Oh boy, there is a huge game of musical chairs going on in Formula E right now. It’s looking like most teams will have at least one driver change ahead of the kickoff of the 2020-21 season. For the most part this kicked off with the sacking of Daniel Abt by Audi for hiring a ringer to stand in for him during an online race. On Tuesday, a bombshell was dropped as Sam Bird announced he’d be leaving Envision Virgin Racing, where he has raced for six seasons, for Jaguar. Let’s take a look at how we got here, and where things will go from here.
In the wake of the fallout from Abt’s short-sighted actions, he was removed from the team with his name on the doors, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler. Soon afterward, the team hired René Rast to fill his seat. Rast is a double-DTM champion and endurance racing ace, so he should have no trouble getting up to speed in FE.
Formula E announced last month that it would be running a six-race season-ender event in Berlin across nine days in August. Because of the shortened timetable and international travel restrictions, NIO 333's Chinese driver Ma Qinghua will not be allowed to attend the six-race shootout. NIO then decided the smart move would be to hire Daniel Abt for the season ender, allowing both he and the team to fight for points in the abbreviated 2019-20 season.
While all of this was going down, Mahindra and Pascal Wehrlein announced a surprise departure back in June. The going theory is that Porsche has hired Wehrlein to replace an in-over-his-head Neel Jani. Wehrlein’s statement indicated that he had tried to work with Mahindra to finish out the current season, but was instead released from his contract with immediate effect. As it stands right now, he will not be taking part in the season ending races.
Mahindra later replaced Wehrlein with former Virgin and Jaguar racer Alex Lynn. The former GP3 champion had been without a Formula E seat since he was pushed out of the Jaguar team to make way for Ferrari endurance racer James Calado.
That brings us up to speed for today’s news. James Calado, who just joined the Jaguar FE team for the current season, is being pushed out in favor of longtime Envision Virgin team driver Sam Bird. Ironically, both Calado and Bird have spent many years racing for Ferrari AF Corse in the FIA WEC, though Bird left the team at the close of the 2018-19 season.
While he has not yet won a Formula E championship, 33-year-old Bird is the only driver in the series to have competed in all 63 races to date for the same team, and the only driver to have scored a win in each of the six seasons thus far. “I have watched Jaguar’s growth and progress in the series and am very proud to be driving for an iconic British brand with such a successful racing DNA and joining an incredible list of drivers that have raced for the brand,” said Bird.
There is no word yet on who may be replacing Bird at Envision Virgin, but there is no shortage of open-wheel talent looking for work right now to fill that spot. The team’s other driver Robin Frijns is pretty good in his own right. Envision Virgin pushed a young Nick Cassidy into its car for the rookie test at Marrakesh earlier this year, and it’s likely that he will step into that seat permanently. Cassidy is a New Zealander living in Japan, where he currently races in both the Super GT and Super Formula series, and has previously won championships in both.
There are a small handful of racers in the Formula E paddock which are considered top-tier drivers. Drivers like DS Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa, Jaguar’s Mitch Evans, and perhaps BMW’s Maximilian Guenther. Sam Bird is firmly among this pack, and once partnered with Evans should make Jaguar a formidable team.
Yeah, the 2021 season of Formula E is looking like it’ll be a hot little setup. I’m very much looking forward to the sextuple-header in August, but when next season kicks off in January, things will be all the more exciting with this shuffle.