Pressure from customer team & board: Nissan team boss Volpe promises "much better" 2nd half of season
After a mediocre start to the season, Nissan's team boss Tommaso Volpe is pushing for better results. Particularly in comparison with customer team McLaren, the Japanese have not yet performed satisfactorily in Formula E - despite pole positions, fastest race laps and convincing individual performances by newcomer Sacha Fenestraz. The carmaker's board is looking nervously at its own performance in the electric series.
It's all a matter of perspective. On the one hand, Nissan board members should be pleased that their Formula E team is doing better than last year after six races, with 18 points - in 2022, it was only twelve points at the same point in the season. On the other hand, it is also only 18 points that Norman Nato and Sacha Fenestraz have collected so far. The customer team McLaren scored 72 points in the same period.
Maybe Nissan's team boss Tommaso Volpe can still sell the Papaya Orange's good results to his superiors. After all, McLaren uses a powertrain of the same design as the factory team - so the potential is obviously there. Still, ahead of the Berlin E-Prix, the boss is pushing to narrow the success gap
"We had some problems in the first races," admits Volpe. "Unfortunately, we didn't achieve the results we deserved. Recently, at least, we were able to show where our potential lies. If we continue to show the same performance as before, the second half of the season will go much better in terms of results."
Separation from e.dams "has strengthened team spirit"
Before the 2023 season, Nissan had brought its own Formula E operation "under one roof." While racing operations were previously managed by the French racing team e.dams, the factory operation has since run exclusively under the banner of Nissan's motorsport arm Nismo. The hope: The rebuild will allow capacities to be pooled and measures to be taken in a more targeted manner to get the team back on track for success. "I think the team spirit has been strengthened as a result," Volpe analyzes.
"However, that doesn't mean the results will improve overnight. But the fact that such a big company as Nissan is fully behind us has given us all confidence. We made some important changes and invested in the young talent we already had."
Volpe praises "strong talent core" around Fenestraz & Nato.
Among those adjustments are the signings of new engineer:s, who joined Nissan from Jaguar and Formula E chassis manufacturer Spark Racing Technologies, among others (we reported). "We are in the process of building on our strong core of talent," says the Italian, who also says with regard to his new driver pairing, "Nevertheless, such challenging adjustments are always necessary. I'm in good spirits that this will have a positive impact in the medium to long term."
Nato and Fenestraz have settled into the team "very well," the team boss reports. And that's despite the fact that neither competed in Formula E in 2022. Fenestraz is even completing his first full year as a regular driver this year. "He made it look like it was very easy!" says Volpe in praise of the 23-year-old, who scored Nissan's first pole position of the season at the Cape Town E-Prix.
"He made a few small mistakes, but that's completely normal for a rookie in his first races. In Hyderabad and Cape Town, his performances were impeccable. It's difficult because Formula E requires a completely different driving style than other categories. You have to get used to that as a driver. But for Sacha, it looked pretty easy - all respect!" And Volpe also has praise for Nato: "He brings experience. That made it easier for him to adjust to us."
Nissan duped by customer team - is the board getting nervous?
Despite this, there is still a lot of room for improvement for the Japanese in terms of results - on average, Nissan's drivers finish the races in positions 11.6. While customer team McLaren has fought for pole positions and podiums on several occasions, the factory team has rarely been able to make its mark. "We know we can still improve performance with control systems, software and in other areas," Volpe said. "Nevertheless, we are satisfied with how we are currently positioned in terms of development."
Whether Nissan's board, which must release an eight-figure sum of money for the Formula E project every two years, also sees it that way may be doubted. Again and again also 'e-Formel.de' heard in the paddock that the management in Yokohama eyes the electric series nervously. Expectations are high - and so far, the team's results have not yet lived up to those expectations.
Volpe wants to "challenge top teams regularly" - goals for 2024 uncertain.
Volpe also knows this. The motorsport manager is therefore deliberately cautious in formulating his goals for the future: "If we continue to work as we have been, I think the second half of the season will be much more positive. The results so far have not been what we expected. But our goal is to look back on a season in which we regularly challenged the top teams."
For the 2024 season, he is still cautious: "We want to go into next year with new goals for the world championship standings," he looks ahead, stacking the deck emphatically low. In view of the discussions about Formula E's Gen4 car that have already started, his "new goals" are likely to include: Creating perspectives. Perspectives to convince the board of directors of more years in the championship.