until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

What Jaguar's risking with its unorthodox team orders

by Sam Smith
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Jaguar appears to have a controlled, laissez-faire approach to its team orchestrations in Formula E races this season and it's one that, all-in-all, is paying off well despite inherent and very real jeopardy.

Both of its drivers will likely be, privately at least, pulling The Race up on that brief assessment. After all in any other motorsport series, it might baffle some to see a championship leader not given preference in a race.

Yet there is a method to the habitual madness that plays out in any given E-Prix these days.

At no point this season has Mitch Evans been ahead of new team-mate Nick Cassidy in the drivers' standings. The closest it has been was after the first round when six points separated them.

Cassidy’s points trough came between round four in Sao Paulo in March and round six at Misano in mid-April. But even then, the gap between them was still a healthy 24 points in Cassidy's favour.

It looks increasingly likely that a technical problem for Evans in that second Misano race - an issue associated with the oscillations his powertrain received from kerb strikes (a problem by no means exclusive to Jaguar that weekend) - could ultimately be a big part of his title undoing.

An impressive mid-season surge with wins in Monaco and at Shanghai just doesn’t feel enough as both Cassidy and fellow protagonist Pascal Wehrlein continue to score big points.

Evans found himself at the front in the first Shanghai race last weekend with Cassidy having made good progress through the energy-saving field from 10th on the grid. He’d spent his energy wisely and was up on pretty much the whole field, including by a sizeable 2% on second-placed Wehrlein.

The opportunity was there to get an extra three points on his championship rival and make it what would have been a second Jaguar 1-2 of the season.

But that didn’t quite happen. Why not?

What's hurting the pursuit of choreographed perfection

“Obviously you want to use the energy, right? And I couldn’t do that,” was Cassidy’s initial assessment of being stuck in third despite his energy advantage over Wehrlein and Evans.

There is a point in the high-energy races this year where they largely become locked and loaded from a results perspective.

The days of a Wehrlein 2019 final-corner energy wipeout to allow Lucas di Grassi a sensational last-gasp win are mostly over. Teams are much more on top of the calculations needed now and the advancement in software makes it more manageable to judge the pace of races just right.

The peloton-like joust for track position hots up in the second half of races and then, as if an invisible pacesetter's peeled off the track, it explodes into a more or less flat-out sprint. That means even if you have more energy available, track position is crucial.

“At the point of which we made the decision to bring Nick forwards, obviously we were managing his progress towards the front, Mitch at that point was in that fight for the race lead and he’d been in that for most of the race,” James Barclay tells The Race upon being questioned about Jaguar’s strategy for Cassidy.

“By the time we’d got Nick into third position, we wanted to hold position quite honestly at that point because Mitch had been fighting Wehrlein, and we felt strongly he could get Wehrlein and so did Mitch.

“So really it was the decision at that point given Mitch had been fighting for the lead for the majority of the race, we’d give him the opportunity to try and get that overtake and we did hold those positions in order to allow Mitch to do that.”

Watching to see if Evans would be successful in that quest influenced what Cassidy would do. That was because if he couldn’t, then the strategy would surely have to change. It was a classic case of waiting to see if track position could be gained by one Jaguar before the other one’s fate was decided.

“We were judging whether he was going to be successful, whether we let Cass then have a go, but the reality was that we felt positive with where we were with Mitch’s slight advantage by that point in time,” adds Barclay.

“Ultimately that’s what played out. There was obviously a risk in terms of involving the drivers [together] as well and at that point in time, double points, double podium finish, we were really keen to maximise that opportunity.”

What if those missed points are pivotal?

Jaguar now has a very healthy 73-point lead in the teams’ standings. It will need a 94-point gap after Portland to be sure of its first-ever Formula E title. There is an air of inevitability around this now.

But this is Formula E and Portland means maximum peloton chaos. And, this year, there's a double serving of that madness too.

So, in a way there is also an element of fickleness for Jaguar to worry about. Barclay and the team are well aware of this.

