until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

The biggest threat to Formula E's long-running duopoly

by Sam Smith
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

There’s a growing feeling in Formula E that Nissan will break through the Jaguar and Porsche dominance this season and end a four year wait for an E-Prix win.

That’s not just based on a hunch but more on raw evidence that it is the one team that has made significant strides in understanding its car during the off-season.

Add to that the expansion of its human resources and the new glittering Parisian base it’s moved into, and it could well overcome the Jaguar and Mercedes powertrains that dominated Formula E in terms of wins last season.

The season so far has brought a modest highlight of a single pole position and a third place by Oliver Rowland in Diriyah last month. That feels in keeping with Nissan’s flattering to deceive in 2023 when a single pole for Sacha Fenestraz in Monaco and a single podium for Norman Nato in Rome were the high points of a confusing campaign.

Yet actually the evidence that it is getting into position to re-enter the winner’s circle - somewhere it hasn’t been since Rowland’s first time around at the team in the summer of 2020 in Berlin (pictured below) - is there if you look hard enough.

According to Rowland, on the second day in Riyadh the team could “understand some very good stuff that we were kind of trying to confirm for a bit of time now”. 

It was also personal validation for Rowland, who has half a season less knowledge than his rivals on the Gen3 car as a whole after his curtailed campaign with Mahindra in 2023.

“It reassured me that I can still perform when the pressure’s on, and the package underneath me is more than capable of doing the job,” he told The Race.

“It takes a lot of weight off your shoulders and I was actually a bit emotional after qualifying because it's a lot of stress.

“You think about it constantly, you go to bed at night thinking about it, you’re doubting yourself a lot.

“As race drivers you do that and the last two years have been - even though I worked hard and tried everything I could - just very tough.”

Rowland didn’t look too rusty after seven months away from the cockpit when the 2024 Mexico City opener came around. He was bang on the pace in free practice there but going down a few cul de sacs in qualifying jammed him up in the midfield train in a race that was nigh-on impossible to overtake in.

“These cars are so complex now and the systems are changing, particularly from Gen2 to Gen3, so just having that experience of trying new things, working out what works is still a big learning curve still,” he says.

“I’d already started to put the motions in place throughout the first half of last year but then it stopped [when he departed Mahindra]. 

“Everybody else had the opportunity to continue, so for example in Mexico, I probably went in the wrong direction with some stuff based on my feedback.

“Then post Mexico you analyse it and say, ‘oh OK, I probably shouldn’t have done that, we won’t do that in the future’ and ‘we’ll be careful of that’.

“That’s the element that I’m just lacking with that six months away at the moment; to know exactly ‘in this situation this is what the car requires and this is what I need to do’.”

There were some traits of his last two seasons of frustration wiggling their way to the surface at the opening two races, though. He addressed them and calmly filed them away. That wouldn’t necessarily have happened a few seasons ago with Rowland.

Nissan is at a key development point in FE. It is a team that has grown in numbers and the investment in its new facility in Paris is said to be significant.

It has cherry-picked some talent from its competitors, most recently signing former DS Techeetah engineer David Ladouce, who worked with Antonio Felix da Costa and Stoffel Vandoorne previously. He has taken up the position of chief engineer.

“It’s a massive step forwards in terms of the team and the base now,” says Rowland.

“We’ve hired some good acquisitions. Just generally I think team operation wise… let’s say before it was a small but a good engineering small team whereas now it’s grown. You have to grow with the times, right?

“There’s still the rest of this season for everything to settle down and gel, for people to fill their roles in the proper way. But I expect by the time next year comes that everyone will be in their perfect position with a bit of experience. We should be in a really good place.”

Rowland is being conservative here. The current Nissan Gen3 car has race winning traits but it just hasn’t had the correct platform and understanding to execute, yet.

Among the sages of the paddock there are many who believe that it will win this season and if you weigh up its chances carefully you can see why.

DS Penske might be consistently the best of the rest away from the eight Porsches and Jaguars but Nissan feels as if it has just a strong shout of upsetting their winning juggernaut.

When Sao Paulo comes around next month it will be nine months since anything other than a Porsche or a Jaguar has won a race. Frankly, no one else has felt like coming close to achieving that, and perhaps Rowland in Diriyah was the closest.

On paper it didn’t look like it. Yes, qualifying was special but a fluffed start with excessive wheelspin did for any realistic winning ambitions.

“If I’m completely honest the first three starts have been terrible for me,” Rowland admits.

“We need to go and have a look at that. To be honest, I think that probably cost us the win. I think I had the pace but I couldn’t control the race from second.”

But he knows he can control races, especially on quick tracks. He knows, as we all do, that on fast and smooth circuits the Nissan IM02 is a seriously potent weapon. We saw it in Monaco last season, a fast and smooth track for Formula E, and we saw it at Portland where Nato led (who didn’t!) but more importantly the team got its best collective result with fourth and fifth.

Where the Nissan appears to be off several other rivals, especially over a full race, is on traction dependent circuits and ones that are more on the gnarly surface side.

So, winning this season is more than just a feeling then for Nissan. It can win a race, and with what are to be expected as fast races in Sao Paulo, Monaco, Berlin, Misano, Shanghai and Portland making up most of the schedule now, there is ample opportunity for Nissan to convert.

The end of the victory famine feels nigh for Nissan and Rowland. In a season where, partly, it is building for 2025, such an achievement will be much more than just a happy or lucky bonus.

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