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Formula E

'You've got to play the game' - Is Ticktum stuck?

by Sam Smith, Alice Holloway
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The life and times of Dan Ticktum has been just as much a topic of interest during his spell in Formula E as in the decade before, when he began his motorsport career.

But in 2024 Ticktum is at another career crossroads, as he faces a challenging season with the rebranded ERT Formula E team that may threaten to bring to the boil his legendary firebrand frustrations.

It’s inevitable that his personality, allied to both his own and others' assessment of his place in Formula E, should start coming to a head now. That’s because in the sense of his future in the all-electric championship it feels like he’s backed into another cul-de-sac.

Considering some of his heroics in 2023 that is clearly a shame. Yet, the likely root of all this was articulated in Formula E's recent behind-the-scenes documentary series, Unplugged, where both Ticktum and a rival team principal outlined just why Ticktum is stuck in a progression vacuum that’s becoming a perpetual loop.

How Ticktum got to Formula E is well-documented. Modern motorsport’s most divisive figure though did dig in and make the most of his rookie season in 2022, gaining respect from his team, then NIO 333. A newfound calm appeared to be brewing but with Dan Ticktum the bubbles aren’t far from the surface.

In 2023, Ticktum had an impressive season in a car that just wasn’t in the competitive ballpark over a race distance. He outqualified his team-mate Sergio Sette Camara conclusively, averaging an 11th-place grid start compared to the Brazilian’s 15th, and also took 28 points compared to 14 on the other side of the garage.

Ticktum’s pace and commitment has never been in doubt. But pretty much everything else outside the cockpit has. That stems from two things. In Ticktum’s eyes, it’s his ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude and his apparent disinterest in the other crucial matters of professional motorsport: the business side.

Whether he likes it or not, and the clear evidence is that he really doesn’t care for much besides competing, Ticktum gives off the impression to manufacturers in Formula E that he is too much of a risk.

At Monaco last April, The Race canvassed all of the manufacturers in Formula E with a simple question: If Dan Ticktum was available, would you sign him? The answers were all politely negative, most caveated with a ‘let’s see what he’s like in five years’ time’-type comment.

This kind of perception manifested itself in a public exchange between Michael Andretti and his Formula E entry's team principal Roger Griffiths in the aforementioned Unplugged documentary recently.

“Ticktum’s in there again, huh?” Andretti said to Griffiths after another giant-killing performance last season in qualifying in Monaco, where Ticktum qualified fifth.

“Yeah, but you’d never put him in front of a sponsor,” was Griffiths' retort.

A brutal burn - as Andretti gently nods and looks back at the timing screens.

Ticktum would have no options for 2024 apart from staying on at his present employer which, frankly speaking, operates from season-to-season on essentially the bare minimum.

Reputation is made in good and bad times. Ticktum has forged his on-track one decently in the last two years but the self-sabotage radio blow-ups haven’t helped his perception at all.

In Jakarta last year he merged anger with jaw-dropping petulance by demanding a taxi to immediately pick him up and take him away from a difficult race.

“I think last year I didn’t help myself with the whole Jakarta radio thing, but I’m a bit of a character, that’s what makes me good as well,” Ticktum tells The Race. “Most people find it funny but most people are quick to judge me from small things on the internet, and it’s not really who I am.

“If you speak to Carlin, if you speak to the guys here, speak to DAMS, the teams I’ve worked with recently, they’ll tell you I’m actually quite a good bloke to get on with.”

That really does tally with what you hear from the engineers who work closely with him. They have a genuine respect and even love for their blunt throwback racer.

But you feel a growing realisation is also there from Ticktum that he needs to perhaps be able to cast a wider net for the next steps in his career, if there are to be some, and from a manufacturer standpoint that will mean toning down and keeping a lid on the adrenaline/mouth-opening ratio.

“As a driver where I am now, obviously looking at Jag[uar], McLaren, some of the big manufacturers, yeah, it would be nice to have at least some interest from them this year and weigh up some good options for next year,” he says. “That might mean remaining here but we’ll see.”

That seems slightly naive for a driver who has been in international motorsport for a long time now, and perhaps a touch of naivety in matters outside of the cockpit is actually his hidden flaw.

Perhaps it does lend a benefit of doubt to a driver who is still only 24 years of age and has ridden a wild career rollercoaster for the majority of his time in racing.

How he rationalises it is interesting and like most drivers ultimately comes down to his own ego.

“I think the more we go on in the society we’re in, not just motorsport it’s society in general, it’s very woke,” he says.

“You’re not really allowed to express opinions because it alienates people from buying into your brand. It’s a very complicated topic.

“Ironically the fans want to see people like me, or people who are controversial, have a genuine opinion or just tell the truth. I’m not doing it because I want to create crap, I’m doing it because I’m just telling the truth and that’s just sort of how I am.

“I think more and more teams and kids growing up are just taught to sit down and shut up and I just don’t really think that’s the right way to live your life. Especially a sportsman; you’re in your prime for 10, 15 years so why shouldn’t we be ourselves?”

If that's how he sees it, where does that leave him?

Ticktum faces a very challenging 2024 and the likelihood is that it will be more like the scraps of 2022 for him than the occasional heroics of 2023 just due to the fact that the limited resources of the ERT team mean it will be swamped by progress from its wealthier competitors, especially in the second season of the Gen3 ruleset.

Can Ticktum ensure another season of collecting crumbs from the table? And will the adrenaline mixed with that forecast dejection be something he's able to keep in check?

Ever the contradiction, Dan Ticktum will of course remain Dan Ticktum. Some will love that, some won’t, and some may despair.

Ultimately it will probably not sway him much, in the way it has some less-talented rivals - and to an extent there is a certain pathos to that.

“There is a job to do and I’ve said it for the last 10 years: it’s a game, you’ve got to play the game,” Ticktum concludes.

“I think this year, sadly, I think I’m going to have to be a little bit more toned down than I have been in the past.

“You’ll probably still see it; there’ll be a flare-up every now and then so keep your eyes peeled.

"But I’m going to try and keep a lid on it and, like I said earlier, smile and wave and get a good year done and see what the years after bring.”

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