But should the teams' title be achieved in Portland or even all but mathematically sealed, might the outlook for Evans and Cassidy change?

Evans, 35 points in arrears of his team-mate, needs to try to reprise his Rome 2022 double-win heroics in Oregon to hoist himself into contention. But even if he does that he will need Cassidy and possibly Wehrlein to drop the ball in one of the races to stand a proper chance.

At times this season, Jaguar seems to be coveting the teams' crown more than the drivers'. This isn’t particularly accurate according to Barclay.

“Both titles are clearly a priority for us and our view is that if we look after the teams’ championship the drivers’ championship should also benefit from that,” he says. “We do have to really manage that teams’ title but at the same time give our drivers the opportunity to fight for the drivers’ title and that’s kind of how we saw [Shanghai] playing out.”

The fine margins of Formula E can reward and punish in equal measure though. The first Shanghai race ultimately meant Cassidy missed out on a three-point gain on Wehrlein, and there will be an irritating, nagging demon at the back of both Barclay's and Cassidy’s brain - even if he gained more ground the day later - as a result.

It might stay there for the next seven weeks, harassing them both until the ExCeL shakeout is known. What if three points is what separates Wehrlein and Cassidy under the lights and ear-splitting cheerleading music in London in July?

“Nick continues to consolidate; yes, he lost a couple of points to Pascal, but actually it was probably unfortunate that he couldn’t be second,” concedes Barclay.

“We thought that Pascal didn’t really leave him any room on the exit of Turn 6 and pushed Nick off; I think there was a 1-2 possible there which we didn’t quite manage to do.

“The reality is we’re trying to manage both titles and the teams’ title is what the whole team is striving towards. We believe the drivers’ title can be supported by those as well.”

The conversation Jaguar isn't relishing

Evans is part of the fabric of modern Jaguar.

He first drove for the team at a Donington Park shootout test almost nine years ago and has driven in every one of the 105 E-Prix it's contested ever since.

He’s lost with Jaguar; he’s won with Jaguar. He is a consummate team player but he’s a bloody hard nut as well. Some of his ‘lost it’ moments in the old days are legendary. The team knows that this energy, which still exists albeit at a lower combustion rate, is usually all for the right reasons. He just wants to win.

And the fairytale script reads that he’s the first driver to win the title for Jaguar. He’s not owed it of course. But after all this time he definitely deserves it.

But fairytales seldom happen in motorsport and Evans knows it. He will win a title in Formula E but it might not be the 2024 one.

He will know that at some stage he may have to go in to bat for Cassidy. Like Martyn and Jeff Crow, two of New Zealand’s most talented cricketing brothers from the 1980s and 1990s, he may have to have his brother’s back.

Evans will do it. He really has little choice but it will sting a fair bit. Cassidy though has proved he’s the type of person, type of driver who will return the favour one day if needed.

In fact, he’s proved on a few occasions that he is pretty selfless on track. He can be hard as nails too but when it comes to his team-mates he seems to try to do the right thing.

A prime example of this was in Berlin earlier this month. Cassidy spent several laps playing rear-gunner for Evans instead of fighting eventual winner Antonio Felix da Costa. When Evans made an error at the hairpin the resulting chaos shuffled Cassidy back behind a battling Oliver Rowland. If you were being super harsh, you’d say all this cost Cassidy at least a crack at the win.

Then there was race one in London last season when Cassidy chose to relinquish a healthy lead having already taken his attack modes. He deliberately dropped back to suck up team-mate Sebastien Buemi to assist in points collation for Envision in its eventual successful quest for teams’ title glory.

But the two collided and Cassidy lost any last hope in the drivers’ title stakes. This might well be a dark case study in his mind as he enters the final two events.

So, the call to Evans will probably come, bar Cassidy and Wehrlein being dealt bum hands or creating their own misadventures in Portland.

Formula E is increasingly about calls now. Jaguar has some big ones coming up.

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