How NIO 333 is laying the groundwork for its future and Gen3

How NIO 333 is laying the groundwork for its future and Gen3

NIO 333 Formula E Team’s history stretches right back to the formative days of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. It is the evolution of Team China Racing, that Nelson Piquet Jr. steered to the inaugural Drivers’ title in 2015. To see the manufacturer into the next era and Gen3 on the best possible footing, it has ploughed resources into a bespoke new factory.


A transitional Season 6, with the team forced into using an 2018/19-spec DRAGON powertrain following the collapse of its relationship with its new supplier, made way to points at the Diriyah opener in Season 7 – heralding a new ownership and management structure alongside a major long-term technical partnership with Integral Powertrain.


Deputy Team Principal Russell O’Hagan worked alongside outgoing Team Principal Christian Silk through the 2020/21 campaign as the team laid the groundwork for its factory move. Now in Silverstone, NIO 333 has set up shop in motorsport’s Silicon Valley – and counts fellow Formula E teams DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT and Envision Racing as immediate neighbours, with Jaguar TCS Racing and Mercedes-EQ and a number of Formula 1 teams also in the region.

 

Inside NIO 333's new factory


“This means a lot to the development and the future of the team,” says O’Hagan. “When I joined in March, the new factory was on the table – with the driving factor behind it consolidating the team. Originally, the workshop was at Donington alongside a lot of the teams in the formative years. Then we moved the engineering side of things to Oxfordshire.

“It actually worked relatively well – especially considering the very good job the team did working through COVID. Communication was robust between mechanics, engineers and the rest of the staff but with Gen3 on the horizon, there was a hunger to get the move done and bring operations, our offices, the race bays, stores and sim – everything – under one roof in a state-of-the-art facility.

“We expected it to make a reasonable difference, but it’s been huge. Having moved in just prior to testing, it’s improved collaboration and team bonding no end.

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 NIO 333's new factory provides the bedrock for its Gen3 push

The Chinese squad's move has seen an immediate impact behind-the-scenes. Adding a permanent, all-encompassing UK base to its Shanghai operations means the team has everything in place to drive Gen2 development and attack Gen3 - set to get underway from Season 9 - as one of seven manufacturers on the grid.

“The factory has a higher criticality to Gen3," adds O'Hagan. "It’s been massively beneficial for everything we’re doing now but for Gen3 we have design, build and fit – and once the cars mature the interaction between engineers and mechanics can be far more hand-in-hand.

“Given we’re a smaller team, it’s a tough balance between this season’s work and what’s to come with the Gen3 step-change. Everything we concentrate on with Gen2 must have a strong carryover – and a lot of it does.

"Formula E is big on controls [braking, regen and associated systems and interactions] and so we have to make sure the fundamentals will carry through. We’ve got a huge amount of quality here but we’re still a smaller team and we’re growing, and looking to expand on quantity.

“Even since Puebla last season, the technical improvements start to piece together like a jigsaw and before the end of the year, we’re looking for more of those to click into place ahead of Gen3.”

Laying the groundwork for NIO's next leap

Team Principal Alex Hui feels the move will aid in attracting motorsport's best and brightest personnel, and O'Hagan says the impact on the team's workflow, approach and in its recruitment has already been a positive one.

“I think with any company, but particularly a technology company, I think your work environment becomes the backdrop of what the right way to approach things is. The setup and presentation is a big part of introducing people to the team, our long-term vision and how we do things – and that we’re taking things seriously with the investment and resources we now have on-board. It’s a statement of intent and of our ambitions, along with our commitment to Gen3.

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 The team's 'Driver in the Loop' simulator

“On the recruitment side, things had been difficult with the logistics of the prior setup. With the move to Silverstone, and the Gen3 announcement that set the ball rolling for us, we’ve been able to recruit strongly and we’ve added some key staff that will bolster what we had and give us that base as we grow and get stronger.

"It’s a positive place to be, and a positive position to be in with the incremental work we’re doing now building towards that new Gen3 era."

A complementary driver line-up

For Season 8, Dan Ticktum has been brought in to pair Oliver Turvey - a fixture at the team since the opening Formula E campaign.

Ticktum's a race winner in almost everything he's driven on the way up the motorsport ladder - including FIA Formula 2. A victory in Monaco and two Macau Grand Prix wins are particular highlights - the latter having been a real barometer of talent over the years with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Ricardo Patrese taking to the top step. Ticktum is one of just eight to have taken multiple victories there, alongside Season 6 champion Antonio Felix da Costa (DS TECHEETAH).

O'Hagan feels the signing has proven fruitful so far, with both drivers getting into the engineering weeds in setting up their cars and Ticktum's fresh eye as a newcomer to Formula E complementing Turvey's unparalleled experience and pace that many drivers see as good as anyone's on the Formula E grid.

"Dan has settled in really well. He and Oliver make a really good team in terms of their personalities, their skill sets all over is massively in the detail with engineering," says O'Hagan. "Oliver has a huge amount of history with a team and so he's really good at the details.


"Dan doesn't have this pre-existing flavour of Formula E and he likes to feed back into general setup given what he's driven and what he's liked in the past. Between the two, we get a real broad spectrum and Dan's been great with feedback on managing the tires, and mechanical settings like springs and roll bars.

 

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"Dan's natural feeling of a racecar through his backside is, is really good and both guys are evenly matched. Their feedback is already quite similar when it comes to the overall stuff and we took a lot of confidence in what a rookie could bring to the team having seen what Jake Dennis did last year."

 

 

What's to come from Season 8?

With the team firmly moved in to a new home, O'Hagan says the focus has since been on working to pick off the low-hanging fruit and make the incremental gains in controls - the car's control systems from everything braking, regen and beyond - needed to clamber up the pack.

This work informs the direction NIO 333 will take with its Gen3 philosophies but should see the team reel in those just ahead, such is the tight spread and fine margins in action in Formula E - where just one second means the difference between first and 20th position.

"It's hard to say for sure where we'll be given how close things are in Formula E but on the performance side, we're looking for points," adds O'Hagan. "DRAGON would be our target and certainly were pre-season. We want to finish ahead of them and that's the first port of call.


"From there, getting into midfield is the next aim. It's about us getting into that group and getting in the mix. You only need to climb so far and you're fighting with a number of other teams for points on a regular basis.


"For the last three or four races of the year, I want us to be going in with confidence that we can score points between Oliver and Dan. That will give us the platform for what comes next and Gen3."


"I feel like the team has become more gelled together recently, there's definitely a better team atmosphere and everyone is working to keep improving," says Turvey. "It's not been the easiest kind of last few years but we're moving in the right direction, and we've turned the corner. It's exciting heading into Gen3.

"A new set of regs brings opportunities. Through Gen2, there's been a lot of challenges for us with backroom changes and ownership changes but we've got that stability now and we need to keep improving. It's a very high level in Formula E but if we keep working the right way, things will keep coming together."