The rules impasse that’s putting Formula E line-ups in limbo

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Three Formula E teams are awaiting an FIA ruling on a complicated regulatory flashpoint that will decide who drives for them in the second part of the Berlin double-header in May.

The first race of the weekend will clash directly with the third round of the World Endurance Championship at Spa. This season eight drivers – over a third of the Formula E field – are competing in both the WEC and FE.

As it stands that means Sebastien Buemi, Robin Frijns, Nyck de Vries and Nico Mueller are set to miss at least the Saturday race because of the clash as their contracts require them to prioritise their WEC deals.

But plans for those drivers to travel to Berlin overnight and replace the substitute drivers that will be drafted into their Formula E seats for the first race in Berlin on Saturday might be negated if flexibility in the FIA’s regulations is not activated.

As it stands, the regulations state that double-headers are treated as one event meaning that a change of drivers from one race to the next is not possible after administrative checks, bar a force majeure situation.

The Race understands that the FIA is in the process of proposing a solution to potentially allow the Spa drivers to enter the Sunday race and only miss one of the Berlin rounds.

That though could be challenged by rival teams who have deliberately distanced themselves from drivers that aim to run full dual programmes.

The Andretti, DS Penske, Porsche and Jaguar teams have all either barred their drivers from competing in clashing series too, or insisted Formula E is prioritised in their contracts.

Envision’s managing director Sylvain Filippi told The Race recently that he was under the impression that “there was an FIA Calendar Commission looking after this, with clear established people in it. But clearly, they didn’t do their work”.

Envision is the team worst affected as both its drivers – Buemi and Frijns – face missing the Berlin races.

“Is it ideal that we are replacing drivers?” Filippi continued. “Absolutely not. I’m very, very annoyed by this and everyone knows it.

“I know other teams in this paddock are as well.”

Frijns was equally vocal about the fact a clash has occurred in the first place, saying that for him it was “just sad and kind of ridiculous that we are in this situation with two world championships within the same organisation [the FIA]”.

The Berlin/Spa clash is the second time that a direct clash has affected drivers’ capacity to race in Formula E. In 2017, both Buemi and Toyota WEC stablemate Jose Maria Lopez had to miss the inaugural New York City E-Prix as it was on the same weekend as the WEC’s Nurburgring race.

That particularly affected Buemi, who lost ground to title rival Lucas di Grassi and saw his championship lead reduced from 32 points to 10. Di Grassi ultimately won that title.

Some drivers that do both Formula E and WEC, such as DS Penske/Peugoet’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Eric Vergne, Mahindra/Lamborghini’s Edoardo Mortara and Andretti/JOTA’s Norman Nato, are contractually bound to prioritise the Berlin races over Spa.

WHO WILL GET THE STAND-IN DRIVES?

With many of the potential replacements for Frijns, Buemi, de Vries and Mueller already racing at Spa, the list of potential replacements is short.

No Formula 2 or Formula 3 races are scheduled for that weekend but Zane Maloney and Victor Martins are the only F2 or F3 drivers with recent Formula E experience (with Andretti and Nissan respectively) and neither is expected to be loaned for such a short-term period.

The most obvious replacements for Envision would be Jaguar reserve and development drivers Joel Eriksson and Tom Dillmann, as Jaguar supplies Envision’s powertrains.

Both drivers have prior Formula E experience and each know the Jaguar I-Type 6 intimately.

That would leave the works Jaguar team without cover or simulator duties for the start of the weekend but talks to find a solution with both Eriksson and Dillmann are believed to have taken place.

Alice Powell has a development role with Envision, but is not thought to be in contention as a race stand-in.

Aston Martin Formula 1 reserve driver Felipe Drugovich (pictured above) tested with Maserati MSG last season but has no ties to the team now and could be called upon by Envision to replace one of its two Spa bound drivers.

Mahindra is likely to run F2 racer Kush Maini in de Vries’ car, although Jordan King (below) may also be in the frame having had much more practical experience of driving the Gen3 car than Maini.

Abt Cupra could call upon Kelvin van der Linde, who replaced an injured Frijns in three FE races last season. Despite the South African holding a drive in WEC with the Akkodis ASP Lexus LMGT3 team, The Race understands that he has some flexibility to race in Berlin should the opportunity arise.

Outside of that, Abt Cupra is also scheduled to run Red Bull backed F3 driver Tim Tramnitz, who got a first taste of Formula E in the Berlin rookie test last April, in this year’s rookie running at Misano and Berlin.

Should van der Linde not be available, the 19-year-old could become the youngest ever Formula E race starter.

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