In the first of e-racing365’s team-by-team season review pieces, Formula E editor Sam Smith takes a look at a challenging campaign gone wrong for NIO.
It is well within reason to describe NIO’s season as a bitter disappointment the like of which the ABB FIA Formula E Championship had seldom seen before.
That was the unfortunate reality of its 2018-19 campaign as the Chinese-owned team was only once in serious contention for a strong points score during the entire season.
The facts are stark and make depressing reading. Seven points from 13 races meant that it was by far the worst performance a team had endured in Formula E’s five year history.
Such was the lack of any true performance of its NIO Sport 004 car, which drivers Tom Dillmann and Oliver Turvey had known from an early stage was way off the pace, that a sense of direction and subsequently morale was seriously affected within the team as it descended into a frankly abject state.
Ironically, its best position during the campaign came at the Paris E-Prix in April when Turvey and Dillmann were running seventh and eighth and eyeing a much needed double points score.
The irony lay in the fact that the drivers ended up hitting each other, jettisoning any chance of a result which ultimately seemed to sum up a season of disappointments.
That is not to professionally demonize the NIO team because there were many talented and dedicated personnel within its structure, non more so than Turvey and Dillmann, who both dug deep into their professional reserves, often having to bite their lips and keep their counsel about their mount’s abject performance.
However, for several reasons it was difficult to summon too much sympathy for NIO as a whole, chiefly because it has a substantial budget; one which appears to have been squandered for far too long.
If you looked at the numbers, the lack of pace was actually not as dramatic as many claimed. It was just that the level of competition in Formula E last season was so high that any fundamental area of weakness was exploited clinically and cruelly.
NIO chose not to follow the familiar motorsport path of disengaging from its current program to focus on the next. It was a philosophy which team principal Gerry Hughes explained to e-racing365 as “a conscious decision to keep the updates and development going.”
“We decided to have a balanced approach and the reason for that is that everything we could continue to learn about Season Five and the Gen 2 car is invariably going to help us in Season Six.
“There’s always an opportunity to learn and we were plainly catch-up, so to stop would have not done us any favors at all,” concluded Hughes.
If you were to be charitable to the team, you could argue that it was still catching up from a fractured season in 2015-16 when the overweight and cumbersome twin-MGU designed car dissipated the momentum of its champion year in the inaugural season, when the team was known as NEXTEV TCR.
Since that time the team evolved into something, on paper at least, which should have been a regular podium visitor.
Seasons Three and Four brought some positivity with Turvey’s pole and podium at Mexico City respectively but these were fleeting glimpses of blue sky rather than any balmy outlook.
The murmurings of discontent during the summer of 2018, ones that had NIO hitting trouble at private tests as it used multiple drivers and Gen 1/2 comparison tests in seemingly a scattergun strategy of desperation sent alarm bells ringing.
These soon became deafening when both cars were plainly off the pace in the opening round in Saudi Arabia, and when the team suffered a needless accident in the post-Ad Diriyah test it set a depressing tone for the season ahead.
Turvey and Dillmann’s professionalism should be applauded because many other drivers would have launched public broadsides against the abject failure of the equipment at their disposal.
The ramifications of NIO’s desperate season are still playing out for the team as changes are currently being made via a new Chinese majority stakeholder.
The major worry though was that at the end of the 2018-19 season there didn’t seem to be any major accountability or clear direction for how it could pull itself out of an ever deepening trough.
What the future holds could officially be revealed in the coming weeks with new strategic partners in the shape of Lisheng Racing Co. Ltd set to attempt a re-build.
However it re-emerges, it simply cannot afford another season like the one just gone.