To say that Oliver Askew likely didn’t expect to be competing in Formula E would be an understatement. The American driver grew up racing his way through the Road to Indy program with his eyes on an IndyCar ride, and in 2020, he landed a great seat with Arrow McLaren SP. And then things went awry, leaving Askew without a seat to end the season. Now, thankfully, he’s found a home with Avalanche Andretti in the world’s only electric open-wheel racing series.
“[Formula E] seems to be suiting my style,” Askew told Jalopnik during an interview ahead of the Mexico City ePrix. “That collected approach and the racing is just one big adjustment basically, with all the energy saving we have to do. And we’re constantly looking a couple laps ahead and to the end of the race making sure that we’re on the right strategy.
“I’ve enjoyed it. The car is very fun to drive, moves around a lot as we spoke about with that, the radial tires. And yeah, the level of drivers in this championship is extremely high. There’s not one driver here that’s paying to be here. They’re all paid professionals, ex-F1 drivers, Le Mans champions. It’s pretty cool to be in that mix and be competitive alongside them.”
Despite both IndyCar and Formula E being slightly-spec open-wheel racing categories, the two are massively different in almost every respect — and Askew has barely had time to keep up.
“Unfortunately, our testing is restricted,” Askew said when asked about how he prepared for his Formula E debut. “But that’s where the simulation comes in, and that’s where that simulator really pays dividends — just being able to basically start the race weekend in the simulator, travel, get there and then pick off where you left off.”
Sim work wasn’t Askew’s only challenge. The travel and the technology both presented unique challenges that required unique solutions. When I jokingly asked Askew if he needed flash cards to memorize all the new buttons and knobs on his FE car’s steering wheel, he looked at me and said, “No, seriously. I did. The team sent me a program with all the information already programmed in.”
Before we sat down for our chat, Askew took me around the car to illustrate all the things that distinguish an FE car from an Indy car: the halo as opposed to a windscreen, the spec tires that anyone can buy from the store, the aerodynamic features that see the cars slip and slide a little more frequently.
But Askew has felt prepared, saying, “Coming from IndyCar, we have a lot of street courses, and they’re quite brutal.”
“Detroit is mess,” I added.
Askew nodded. “Right. So when we go to most of these, they’re a little bit more polished. So they’re not an issue for me, really.”
He echoed the sentiment that an engineer from Nio 333 Racing told me earlier that day: That Monaco is one of the roughest track surfaces a Formula One car will race on, while it’s one of the smoothest tracks of the year for a series like FE. That’s not a bad gig for drivers who have experienced the rough roads of St. Petersburg, Detroit, or Toronto.
The transition from a more single-nation series to an international one has been simple for Askew, since having a Swedish mother means he’s spent more time in Europe than many Americans who have competed on the Road to Indy. The biggest difference, though, is that Askew is the only American here.
“Back in IndyCar, half the grid was American, so it didn’t feel special,” he told me. “Now, I just feel privileged to solely fly my flag.”
And that sentiment is one he’s carrying through to speaking about Formula E’s eco-friendly ethos — something Askew says he now feels responsible for speaking about.
“I hope that our country is able to be a front-runner in that space and a role model to other countries,” he said of the series’ sustainability goals. “I hope I can expand that word and just grow the idea of sustainability and electric vehicles in America.”
It’s a big distinction from the loud combustion engines of IndyCar — but Askew has seemed right at home. As far as his debut season has gone, Askew has performed very well for a rookie in a stacked field. A ninth and 11th in Diriyah followed by a 17th in Mexico City sees Askew sitting at a respectable 15th in a field of 22 drivers.
Avalance Andretti has scored at least one win per season since adopting the BMW powertrains — including a third place this year with Askew’s teammate Jake Dennis — which means there’s a great chance Askew could stand on the top step of the podium before the year is out. And in a series that has lacked American drivers, it would be a great way to mark Askew’s name on the international racing stage.