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SEASON REVIEW: Dragon’s Promise Again Untapped

GEOX Dragon endured a frustrating and often baffling 2018-19 Formula E campaign…

Photo: Formula E

On paper, GEOX Dragon, as it was newly entered for the 2018-19 Formula E season, had a decent amount going for it.

It had new title sponsorship in an Italian footwear manufacturer and a strong driver pairing with the experience of Jose Maria Lopez and young charger Max Guenther.

New personnel with strong pedigrees came on board at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Race engineers Jakob Andreasen from McLaren and Dan Moeller from IndyCar joined the team, in addition to team manager Gary Holland from Jota.

It was hoped that this would be a positive stride for a team that threatened to fall apart completely on occasions during a disappointing Season Four.

Stability and logic go a long way in Formula E and it was hoped these would be the building blocks for a Dragon renaissance.

After all, this was a team that had achieved runner-up status in Formula E’s inaugural season back in 2014-15 and been a race winner the following season.

Yet again though, a mere two races in to the campaign, twitches of restlessness and disorder emerged.

In Marrakesh former Sauber F1 driver Felipe Nasr, suited and booted, waited for his turn to test a Penske EV-3 as planned the day after the E-Prix. He waited, and he waited and he waited some more.

It was an uncomfortable episode as the clock ticked down and the team, in much need of test miles, saw 50 percent of its possible capability wasted.

A contract glitch between Dragon and Nasr’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship employer scuppered any running and a waste of time was had by all.

Quite why it got to such an extreme situation was never fully explained.

Yet the saga, one of last season’s most peculiar, carried on. Nasr finally signed a deal to race for the team at Mexico City. After all, this was part of a long-term plan, according to team owner Jay Penske.

Did GEOX Dragon need Nasr? No. Did Nasr need GEOX Dragon? No. Did Guenther need this upheaval a few races in to his maiden campaign. Thrice no.

Whatever the reasons or rationale were, it disturbed the team enormously and when Nasr failed to register a point in several coruscating cameo appearances, the whole fraught episode dissipated and Guenther was reinstalled for Rome.

The American team’s driver strategy in 2018-19 was baffling.

The Nasr saga apart, there was the handling of Guenther, who after several promising performances on his ‘comeback’ was being targeted by rivals as a talent in demand.

The young German deserves commendation for the professional way in which he conducted himself throughout the season.

His subsequent performances in Rome and Bern were of the highest order and it was no surprise that BMW took interest in him for a potential race seat in 2019-20.

Jose Maria Lopez cut a forlorn figure for most of the season despite flashes of the Argentinian’s fabled speed and quality.

His qualifying and Super Pole laps in Ad Diriyah and Rome were committed and brilliant. Less so, some of his racecraft. In Rome it bordered on the reckless and desperate.

Photo: Formula E

Yet ‘Pechito’ cannot generally be held to account for a season which delivered a meagre three points. Issues in the team ran deep and on several occasions issues beyond his control crippled any chance of a positive weekend.

Occasional qualifying pace could never mask the fact that race pace was poor and, despite Guenther’s heroics at Rome and Bern, the season yielded the team’s poorest ever points haul.

Yet again, the broader questions about GEOX Dragon’s long-term plans in Formula E remained.

We say it every year: How does a team led by a shrewd, successful and charismatic businessman like Jay Penske end up with such paltry rewards?

The truth is we don’t really know because Penske seldom shares his vision with the media: another universal frustration for those outside of the squad.

That’s a shame because the team has a great deal of good people within it, none more so than the operational arm of the squad which is led by Holland and also includes chief mechanic Andrew Hoadley, who has been a loyal servant at the team since the very beginning.

Perhaps though, the 2018-19 season was just a stepping stone to better things, a transition year of sorts.

To the team’s credit, it has invested in a larger and more equipped base at Silverstone.

No more will engineers and drivers have to head down to the RS Simulator in Monaco where availability is limited. Now a newly furnished Silverstone base with a new in-the-loop simulator awaits new drivers for 2019-20.

Still, untapped and unfulfilled are two words that are unavoidable when appraising GEOX Dragon’s 2018-19 season. The truth was that Jay Penske’s team again slipped in to mediocrity in Season Five.

Was building a more cohesive team the trigger for last season’s gelling to take place, or was it because it was another story of unnecessary complications muddying the waters again?

We should find out next season. The signs are very promising already with the signing of Brendon Hartley announced last week.

But the elephant in the room remains, in that should the health of Formula E continue to boom, then non-OEM teams such as Dragon will struggle to compete for anything approaching big prizes.

This is because even Jay Penske’s passion and belief may be tested as new manufacturers circle and look to join the party via avenues such as GEOX Dragon.

Photo: Formula E

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Wec_formula

    August 11, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Dragon is the worst team in F.E , Lopez made mistakes but also managed to at least get some good results in qualy Like in riyadh and rome, NYC. Dragon team made really amateurish mistakes like not telling LOP that he was about to ran out of energy in berlin when it was 2 laps to the end of the race or when they loaded the wrong map for Rome resulting in a horrible start for their driver. Also Software glitches that ended up in DNF for Both drivers etc etc.

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