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SEASON REVIEW: Efficient BMW Wrong Foots Itself

BMW i Andretti was unable to keep up momentum throughout 2018-19 after a strong start…

Photo: Formula E

BMW i Andretti Motorsport must have had more than an air of regret as its 2018-19 Formula E campaign ended in July.

It was widely considered that over the duration of the season it had consistently one of the best and, in terms of efficiency, most raceable packages in the field.

Unfortunately for BMW, 2018-19-style Formula E did not reward such attributes as much as it did in the previous four campaigns.

Gen 2 racing was much rawer, much more physical and as a consequence never played into BMW’s hands.

Perhaps it was the fact that Antonio Felix da Costa scored a breakthrough pole and win in the first race in Saudi Arabia that raised those expectancies to unrealistic heights that now give an unfair appraisal of its season as a whole.

There is no doubt that the events of the Marrakesh E-Prix will ultimately come to define its season whether the Bavarians like it or not.

The facts were that da Costa and Sims’ contact and subsequent tossing away of a likely 1-2 finish in Morocco unsettled the team in the longer term.

When team principal Roger Griffiths confirmed as much to e-racing365 last month it corroborated suspicions that even psychologically, the BMW i Andretti Motorsport team approached subsequent races in an overly conservative fashion.

To be fair to the team, and to give credit to Griffiths, the immediate aftermath of the disaster, externally at least, was handled honestly and well.

But sometimes wounds bleed internally and the fact remains that although da Costa was an outside title contender at the final event of the season, the loss of 25 or even 18 points for him in Marrakesh was critical in hindsight.

Photo: Formula E

Coming into the season, BMW formally entered the championship as a factory entity although a significant part of the operation was still handled from the UK and Andretti’s headquarters in the U.S.

The melding of the two entities was not a straightforward one despite the relationship stretching back to 2016.

The team also lost a significant part of its technical team when Tim Maylon departed for a newly-created role at the FIA last April.

Post-Marrakesh BMW knew it had a quick and efficient car but in this season of incident-affected and largely flat-out racing, it may just have been an unfortunate case of wrong time and wrong place for the BMW iFE.18.

The frustration reached maddening heights for the team in Monaco when, with both da Costa and Sims in good positions, their races were both affected by incidents not of their making.

Unfathomably the stewards did not see or seemingly further investigate the incident which at first looked like Sims had pitched a charging Lucas di Grassi in to the harbor-front hairpin barriers.

Fellow Brit Sam Bird had tagged the back of the BMW and lifted its rear wheels triggering the shunt. It was too late though for Sims who was slapped with the penalty which must have seen both driver and team pulling their collective hair out in frustration.

Da Costa was the victim of more roughhouse tactics, this time at the hands of Mitch Evans, and was eventually disqualified for accidentally turning on his 225 kW power mode after being swiped by the Kiwi.

The normally placid Portuguese was totally dumbfounded by both the brutality of the racing and the decision to take eight precious points away due to someone else’s contact with him.

If there was sympathy for BMW on these fronts, and Sims’ litany of largely wretched luck requires an article all of its own, there were other areas where BMW may have been culpable of being too conservative in races.

This may have been a natural reaction to the spiky race craft in season five, but there was a feeling among some that potential wins were up for grabs in Mexico City and Berlin.

Perhaps the long hangover of Marrakesh lingered as Griffiths suggested as a conservative outlook slightly masked the areas of strength that the BMW iFE.18 often had.

From a performance level though, both drivers were largely top draw last season and there probably isn’t a soul in the paddock who would begrudge Sims continuing in his role with the team.

Sims’ team work ethic was most notable in Monaco and New York City when he deferred to da Costa, the latter of which saw da Costa’s crew generously offer the victory champagne to Sims’ team members.

But there was a terminal feel to da Costa’s finale in the Big Apple as rumor spread that he was seeking a move away from the manufacturer with which he had raced for almost five years.

E-racing365 discovered that BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt left New York believing wholeheartedly that da Costa would not jump ship. He was wrong.

The split will be confirmed in the coming days and the fact remains that BMW i Andretti is losing a major asset in da Costa who showed his quality by being the standout Group 1 qualifier throughout the season.

Both drivers were generally strong throughout the season and team principal Griffiths was effusive in his praise for his pilots at season end.

“Antonio knows what he wants and he is forthright in his opinions and he has a longstanding relationship with his engineer [Brice Gaillardon] as they have known each other for years and years,” Griffiths told e-racing365.

“We know he has speed and I think that he showed this in qualifying last season. I didn’t see his self-confidence waver and he’s always strong in that respect.

“He was always generous in his support and feedback to Alexander and he had proved to be the ideal team player.”

That is now set to change and perhaps in the long run it might suit BMW as much as it obviously suits da Costa, because for a sustained title campaign it just never seemed to work out for the combination which should at the very least have made Vergne sweat for his second title.

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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