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Formula E

‘Where is Andre?’ Formula E title fight’s missing wingman

by Sam Smith
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

“Where is Andre?”

It was a reasonable question from Avalanche Andretti driver Jake Dennis as he desperately sought assistance in the early stages of Formula E’s Portland E-Prix last month.

In a leading pack that at times felt like a dusty ring jammed with irate bulls, Dennis needed his team-mate.

Lotterer was in 12th position. That information was relayed to Dennis via his – as ever – calm and assured engineer Sean McGill.

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“We need him up the front, mate,” Dennis replied. “It’s a f***ing s*** show.”

Dennis’ description of the hot-house at the front of the pack was spot on. While Antonio Felix da Costa was doing a reverse job, putting himself in position to aid Porsche team-mate Pascal Wehrlein, Lotterer was struggling to make an impression.

In reality there hasn’t been much indication in 2023 that Lotterer can be particularly useful to Dennis’ momentum-gathering title quest.

This has been a major surprise. Because before the start of the current season it felt like Dennis and Lotterer were the ideal combination of youthful pace and experienced nous bonded by a pure thirst to succeed.

But the reality has been that plugging in long-time works Porsche man Lotterer to Andretti clearly hasn’t materialised as anyone expected.

While Dennis leads his 21 other competitors with a whopping 154 points, Lotterer is 15th with just 23. In a package that has been proven to be a winner and regular podium finisher Lotterer’s best performance was six months ago at Mexico City when he took fourth position.

Since that time there have been three ninth places and a single eighth. Dennis meanwhile has finished in the points seven times, each of them podiums, including his recent hat-trick of runner-up positions.

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The reasons for this discrepancy haven’t been entirely clear, but certainly Lotterer has just struggled more than most with getting to grips with the Gen3 machine.

It shouldn’t make sense because Lotterer has by far the greatest experience in terms of diversity in machinery and he has driven, over the duration of his almost quarter of a century as a professional racing driver, just about everything there is to drive.

Initially it seemed he just didn’t quite have the confidence in trying to extract the maximum he could from the high on power, low on grip Gen3 cars, particularly understanding the rock hard Hankook tyres.

It’s a real shame because he has, as you would expect from such a seasoned professional, integrated superbly into the team. He is genuinely revered within it for his approach and user-friendliness. But the results just won’t come.

It would be far too simple to point to Lotterer’s dual programme with his World Endurance Championship commitments to Porsche Penske as some kind of excuse. The fact remains though that this is the first time he has tackled such a schedule because in 2018 he only competed at the Le Mans 24 Hours with Rebellion Racing, whereas now he has full Formula E and WEC programmes to juggle.

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Yet, this doesn’t feel like a driver taking on too much, and any notion of such a suggestion should probably be dismissed in his case. Lotterer is too good to be blindsided by this kind of thing.

His poor form appears simply to be a combination of not quite getting the best from the Hankook rubber and the incredible closeness of Gen3 competition, with 0.1 seconds genuinely making for hero or zero status in qualifying.

Yes, Lotterer has made misjudgements. In particular a needless positioning of his Andretti Porsche to a known agitator (Rene Rast) in the opening stages in Monaco. But despite his struggles, unlike some on the grid he has at least brought some points home.

Right now, Lotterer finds himself going into the final races of a six season long Formula E career as a shadow for his team-mate Dennis, who sits atop the points standings and who has been consistently among the best drivers in the all-electric world championship this year.

Dennis has embraced Gen3 Formula E like no other. From the very first laps of the season, he has been on top of the Porsche package, and while it has taken some races to fully exploit the potential, compared to much of the grid Dennis and Avalanche Andretti have been a step ahead.

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Lotterer is a realist. He knows he has not delivered in most E-Prixs this season, which may make him even more dangerous next time out in Rome, a track where he enjoyed perhaps his best FE race to date, a close second to Mitch Evans in 2019 with DS Techeetah, and a front row start in 2021 with Porsche.

Certainly, Lotterer has impressed team principal Roger Griffiths with his application and motivation to help Dennis, with whom he has formed a strong friendship, and the team to try and gain its best teams’ championship finishing position since its fifth place in 2019/20.

“When he [Lotterer] was at Le Mans and we were in Jakarta we were texting back and forth and when I told him that we were now one point out of first place in the championship his whole mentality is ‘let’s go get it’,” Griffiths told The Race.

“That was without any prompting from me, so he understands. One of the advantages about someone like Andre is that he’s so mature in this respect, he understands what’s important.

“He recognises that his season hasn’t been what any of us had hoped for but knows from a team perspective how important it is to try and come away with the best result possible at the end of the season.

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Griffiths acknowledges that Lotterer is “switching to the ‘what can I do to help’ mode” then. But he also recognises that carrying that out practically can be fraught with jeopardy.

“We all know from the Mercedes situation last year when they were trying to orchestrate moving [Nyck] De Vries and Stoffel [Vandoorne] round, it’s not straightforward,” added Griffiths.

“You can often trip yourself up in trying to do something overly optimistic just to move drivers around and control positions, potentially losing positions.

“We just need to see how it plays out, but he’s definitely on board with whatever is necessary. I think he’s on board. It’s nice to have him volunteer rather than have to tell him that this is going to be the case.”

Whether Lotterer can have an indirect say in Dennis taking what would be a momentous title will depend on whether he can get in among Nick Cassidy, Evans, Wehrlein and their respective team-mates in the final four races.

Should he be able to, it would be somehow indicative of his time in Formula E because although he still remains winless, Lotterer has still brought a whole lot more to the three teams he has competed with over the last six years.

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