‘Zero sympathy’ – Why Formula E/WEC clash vote failed hard

The Race has discovered that five of the 11 Formula E teams have voted against the possibility of World Endurance Championship-contesting FE regulars being able to race in half of the Berlin E-Prix this year.

The quartet compromised by the clash and set to prioritise WEC’s Spa 6 Hours on May 11 – Sebastien Buemi, Robin Frijns, Nyck de Vries and Nico Mueller – would’ve all hoped to travel from Spa to Berlin to at least make the Sunday (May 12) race of Formula E’s Berlin double-header.

The Race first reported earlier this month that the rules impasse was set to be resolved after some teams had lobbied the FIA to find a solution to the clash.

Unanimous approval among the 11 teams was needed to implement a change to the regulations, with the e-vote deadline having expired last Saturday afternoon.

The quartet of drivers were looking to race in both events but were relying on a rules tweak to Article 5.5 of the current sporting regulations, which dictates that “a change of driver after the end of the administrative checks is not authorised except in case of force majeure and with the authorisation of the stewards in accordance with Articles 19.1 and 24.15”.

The latter of these states that “before the end of initial scrutineering each competitor must specify which of its drivers will be driving which cars”.

The result of the e-vote meant that any special authorisation to change drivers will not be granted, and the original rules stand.

Speaking to The Race ahead of the vote last week, Andretti’s Roger Griffiths was firm in his intentions to vote against the rule change to allow the clashing drivers leeway, saying that he had “zero sympathy”.

Roger Griffiths, Andretti, Formula E

“We all went into this knowing that there was a clash,” Griffiths insisted.

“So, you’ve made your choice, you chose who you wanted to go with, you knew the consequences of your decision, so you’ve got to accept it.

“You can’t go crying about it when you suddenly realise what it actually means.”

Teams have no right of appeal on an e-vote and the matter will now be considered closed, meaning that Frijns, Buemi, de Vries and Mueller will all now miss two of the 16 Formula E races this season.

Likely replacements for Envision Racing, which in employing Frijns and Buemi is affected most by the clash, appear to be Joel Eriksson and Tom Dillmann – the respective Jaguar test and reserve drivers.

Mahindra boss Frederic Bertrand told The Race last week in Brazil that his decision as to who replaces De Vries will come between either ex-Formula 2 driver Jordan King or Alpine-backed current F2 driver Kush Maini.

Kush Maini, F2

“It’s definitely between those two,” said Bertrand. “But there is no need to rush for us right now though.”

Griffiths went on to outline why he felt it would’ve been unfair for exceptions to be made.

“We all knew about the calendar clash maybe 10 months ago and we were all talking to drivers – and we [Andretti] passed up on a couple of them because they already had commitments that precluded them from being 100% dedicated to this championship.

“You have to decide which championship you are racing in.

“For us, we’re not racing in WEC and we’re fully focused on Formula E.

“Why would we want a driver to step out of the car and compromise his own chances of winning a drivers’ title and also the team’s chances of winning a teams’ title?

“It’s a bizarre one, as far as I’m concerned.”

Abt Cupra is expected to run either Kelvin van der Linde or Red Bull junior Tim Tramnitz in lieu of Mueller.

Tim Tramnitz, F3

As revealed by The Race earlier this month, Tramnitz was scheduled to test for the team in Berlin anyway. That would not be possible should he be chosen to replace Mueller as he would then be deemed not a rookie driver.

Van der Linde, who ran three races as a substitute for Robin Frijns at Abt Cupra last year, is believed to have some flexibility with his WEC team Akkodis ASP Lexus to make his FE return in Berlin.

The Race says

Berlin E-Prix, Formula E

It has been known for months that several drivers would be compromised by the clash.

The topic has created a lot of ill-feeling among teams and drivers affected, particularly over the fact a supposed commission that was formed in 2017 (after the infamous New York City/Nurburgring clash that year) to combat clashes between series appeared not to function successfully this time.

Ultimately the promoters of the two championships have to show willingness to be flexible on their calendars – and on this occasion it appears that proved difficult.

Looking at Formula E, which runs traditionally from January to July, and the WEC, which this year has a March start and ends in early November, there are plenty of weekends for the two calendars to co-exist without a clash.

The difficulty this year, though, seems to have been that a Shanghai date being fixed for the end of May meant that logistically for the all-electric world championship it was impossible to push the Berlin date back or forward because that part of the season is also largely dictated by when the Monaco weekend can happen.

In 2024 this could only be the final weekend of April, meaning that Berlin would always be slotted into the middle of the Monaco and Shanghai fixtures in mid-May.

Spa 6 Hours, WEC

The WEC had accommodated a bringing forward of its Spa race for 2020 (before COVID-19 made that date moot anyway) but, as it had announced its final 2024 schedule well ahead of Formula E’s definitive one last year, it is believed that any similar flexibility could not be considered this time.

This was fundamentally because the pre-Le Mans race at Spa had to have at least a three weeks’ grace period before the Le Mans test day in early June.

Griffiths’ opinions on the matter above are forthright but you can see his point of view. He made a line-up decision based also on guaranteeing no repeat of a situation like he faced last June when he had to replace Le Mans test day-bound Andre Lotterer with inexperienced rookie David Beckmann.

Jakarta E-Prix, Formula E

Ironically, Andretti was talking to Frijns about a deal before it settled on Norman Nato last July. One of the reasons it did was that BMW-contracted Frijns could not guarantee the flexibility that Nato could with his own WEC commitments, to prioritise Formula E over WEC.

On the other side of the coin, drivers that are committed to two championships are having their trade compromised and seemingly for no other reason than logistics. It’s hard not to see both sides of the impasse and sympathise with both outlooks.

But more practically, the FIA should try and stimulate more of a dialogue between the two championships to make the most of the abundance of free weekends between the nine active months of the year.

Ironically, the drivers that race in both WEC and Formula E had five recent weekends where they were completely inactive after the cancellation of the Hyderabad E-Prix. In that context, it seems difficult to understand how the two calendars cannot co-exist without clashes.

The future looks increasingly likely to favour drivers who prioritise their Formula E commitments – and vice versa for WEC drivers. That could spell trouble for many drivers and might even trigger a sea change in the landscape of the Formula E entry list for the future.

That would include a wave of new blood coming in, something which many team bosses have privately described to this writer in recent seasons as being badly needed anyway.


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