15 Oct 21
- FAN ZONE
20 Feb 21
A new campaign brings with it new faces, as three rapid rookies join the grid for Season 7 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship; and they're already looking right at home.
The new kids on the block Nick Cassidy (Envision Virgin Racing), Norman Nato (ROKiT Venturi Racing) and Jake Dennis (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) might be fresh to the Formula E fold but all three have impressed early on.
The trio shook out 10th, 11th and 13th overall on the timesheets at pre-season testing in Valencia last November, with Nato eventually heading home Dennis and Cassidy.
A strong opening salvo from the rookies given the circuit now finds itself on the 2020/21 calendar and the ultra-competitive nature of the field in Formula E with the whole field split by just 0.750 seconds at the test. Cassidy in 13th wound up just 0.339 seconds away from Maximilian Guenther's benchmark time.
Let's have a look at the three drivers due to make their debut in Diriyah on February 26 & 27 in a little more detail now they've had a pre-season to get themselves bedded in.
There seemed to be little risk on Envision Virgin Racing's part in selecting the talented 26-year-old; with Cassidy having topped the Marrakesh Rookie Test - smashing the lap record in the process.
The New Zealander was announced back in July as the team's replacement for stalwart Sam Bird, who flew the nest for pastures new in Jaguar Racing, after six seasons with the outfit. So, big boots to fill, but the Super GT and Super Formula champion has wasted no time in trying.
"My experience in Japan in Super GT and Super Formula is quite different in very different machinery but working with a manufacturer and developing the technical side of things I’ve learned a lot," said the Kiwi. "There’s plenty I can bring here to the table. At the same time, there’s a lot to learn from the guys at Envision Virgin Racing.
"I’m excited to be alongside Robin (Frijns). His natural talent is incredible and he’s really fast, so it’s a great reference point. He’s also super easy to get along with and that’s all cool. In terms of learning from him, I think that’ll be a constant evolution throughout the season and I’ll be asking more as time goes by."
By his own admission, the phone call from the team’s management that confirmed he’d made the cut was a shock, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise given that early in his single-seater career he was mixing it with, and beating, drivers like Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon.
Dennis’ showing garnered high praise from BMW Group Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt, who felt Jake met “very special criteria” required of a driver if they are to be successful in Formula E, and that the Brit provided the “perfect package” amid stiff competition from a selection of top-tier drivers vying for the seat.
The team’s philosophy of selection on merit, and not based on a CV or any preconceptions, bore fruit with the decision to give Maximilian Guenther a drive in 2019/20, with breakthrough race wins at Santiago and Berlin.
Guenther repaid the faith team principal Roger Griffiths and the team placed in him with those victories, and Griffiths is confident that Jake's selection will also vindicate the outfit's decision making process.
Guenther and Dennis were part of the same crop as Leclerc, Russell, Stroll, Antonio Giovanazzi and more on their way up through the ranks. The pair were team-mates at Prema in GP3 Series (now the FIA Formula 3 Championship) before their careers forked, with that batch of drivers winding up with the opportunity to climb the single-seater ladder whilst Dennis would eventually make the switch to sportscars.
He shone in Valencia at Formula E's pre-season test, and was quickest of the new trio having never stepped into a Gen2 Formula E car before. Dennis feels being fresh to the circuits is the biggest disadvantage for a rookie.
"Not knowing the circuits is definitely a challenge," said the 25-year-old. "I think you can learn the car to a certain level pretty quickly but learning the tracks against drivers, who have even up to six seasons' experience will be tough. Everybody has to be a rookie at some point, so this year it’s my go!
“Joining such a massive brand, and such a big manufacturer is huge for any young driver. Formula E is just getting bigger and bigger. There are so many young drivers, and drivers of all ages, looking to get one of the seats because it’s such a highly competitive grid full of quality – you only need to look at the names on there.
“I feel it’s stronger in talent than Formula 1. You have a number of drivers there that are great but it can also become about budget, too. There’s not one single driver in Formula E that isn’t here on merit. They’re all ultra-capable.
“BMW has a great powertrain and great software – the car is great. I’m there to do a solid job initially and do as good a job as I can from there. I need to get my head around it as quickly as possible in the first couple of races.”
The Frenchman has been involved with the outfit since 2018 as its Reserve Driver, made two appearances at Formula E's annual Marrakesh Rookie Test and has spent hours carrying out developmental work for the team in its simulator over the last two years.
Since entering professional motorsport in 2006, Nato has worked his way up the ladder, finishing runner-up in F4 Eurocup 1.6 back in 2010 and in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps in 2012.
IN DETAIL: Norman Nato
From there, Nato stepped into Formula Renault 3.5 and took a dominant victory around the streets of Monte Carlo. His performances opened the door to GP2 Series - now FIA Formula 2 - where he took three wins and eight podiums in three seasons and finished fifth overall in 2016.
Most recently, he came third in both the 2018 European Le Mans Series and the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship, including a second-placed finish in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 28-year-old is eager to push the team forward given the faith Venturi, and Team Principal Susie Wolff have placed in him.
"I’ve been a part of the ROKiT Venturi Racing family since 2018, so to secure a full-time race seat with the team for Season 7 is a great step forward and I can’t wait to show what we can achieve together," he said.
"Over the past two years, we have built very solid foundations and we share the same bright ambitions for the future. Everything has to be perfect if you want success and I do have a lot to learn.
"Every driver realises how exciting Formula E is. One tenth of a second makes a huge difference - four or five poistions - and if you want to be at the front, it's a lot of hard work. It's so intense that after a day in the car, you just want to shower and go to sleep!"
They're not quite rookies, as both got a taste of Formula E in Berlin during the Season 6 finale, but Sergio Sette Camara (DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT) and reigning DTM Champion, Rene Rast (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) both impressed and will embark on their first full campaign in the championship this week.