Wednesday’s news that James Calado will partner Mitch Evans at Panasonic Jaguar Racing for the coming ABB FIA Formula E Championship season was met with both surprise and curiosity.
Secrets are generally hard to keep in motorsport. Where eyes stare and ears prick at every twist and turn, leaks of information soon follow.
When manufacturers get involved, that scrutiny intensifies considerably as the stakes, for both teams and drivers, become momentous.
When word first got out that Calado was testing for Jaguar, via an article on this website in early June, the assumption was that the current factory Ferrari driver was simply assisting the Big Cat out on straight-line tests and sim work.
But there was much more going on beneath the surface.
Initially, e-racing365 was told by several sources close to the team that Calado was indeed merely another validator for the team as it flourished in its post-Piquet period.
In addition to Lynn, and also with Ho-Pin Tung still on the books, Jaguar had strength in numbers. But dive a little deeper and there were some leading clues that perhaps Calado had a genuine shot at a race seat.
Tung, a credible asset from the point of showcasing Jaguar’s Asian sales targets, was given no serious Gen 2 cockpit time and was never considered as a replacement for Nelson Piquet Jr.
After a test in early June, Calado didn’t test again until August when Lynn, who last drove the Gen 2 car in New York, was holidaying in Australia. Jaguar then chose to complete some test days in September after homologating its I-Type 4 the previous month… with Calado.
At the end of August the first whispers that Calado had a deal agreed, and that it just remained a formality to be signed, filtered through.
A week later and the information became a little more muddled. Hurdles over Calado’s image rights and other contractual matters with Ferrari started to look hard to clear and a deal might even be scuppered.
What transpired though seems to be an execution of an intricate strategy by Calado’s manager Nicolas Todt to get his client into Formula E.
Could the roots of it have come from Felipe Massa’s test with Jaguar in Sicily way back in February 2017?
One of Todt’s other clients, Massa, was a possibility for a race seat with Jaguar in the 2017-18 season, the Big Cat’s second.
But this was before the butterfly effect of Nico Rosberg’s retirement late in the fall of 2016. This saw Valtteri Bottas flutter off to Mercedes and Massa stay in the Williams cocoon for one last season.
Then, another Todt boy came in to the picture. Jose Maria Lopez held several meetings with Jaguar management about a possible deal for 2017-18 but this also failed to materialize.
So by early September, Calado’s multi-year deal was still not nailed on because of the rights image issues between Ferrari and Jaguar but by mid-September it was completed.
Long-Term Vision Informed Calado Decision
The deal was done but questions emerged as to why a driver who had not driven a single-seater for six seasons and had no street circuit experience for the same period of time had become the chosen one.
In addition, Calado’s contract with Ferrari expressly states that it receives priority in the event of the clash around the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Sebring event and the Sanya E-Prix in March.
“I’ve been asked on a few occasions who are we signing and what about Alex [Lynn] etc, so there is a whole discussion around that, but we had to make sure that we took another step in the right direction,” Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s sporting manager Gary Ekerold told e-racing365.
“So, I think we had to take another step forward. So, what is that next step? That next step is to make sure that we are challenging for a championship.”
Two key questions won’t go away in analysing the choice which Jaguar has made in recruiting Calado.
Wasn’t the reason that Piquet was replaced last season to ensure that Jaguar had two regular cast-iron best shots at getting the maximum points available?
And, isn’t there a real danger that Jaguar finds itself in exactly the same position as it was last season whereby a large points discrepancy in the opposing sides of the garage occurs as Calado adjusts and adapts to Formula E?
“The decision was made purely on pace, driving style and what we think in the long-term,” said Ekerold.
“We just felt that on balance he pipped Alex in terms of that. Look, we are not talking that it was a completely easy decision, it was close, but we had to find that little bit extra.”
It’s a risky move by Jaguar, make no mistake of that, but it is one the Big Cat was prepared to take even after Project Piquet ended so ignominiously.
Decision Led by Data
“You’ve got to remember this championship is about qualifying. You qualify well, you finish in the race well,” says Ekerold.
It’s an accurate assessment, one dictated by Formula E’s quirky and often divisive qualifying format of grouping drivers based on championship standing positions.
So the key feature of choosing Calado must have been data led and must have come from the analytical boffins in Grove on what he could achieve on hitting deltas.
This was a major surprise as word from Jaguar was always that Lynn was the master of the Williams simulator, a facility he knew intimately from exhaustive work for the F1 team and then when he replaced Piquet last March.
“We looked at the data, and that’s data based on the simulator, its data based on testing, so in terms of driving style and talent and capability we are certain that we’ve got it pretty much right,” states Ekelrod.
“On balance we felt that for the longer-term; A: we wanted somebody who was not only going to push Mitch but stretch the team and guard the team.
“And B: Its more than just going racing, there is a leadership, a team leadership and an engineering technical aspect to it that’s very important, and all of these things were considered in our decisions.”
Should Jaguar’s air of quiet confidence in the I-Type 4 be justified then Calado could, eventually at least, be in a very good position to contribute big points as he makes his Formula E bow.
But the major question will be if, on a stronger grid than ever before, he can deliver the points as quickly as Pascal Wehrlein or Oliver Rowland did in their rookie seasons.
“He hasn’t got track time to get used to it,” says Ekerold brutally. “In FP1 at Riyadh he’s got 23 other guys trying to eat him. That’s big pressure.”
“There are some pretty unique things about Formula E. I’m not talking about the car, he’ll get the car.
“It’s the format that will get him. He has to understand that single-day format and understand he hasn’t got much time in the car.”
Calado, as confident and as experienced a professional there is, will of course know all of this. But perhaps hearing it from the typically forthright Ekerold will drive the critical points home even further.
At Formula E races the intensity of pressure is manifest and the cut-throat nature intensifies by the race.
Jaguar has ridden the lows and briefly tasted the highs, so its intriguing decision to invest a slightly leftfield driver strategy will be viewed with great curiosity this season.