.

This was announced a week after Audi and BMW exited Formula E and gave some, on paper at least, positive news.

D’Ambrosio describes the owners as “a strong board, with Scott and Jose, and Susie” but acknowledges that his role will also incorporate some strategic decisions from a sporting sense in the future.

The immediate one is to nurture a former rival into the team – a rival whose two Formula E exclusions he coincidentally benefitted from to take his first two E-Prix wins in Berlin (pictured below) and Mexico City in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

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He describes his new charge as “demanding in a good sense” but also adds that Mortara “is [demanding] as well, he really is. He doesn’t have to prove anything”.

Mortara has previously had quick but relatively placid team-mates in Maro Engel, Tom Dillmann, Felipe Massa, and Norman Nato.

Placid is not an adjective ever associated with Lucas di Grassi.

“The fact that you’ve got two guys pushing with great abilities and it has to be managed,” adds D’Ambrosio.

“There might be times during the season where things get intense as it always does in racing.

“That will be for the team to manage, but we’ve got two professionals so I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be managed properly.”

Then there are the ever-present speculative threads about di Grassi’s future around what is assumed to be a single-season deal.

Formula E Preseason Testing

Could it be a smash-and-grab title strategy whereby the Brazilian reaps a second championship before signing elsewhere for a lengthier Gen3 deal. Some are even speculating one is already agreed with a rival manufacturer.

“Of course, from the outside, the team principal is maybe the one that’s going to call all the shots, but I think, in reality, it’s getting together as a group with the right people,” says D’Ambrosio when asked about making tough strategic decisions.

“Obviously, not everyone is involved in all the decisions, but with relevant people, when it comes to certain decisions we get together as a group, and we try to find what’s the best strategy for the team with all of us having different inputs.”

That’s for later. For now, recently a new father, D’Ambrosio will in a sense be cradling an entire team on a permanent basis at racetracks in 2022. For an ex-drive who was usually a safe pair of hands behind the wheel, doing the same behind the pit counter appears to be coming somewhat naturally.

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