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SEASON REVIEW: Jaguar’s Commitment Half-Fulfilled

Jaguar ticked off another milestone in 2018-19 but still faced frustrations along the way…

Photo: Formula E

Seventh position in the final standings with three fewer points than it achieved the previous season would have caused concern to Panasonic Jaguar Racing if those figures had been displayed to it ahead of the 2018-19 season.

The fact is though that with all but 11 of those points coming from one driver (Mitch Evans) there was clearly a major anomaly in its final position of seventh in the official standings.

If ever the cliché of a season of two halves were to be used then it would be right here and right now in assessing the Big Cat’s third season of its Formula E program.

The first had been difficult, the second had shown promise and the third, despite the misleading statistics with regards to the overall points haul, pointed to a potential title campaign in 2020.

A breakthrough in Rome and two runner-up places in Bern and New York City all came for Evans, as did an unlikely and admittedly outside title chance.

But here lay the real nub of Jaguar’s season. Again, the above landmarks were all delivered by Evans just as Season Four had seen him achieve a maiden pole and podium too.

This may be difficult reading for James Barclay and the senior team, but if the opposite side of the garage to Evans’ had delivered the same points as it did in 2017-18 (Nelson Piquet Jr.’s 51-point haul) then it would have vaulted two places in the final teams’ standings to register by far its best effort to date.

The hypothetical won’t help Jaguar out much now, though. The truth is it had a quick car for the entire season and this usually manifested itself in strong Free Practice 2 performances.

There was also genuine misfortune such as Evans getting boxed in by a Jean-Eric Vergne-triggered melee at the first corner in Marrakesh.

The likelihood is that if this had not occurred then Evans would have been in with a good chance of breaking the British based manufacturer’s duck three months prior to Rome.

Evans, one of Jaguar’s best and most valuable assets, accrued points scores in the first seven races and was the only driver in the field to achieve such a feat.

The big story at this stage of the season though was that his opposite number, Nelson Piquet Jr., was coming under increasing pressure.

It seemed from the outside at least that a lot was invested in getting Piquet happy at the start of the year but the Brazilian just never seemed to get to grips with Gen 2 Formula E.

Whatever the ins and outs of the increasingly fractious relationship between the inaugural Formula E champion and some aspects of the Jaguar team, the fact the Brazilian had delivered a mere seven points from his last 13 races made the decision to move on from the relationship more straightforward.

The three-week gap between Sanya and Rome was when the slate was wiped clean and a sense of reengaging with the Jaguar Type 3’s sweet-spot, particularly in qualifying, began.

Photo: Formula E

Rome was a tumultuous weekend for the team. Several key players at Jaguar were under increasing pressure to deliver a strong performance and they came up trumps.

The atmosphere switch in the team was palpable and a rejuvenation started to take place. More importantly, for the first time since Marrakesh, it finally got qualifying right with Evans lining up second.

The race, which e-racing365 chose as one of its five most dramatic moments of the season, cemented Evans’ standing as one of the series’ top performers and his hard-fought win was a reviving tonic for the team.

Alex Lynn, wounded by a difficult first full season at DS Virgin Racing in 2017-18, returned stronger knowing he had a chance to reestablish himself in Formula E as Piquet’s replacement.

Lynn’s performances for Jaguar, which came at very short notice in a car he had only a handful of testing hours with, were among the hidden gems of the season.

In Rome he should have started ninth on the grid but was demoted to the back after an error by the team saw an over-spike on his 250 kW lap.

A sound fightback drive ensued but he just failed to score points. Then a likely points finish at Paris was torpedoed by an errant Mortara, before Monaco and Bern finally rewarded him.

It was at the latter of these E-Prixs that Lynn put in one of the more remarkable performances of the season.

Just a few hours on from learning his mother had succumbed to illness he finished a fighting eighth. It was a display of extraordinary courage which went way beyond any kind of professional necessity and it gained him widespread respect throughout the paddock.

On Saturday in New York few doubted that Lynn was heading for his first Formula E win. When his car let him down again [a similar failure put him out of the top six in Berlin a few weeks earlier], the disappointment was particularly cruel.

Additionally, Lynn also gave Evans added incentive to continue his upward trajectory. It worked a treat and the Kiwi scored the vast majority of his big points in the second phase of the season.

Photo: Formula E

But really, the true axis of Jaguar’s season came when its qualifying performances matched the capabilities of its cars.

“I think genuinely we’ve learnt a couple of lessons this year,” Phil Charles told e-racing365 towards the end of the season.

“We were in qualifying Group 1 [until] two thirds of the way through the season and we got it wrong on occasion and it hurt us.

“Also, race format coding. We’ve all evolved our codes now so that we are dealing with a moving [race] target a bit better.

“So probably when we first started, and you were still learning the format, we were having to do a bit more on the fly.

“We probably have all now got some more tools, whether that’s in the car or externally, which help us to deal with that, so that’s probably making it look a little bit better over time.

“As you get those tools better, you then start to free up everyone’s brain power for bit more chess playing.”

There was also the bigger picture as well, in that Jaguar was also under a considerable invisible pressure due to events in its core business.

Its subsequent industry modifications to embrace and further the very technology its active racing programs were promoting created brief headlines and questions but the commitment of the team never wavered.

But, as was evidenced in Rome, when the Big Cat sharpens its claws and carves itself a victory, the feelgood factor for motorsport as a whole is considerable.

Now all Jaguar needs to do is develop it into a habit.

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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