Formula E: Keeping it in the family


Credit: Formula E

The grid for season three of the FIA Formula E Championship is starting to take shape, and just prior to the Berlin ePrix both Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport and Renault e.dams confirmed unchanged driver line-ups.

While keeping title challengers Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi seemed like the obvious choice, the same could not be said for Daniel Abt and Nico Prost.

Both Abt and Prost have struggled to keep up with their teammates this year.

Despite the Renault being arguably the fastest car on the grid Prost has managed just one podium, in comparison to the six achieved by Buemi, and while the Swiss driver won in Beijing, Punta del Este and Berlin, Prost hasn’t looked close to getting on the top step.

Abt on the other hand has barely a third of the points tally of di Grassi, who has stormed to the top of the championship by finishing on the podium in every race so far (including a win he was disqualified from in Mexico). Abt’s second place in Berlin was his best result of the season, but it was only his second podium and a rare highlight in a season of midfield finishes.

Performances as mediocre as this would normally call their place in the team into question, but this was far from the case.

Renault Team Manager Alain Prost said after announcing the deal that, “There are some decisions that are hard to make and others that are logical, and this is definitely the latter. Nico has demonstrated consistency and has achieved a string of strong results.” His colleague and fellow Team Manager at Renault, Jean-Paul Driot, also described Nico and Sebastien as “the best pairing in the series”.

Meanwhile, Hans-Jurgen Abt said of his line-up, “With Lucas and Daniel we have a perfect duo on board, which lives the subject of Formula E on and off the track.”

Motorsport is a ruthless business, and when a teammate is the most accurate yardstick on which to measure a driver, finishing behind them can be terminal for your future in a series.

2015/2016 FIA Formula E Championship. Buenos Aires ePrix, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Saturday 6 February 2016. Daniel Abt (GER), ABT Audi Sport FE01. Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E ref: Digital Image _L0U1862
Credit: Formula E

Yet despite failing to match-up, there seems to be little or no pressure on either driver for their place in the team.

Of course, both Nico and Daniel are in the rare position of having their fathers as their boss. It would be unfair to state that the only reason they were kept on for next year was due to their family ties, but because of their blood-ties there will always be questions over whether they are being given an easier ride.

There are undoubtedly arguments to be made for keeping both drivers for next season, Nico Prost is a race winner in the series and Daniel Abt has shown signs of improvement, but the fact that neither team has even questioned re-hiring them is baffling.

Most importantly, their sub-standard performances are costing each team valuable championship points. If either Nico or Daniel had been able to even come close to matching their teammates’ points tallies, then the teams’ championship would be all but wrapped up, but instead it’s still to play for going into London.

Daniel Abt’s refusal to follow team orders in Berlin also raises questions about what the team would do if he directly disobeyed him. As it turned out, the fallout from the race was minimal as di Grassi did a superb job of calming the situation down, but had it turned sour you wonder what punishment Hans-Jurgen would have dished out for his son.

It highlights the difficulties involved in hiring family members in such a competitive environment, and whether either driver should have been hired in the first place due to the awkward position it puts the team in.

Every race where they are once again out qualified or outraced by their teammates forces their fathers into an increasingly awkward position of having to justify why they have chosen to stick with their sons in the driver line-up. Especially when there is such a plethora of talent elsewhere on the grid.

If current form continues, there will come a time when their performances are simply indefensible, and difficult decisions will have to be made – but will their fathers be able to make them?