Third place in the teams’ standings, three race victories and an increase in 31 points over the previous season’s tally was a very noteworthy return for the newly-named Envision Virgin Racing team in 2018-19.
In a season of so many variables, with new rules and a new race format, some of the continuity that the Silverstone-based team entered the season with truly bore fruit.
Yet there were still some regrets for Envision Virgin, which could quite easily have challenged teams’ champion DS Techeetah at the top of the tree.
Three blanks in terms of non-scores at Ad Diriyah, Sanya and Monaco were rare troughs for the team which prior to last season had not posted a dud weekend since Hong Kong back in October 2016!
The arrival of Chinese renewable technology company Envision was confirmed in the spring of 2018 and shortly after came notice of the team’s status as a powertrain customer of Audi. Add to this the replacement of Alex Lynn with Robin Frijns and it looked on paper as though there were many shifts in strategy and vision for the squad.
The reality, though, was that stability within the team allied to a far-sighted goal in maximizing its constituent parts ensured it enjoyed its most successful campaign to date.
Under the leadership of a two-pronged management axis consisting of Managing Director Sylvain Filippi and Envision’s Franz Jung, Envision Virgin was able to execute a successful season which saw it match DS Techeetah for race wins.
It wasn’t an easy start, though. A handful of testing days courtesy of Audi at its Neuberg test facility last September was the only preparation it had prior to a rain-hit few days in Valencia last October.
But by round two in Marrakesh, Sam Bird and Robin Frijns were contenders for the win and took second and third position finishes, which in the context of their practical preparation was creditable, to say the least.
Bird’s victory in Santiago merely re-emphasized the point that a tilt at both titles could be on, and while Frijns took time to get up to speed, especially in qualifying, the outlook seemed very rosy indeed.
Then came a run of appalling luck for Bird. It would be a little lazy to suggest the controversial incident with Lotterer triggered this dip in points collation, but certainly, the fall-out from it played on Bird’s mind to some extent.
However, in Sanya, Rome and Monaco he was genuinely hard done by, and it was at these races where any notion of challenging for the title he so craves was cruelly snatched away.
Again Bird was mostly excellent, pulling off some sensational overtaking moves once more, developing a sound new relationship with his engineer Stephen Lane and also re-connecting with Frijns, with whom he had a slightly prickly connection when the pair competed together in their junior single-seater careers.
Bird had generally got the better of his previous Virgin team-mates but in Frijns he faced raw speed and a developing understanding of the formula and how to win races.
It didn’t appear to change the dynamic of the team at all, which in Filippi and engineering chief Chris Gorne, has one of the most progressive and rational in the paddock.
Once Frijns found his qualifying mojo, largely through the nurturing with Gorne and the engineering team, the Dutchman started to fly.
Paris, in abysmal conditions and near-arctic temperatures, witnessed the biggest test of reflex, feel and judgment that the drivers faced all season. Therefore, it was no surprise that a Frijns masterclass saw him romp home to a brilliant maiden Formula E win.
The dejection of race-ending incidents in Monaco and Bern temporarily dispirited Frijns, but in New York he signed the season off with a sumptuous display of beautifully judged and risk-assessed overtaking to claim fourth in the final standings.
When you consider that Frijns’ season stats included seven no-scores and that his six points finishes were never lower than fifth place, it evidences that with another two strong scores he would have been a genuine title contender.
The team’s decision to go with Audi as a powertrain provider always looked a cute one.
Indeed, Envision Virgin Racing led the factory Audi entry for much of the season in terms of accruing points.
It wasn’t until after the Berlin race in May that Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler vaulted its customer in the standings and the pair were separated by a mere 12 points at season’s end, emphasizing the fine job that Envision Virgin did last season.
With expansion at its Silverstone premises nearing finalization and the retention of Bird and Frijns, the expectations will be cranked up for the 2019-20 season.
“You know I never believe in size, I believe in quality and I think that when you look at all the teams in the championship that maybe this team, Envision Virgin Racing, is on the top of quality,” Franz Jung told e-racing365 last season.
“Here we focus on the details, but also there is a good mood, good spirit in the team, along with a sense of being fair, friendly, honest, and dedicated to the job and I think this makes a difference also on the race track.”
History tells us that Envision Virgin will always be there or thereabouts for big silverware. Now though, the challenge is expanding upon that and moving towards sustaining all of the tremendous attributes it has to further its reputation as one of the most potent entities in Formula E.
The team will grow slightly for the coming season but this will be more of a refinement than anything of shapeshifting grandeur.
Envision Virgin has a very good recipe at present, one which is highly enviable to many grander manufacturer teams.