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SEASON REVIEW: DS Virgin’s Heroic Swansong

DS Virgin completed its most impressive season yet as Sam Bird took the title fight to the final weekend…

Photo: Formula E

Techeetah apart, there was another team that punched well above its collective weight in season four: DS Virgin Racing.

On paper, that statement looks erroneous because a well-drilled team partnered with a technically excellent and forward-thinking manufacturer, plus two rapid drivers, should be up there fighting for wins and titles.

Yet, the nuances of its season and the behind-closed-doors sporting and political disturbances combined with very little in the way of technical development meant that DS Virgin initially approached 2017-18 with modest targets.

“When we left Valencia I genuinely thought a top-ten in the drivers and maybe top six in the teams would be a decent effort for us,” driver Sam Bird told e-racing365.

“We never expected to go hunting for what we ended up hunting for. We got to New York and on qualifying averages I was P1 and I had most Super Pole visits so it was all way beyond what I could comprehend at the start of the season.”

As Bird left Hong Kong in December he was still not completely sure if he had experienced a quirky one-off or if he was genuinely in with a chance of a crack at the title.

The fact it was the latter proved that Bird and his side of the DS Virgin garage had their best-ever season.

Bird was nothing short of brilliant in season four and he thoroughly deserved his wins in Hong Kong and Rome. His overtaking was exquisite and the mugging of Vergne, to snatch the lead in Hong Kong, was nothing short of sublime.

The Brit’s performances were seldom un-rewarded and only a harsh Hong Kong grid penalty and a dejected few days in New York brought frustration.

Otherwise, Bird squeezed every last drop of potential from his DSV-03 machine, which in the eyes of most at the team had zero development from Season Three to Season Four.

The main reason for this was that DS had inked a deal with Techeetah back in the spring of 2017 which expedited a sometimes fractious relationship with the Virgin Racing team and in particular with its former team principal Alex Tai.

It was ironic that Tai departed the team in May on the eve of the Berlin E-Prix for specific reasons that are still not fully understood.

Apart from a noticeable change in atmosphere at the team, Tai’s exit altered little and Sylvain Filippi, a key figure anyway in the management of the Virgin Racing operation, made a seamless transition to team principal.

More important for the team was the confirmation that Envision Energy had acquired a majority stake-holding in April.

One of the world’s biggest growing renewables and environmental companies, the Chinese business has big ambitions to become a major player in Formula E and probably motorsport generally.

The backstage turmoil certainly affected Alex Lynn’s future in the team and the British driver, somewhat unfortunately, finds himself out of a drive for Season Five.

From taking pole on his debut in New York just a year ago to now being cast aside is a bitter pill to swallow and undeserved.

Apart from a nightmare weekend in Rome and a frustration-driven shunt in New York, he is unfortunate to find himself out of a seat as he was much more adept than the results and statistics illustrated.

He suffered more from deficiencies in the DS Virgin package than Bird did, but quite often, particularly in qualifying during the first half of the season had the measure of his more experienced team-mate.

Next season the team will run as a customer with an Audi powertrain which will likely see it take a factory driver from the German manufacturer, with Robin Frijns the favorite to make a return to the series.

Lynn’s demise was due to a range of circumstances, many of which were beyond his immediate control.

Should this trigger a premature end to his single-seater career, it would be a desperate shame.

Open Future for Strong Engineering-led Team

It is difficult to estimate or predict what the future might bring for Virgin, which has won at least one race in each of its four seasons in Formula E.

Earlier this year, e-racing365 broke the news of Envision Energy’s acquisition. Now, a lot will depend on the Chinese company’s future concepts and what it can bring to the table in terms of commercial and strategic resources.

With engineering figures such as Filippi, and in particular its experienced technical director Chris Gorne, Virgin has arguably one of the soundest technical staff structures in Formula E.

Filippi reckons this will enable it to thrive and only get stronger as the opposition manufacturers become more established.

“What we believe is that the strength of the team is in our understanding of how to get the best from any given set-up technically,” he told e-racing365 in New York.

“The evidence for this is there from the season we have just completed.

“But more than that is the fact that we have a position now where we can choose and also mould the team to wherever we go next season. I think we have a lot to look forward to going ahead.”

Virgin has a very good team, is efficient and is technically skilled. With an Audi powertrain in Season Five and factory ace Frijns possibly joining Sam Bird, you’d need to look no further than the Silverstone-based outfit as being a serious dark horse once again.

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

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