An unlikely title challenger emerges

The domination of Renault e.Dams in each of Formula E’s opening three seasons seems but a distant memory for much of the Formula E fanbase. The team failed to secure a win in season four and then was replaced by their sister company Nissan for season five. However, has Nissan resurrected e.dams’ title hopes this season? 

You can’t forget that the e.Dams squad secured three back-to-back Teams Championships, and a single driver’s title courtesy of Sebastian Buemi in Season 2, sending shockwaves through the Formula E paddock as the team to beat. 

However, after a disappointing final season as Renault, Nissan’s expectations were muted, with many believing the team would struggle to match established names such as Audi, BMW and the DS run Techeetah team.

Nissan opted to retain the services of Season 2 Champion Sebastian Buemi, hoping the driver with the most wins in Formula E history, as well as four years of Formula E experience with the team, would be the perfect man to lead the team back to greatness. Additionally, the team made the difficult decision to release three times race winner Nico Prost, in favour of the highly rated Alexander Albon, fresh out of a successful Formula 2 campaign where he finished 3rd overall in the standings.

With a sense of quiet optimism in the air, Nissan began preseason testing, how Renault had left off the season prior, presenting a Gen 2 car capable of points finishes but perhaps lacking compared to front running teams Audi and “New” boys on the block BMW, who has become a full works manufacturer for the Andretti team in season five.

However, it wasn’t long before the team would encounter their first real issue of the season. On the 26th November, just 19 days before the start of the season, Toro Rosso Formula 1 team made the announcement that new Nissan superstar driver Alexander Albon would partner Daniil Kvyat in the team for the 2019 Formula 1 season, leaving Nissan with a spare seat for the upcoming season.

The team drafted in British driver Oliver Rowland to fill the vacant seat, but the former Mahindra reserve driver received only a minimal amount running in the car before the first race in Ad Diriyah, mostly due to the confusion and uncertainty over Albon’s contract negotiations throughout the first few days of testing. 

Conditions in Saudi Arabia hampered all the teams as heavy rain stopped the teams from getting a real representation of the pecking order, but the Nissan cars finished as expected with a respectable 6th and 7th, but they were struggling to keep pace with the BMW of Da Costa and both Techeetah cars.

However, in the test day following the race in Saudi Arabia, the team went about finding ways to understand their car and try and find more performance in it to try and match BMW and Techeetah who looked like would be the runaway leaders in season five. 

It looked like the team had found something in Marrakesh, as Buemi was able to drag the car to an unexpected 3rd place on the grid, which showed signs that the team had made steps forwards from the test in Ad Diriyah. Although, the celebrations of Nissan, were short-lived, as Buemi got caught Jean-Eric Vergne’s spin at Turn 1 which instantaneously dropped him of the points.

However, the team regrouped and used the test session in Marrakesh to further find out more about their season five challenger, focusing on the software of the car to find the extra performance. Their hard work seemed to finally pay off in Santiago, as Buemi qualified second for the race, but inherited the pole after Lucas Di Grassi was relegated to the back of the grid following a braking infraction. 

In the race, the Buemi of old looked like he was back, with a performance that reminded onlookers of his many dominant drives to victory throughout the first three seasons. His 13th win looked to be in the bag until a mistake with just 15 minutes remaining in the race forced the Nissan driver into the wall and trundling his damaged car back to the pitlane to retire. Despite the incident, Santiago was the first real sign that Nissan could pose a threat in this season’s title race.

In Mexico, they picked up where they left off in Santiago, this time with a strong qualifying session from both driver as Rowland finished group qualifying fastest, and whilst neither Rowland or Buemi could secure pole in Superpole, it was Nissan’s best team performance in Formula E thus far, with Rowland starting a career-best 4th and 6th for Buemi. 

Both drivers moved up the field well in the race, and the car was able to maintain the pace of the leaders throughout, showing the progress that the team has made this season. With the cars running third and fourth position in the final five minutes of the race, it looked like the team would finally showcase that they have arrived in the championship, but it wasn’t to be. 

Both drivers would fall victim to a lack of energy in the closing stages, running out of power on the final lap of the race, ultimately leading to another double DNF for the team, as the Nissan e.Dams team miscalculated how many laps were remaining after the red flag incident. Therefore, on the final lap, both drivers ran out of usable energy, leaving the cars out of the points and 27 championship points down the drain with it. 

Now, you might conclude on the evidence thus far that Nissan e.Dams do not look likely to challenge for the title. However, there are still nine races remaining, and whilst Nissan may not have hooked up a race win this season, neither have DS Techeetah; but would you rule last season’s narrow runners-up in the team’s championship out of this season’s running? We think that would be equally foolhardy. 

With the progress the team has made over the first four races, they are now a team that can challenge for wins this season with both drivers. This series has shown that anything can happen and you only need to be consistent in this championship to win titles; that’s how Mahindra currently lead the teams and drivers standings, despite not having the overall fastest car in Formula E, they have thus far been the most consistent. 

From the team’s potential and progress shown in Mexico and Chile, we think they can potentially challenge for the title, especially with Buemi and Rowland behind the wheel. 

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