Formula E: Nato celebrates 1st podium of the season in Rome - but probably too late to stay with Nissan
Season finale 2021: Norman Nato wins sensationally in Berlin - and has to leave his former Venturi team afterwards. It could go similarly this year. At the Rome E-Prix on Sunday, the Frenchman surprisingly took his first Formula E podium for Nissan with second place - the first for the team this season. Nevertheless, according to a report, he is set to leave the team, as two possible successors may already be in place.
After his accident following the 1st free practice session, things went much better for Nato on Rome Sunday: he qualified outstandingly for third place on the grid and even made up one more place in the race despite his inefficient Nissan powertrain. With 0.0 percent energy remaining, he finished a sensational second in the end and claimed his fourth points result in a row - his best of the season so far.
"We were happy with qualifying, but knew it would be more difficult in the race," Nato explained. He was fully aware of his car's weaknesses: "It was tight with the power, but I managed it well. To finish in the points on both days is great. I'm very happy with the performance today."
Just like Lucas di Grassi once did at the season opener in Mexico, Nato was able to capitalize on a good starting position coupled with a track layout that makes overtaking difficult. Although the Jaguar of Sam Bird behind him was significantly more energy efficient than the Nissan, Nato defended himself brilliantly. He conserved energy where possible without losing his position. His great defensive performance ultimately earned him 18 points.
"Showed the progress we have made this season"
"The strategy was perfect," Nato thinks. "We fought hard and showed the progress we have made as a team this season." True words. After Nissan bumbled around in Formula E's "no man's land" at the start of the season and also was not able to match its own customer team McLaren, things have gone uphill for Tommaso Volpe's team since the Monaco E-Prix: 61 of its 79 points have been scored by Nissan since the race in the principality.
The basis for the improved performance of the Nissan cars were some software updates made by the team after the Berlin E-Prix. "In terms of pure pace of the car, we have made a big step," Sacha Fenestraz confirmed to e-Formula.news already after the Monaco E-Prix. Thus, the team can also be expected to do well at the London E-Prix in a week and a half.
"One of the fastest Nissans" may have to go
The season finale, however, could be the last Formula E weekend for Norman Nato. According to a report by 'The Race', the 31-year-old recently learned that Nissan is no longer planning with him for the upcoming 2023/24 season. Teammate Sacha Fenestraz, who at the current time has 15 points less on his world championship account, on the other hand, is to remain with the team.
Nato would thus have to look for another cockpit in Formula E if he wants to continue competing as an active driver. His options would be short, however. Nato's manager, Tiago Monteiro, is said to have already held talks with potential new employers in Rome.
"I'm one of the fastest Nissans, especially in the race. If the team feels like they can put someone else in the car and they can bring so much performance it is their right to do so and I will respect the decision," Nato said. However, he adds, "I may decide to go somewhere else as well because I have a good opportunity and I feel like I can do better somewhere else. I will do that as well."
Oliver Rowland & Nyck de Vries possible successors
It would be the second time Nato has lost his regular seat in Formula E. In 2021, he had to leave Venturi to make way for Lucas di Grassi. At that time, too, he only achieved three top-10 results in the course of the season in addition to his victory mentioned at the beginning of this article. The current season has been going similar. Team principle Volpe also confirmed that Nato "struggled a little bit" in the first half of the season. Nato's upswing apparently came too late.
A potential successor for him at Nissan would be Oliver Rowland, who already drove from 2018 to 2021 for the e.dams team, as which Nissan emerged. The Briton left Mahindra mid-season and is currently without a cockpit. Nonetheless, the former E-Prix winner has frequently demonstrated his potential in Formula E and would be a logical choice.
Another candidate to succeed Nato is Nyck de Vries, who recently lost his AlphaTauri cockpit in Formula 1. "Everyone in Formula E has probably thought about him, from the moment he got available," Volpe admits. "He's of interest as one of the drivers available for next season. He is interesting as a world champion, but I cannot confirm what we are doing."
If the decision against Nato has indeed already been made, the only thing left for him to do in London on July 29 and 30 is what he supposedly does best: Outdoing himself when his fate has already been decided.