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Formula E

‘Questions will be raised’ – Impact of contentious Formula E move

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

A poacher turned gamekeeper.

You see it in every walk of life, in business and industry, the world over. But when does the reverse of that idiom become problematic, especially in motorsport?

It’s a question that actually doesn’t come around too often.

We’ve seen multiple occasions in recent F1 hirings to know that actually it probably isn’t as big a deal as it’s initially made out to be.

Laurent Mekies and Marcin Budkowski both went from senior FIA engineering status to Ferrari and Alpine respectively. Once the initial outcry dissipated it was forgotten within weeks.

But what if a senior manager, one with privileged information on the sporting and even business structures of all teams was to make the leap from the FIA and straight into a team principal role at the start of a new rules set?

For some context, most racing engineers and performance engineers usually take three or more commonly now, six-month notice periods after leaving a team of their own volition, when it may involve joining a rival.

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Mix in the fact that the new Gen3 rules in Formula E are both a massive step in advancement and have also been beset by issues that will have to be consistently worked upon in the first season of application, and it is one that many are wrestling with and questioning just now.

That is because the mother and father of all ‘transfers’ occurred earlier this month when one of the FIA’s most senior managers, Frederic Bertrand, resigned from his post at the governing body and pretty much immediately took up a position as team principal of Mahindra Racing.

To say there was surprise from rival team principals would be understating it on an epic scale.

It is unclear what notice period Bertrand did or didn’t have.

To give that some context, Bertrand is known to have attended a Formula E Teams and Manufacturers Association (FETAMA) meeting just days before he was announced at Mahindra.

Obviously, you can’t prevent people from changing career direction. Freedom of career choice is a human right and one that has to be respected.

“We as teams, obviously have to trust Fred, that where he has been in a position and where he’s been exposed to a lot of privileged information, whether its technical, operational or even individual teams’ situations,” Andretti’s team principal Roger Griffiths told The Race.

“We have to respect that and expect that information to remain confidential and not to be taken advantage of. But from the Andretti perspective, we wish him well.”

Bertrand clearly has a competitive spirit he wants to pursue. One which has not been realised through his role at the FIA where there are no winners or losers from a day-to-day perspective.

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On his new side of the fence, within Mahindra, the sumptuous, prolific and entirely predictable opinions of Lucas di Grassi are clear. He doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. Of course, he doesn’t!

Yet, there is very much a hot fuss over this appointment in particular.

“We have to say with Fred we worked well together when he was on the FIA side and we are now looking forward to having him as a competitor,” Porsche’s Florian Modlinger told The Race.

“But also, to be honest, it’s surprising news for us, especially when you think about the position he was in, and how much insights and details he knows about all competitors.

“With such a short transition phase from FIA to becoming head of a competitor team, it’s just surprising news for us, and especially the quick transition time is surprising.

“I think some questions will be raised, but it is, as it is.”

Griffiths and Modlinger are two of the more conservative voices, on record at least, and their points, if read between the lines, and especially so in the context of Bertrand vacating his position in the midst of several crises with the Gen3 programme are clear – the timing and swiftness of this move is definitely not popular.

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But some comfort of sorts for Bertrand’s detractors, and plenty have been cultivated via his FIA role in the past. If ever someone were ever going to find out just how off-green the grass is on the other side of the fence, it might just be Bertrand in the coming weeks and months.

That is because when he is on the team and manufacturer side of that fence, and he takes a look at the costs that teams are now being faced with in purchasing of the cars, the spares pricing which is going through the roof, the service costs to various suppliers, it will become a whole new realm of reality for him, and one which is likely to shock him.

The above factors clearly have the capability to make a mockery of the cost cap, a topic that could become just as big a cause celebre than it has in F1.

Presently, several teams have indicated to The Race that assembly of their cars has ceased as they await parts just to get their race cars ready for the three days of testing in four weeks’ time.

Another grid-wide issue that Bertrand will have to get to grips with are the extra costs that presently look more than plausible for the extra freighting spares out to races in the early glut of races that will see the paddock racing six times in nine weeks in four different continents spread from North America, Asia, Africa and South America.

This is where extra cost and the chipping away at Formula E’s sustainability messaging are likely to come from as Gen3 continues its difficult conception and birth.

There are no easy jobs in international motorsport. Some come with more pressure than others, and some come with added expectations. The fascination now is if Bertrand can deal with all of the above even before he starts to make Mahindra competitive once again.

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