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SMITH: The Curious Case of Andretti’s Driver Choice

Formula E editor Sam Smith looks at the ongoing saga of Andretti’s driver choice for the forthcoming Formula E season…

Photo: Formula E

As narratives go, the Andretti Formula E team’s protracted reconciliation of its driver situation for Season Four has been complicated.

Just over a week ago, Tom Blomqvist was announced by the FIA for the forthcoming season. Note the FIA, and not the team he is representing, announced the news which e-racing365 predicted back in September.

Behind the headlines that day was a mass of intrigue and convolution that would make the corridors of a 16th century Machiavellian chamber look frankly anaemic.

Teams had to submit an entry by Nov. 3 and knew that the FIA would publicly issue the list that day. These teams included Andretti, of course.

So, the big question is: Why has Andretti so far not even acknowledged the confirmation of Blomqvist?

All media channels, whether team or driver, are devoid of any mention of this rather significant news. Peculiar!

Andretti has not been forthcoming on explaining the situation, certainly when contacted by this Web site. Another layer of conspiracy could be applied here.

All of the parties involved, primarily Andretti and BMW, knew from a very early stage the deadlines for registering drivers. So, synchronising a formal announcement should have been quite straightforward.

But here is the rub. Andretti Formula E team principal Roger Griffths was quite clear right up until the end of last season that the team would have sole choice in its driver lineup for Season Four.

“As far as Season Four is concerned the call on the drivers is ours,” were his exact words.

Either, between July and September this changed, or BMW exerted significant pressure on inserting Blomqvist in Robin Frijns’ favor.

The Dutchman can feel pretty hard done by in many respects. Quite apart from his plucky efforts in a usually uncompetitive car last season, e-racing365 understands that he was unduly kept on by the team to the detriment of a potential drive at Dragon Racing for Season Four.

You can almost sense the ‘orange-mist’ descending on Frijns’ visor as he is reminded of this.

Yet, we come full circle once more, if it was the case that BMW pressured Andretti on the driver front, then why is Blomqvist not being embraced in to the team publicly, especially as we approach less than three weeks to go before the start of the season?

Surely, if Andretti had carte blanche on driver selection, then wouldn’t they have given Frijns a third term?

After all, he was one of the standout drivers of the last two seasons and his Audi GT3 contract didn’t seem to be much of an issue for two full terms in Formula E.

Evidence therefore suggests that BMW actually did have some say on who they would have in the car for 2017/18, with a view to having the best possible lineup for the following season, when it becomes a full BMW AG powertrain manufacturer.

Either way, the friction caused over the whole saga has, according to one team insider, left a “majorly bitter taste among most of the parties involved.”

One has to feel for Blomqvist, a driver who beat Max Verstappen in the 2014 F3 standings and also went wheel-to-wheel and sometimes beat Esteban Ocon.

You can only hope that the FIA entry list is literally black on white for him, as he looks to get some conclusive answers from a rather opaque situation.

The Kobayashi Theory: A Third Way?

Now, let us introduce a rogue element into this situation in the shape of former Toyota and Sauber F1 driver, Kamui Kobayashi.

The current Toyota FIA World Endurance Championship ace is being pushed hard by various influential parties to race in Formula E, and with immediate effect.

Could Kobayashi be coming up on the rails and be one of the major factors in Blomqvist having not been officially confirmed by either Andretti or BMW yet?

E-racing365 broke the news in September that the Japanese driver was primed for a seat in the all-electric series.

Kobayashi is known to be less-than-happy with his Super Formula situation after a lackluster season and has a reduced scheduled next season in WEC. A potential one-off cameo at Hong Kong might become a firmer program through 2018 as well.

E-racing365 understands there is forceful pressure from Andretti’s key commercial partner MS&AD to take Kobayashi.

The Japanese insurance conglomerate, which acquired the Amlin insurance company last year, is in the words of a team insider “adamant that a Japanese driver races in the Asian (Hong Kong E-Prix) event at the very least.”

This would explain why we have this messy stand-off of Blomqvist being on the season entry list but not having being confirmed by the team.

That’s not to say this is the real reason why Blomqvist has not be able to celebrate his promotion to one of the coveted seats in the world’s fastest-growing racing series.

It could just be a delayed signing of the contract or a knock-on over the uncertainty of DTM’s future. Who knows?

But could it really be something as predictable as this? Especially when the team and BMW has, as previously highlighted, known the deadlines for drivers to be made public for the last six months or so?

MS&AD is known to have raised the prospect of freeing up Indy champion Takuma Sato for a few races last season. This was resisted by Andretti but when a Japanese driver was revisited in recent months the topic started to be become serious again.

At present there are more questions than answers here. It may well be that there is a perfectly understandable explanation for the saga but at present it’s hard to imagine one.

The Mystery into Andretti’s Lackluster Results

If politics and complications between Andretti, BMW and MS&AD is the cause then the spotlight could fall squarely on Andretti as it readies to enter into a full partnership with the German manufacturer in Season Five.

Whether this is fair or not could be a moot point. But the team’s generally lackluster campaigns over the last few seasons won’t do it any favors in any analysis of this latest issue.

That could be viewed as harsh, but the performances in both Seasons Two and Three were occasionally gutsy at best, and only when circumstances allowed.

Could the decline in Andretti’s form be traced way back to the end of the very first campaign?

It was then, at the end of the first season, when there was a parting of the ways between Andretti and Wirth Research.

More pertinently it was also when two seasoned engineering figures, in the shape of the vastly experienced and respected Andy Miller and Robin Gearing, were also shown the door.

Andretti scored more points in its first campaign than it did in Season Two and Season Three combined.

Remember this is not a start-up operation in the truest sense. This is Andretti, one of the largest and most feted motorsport entities on the planet.

There seems to be little chance that Andretti will turn things around in Season Four. The occasional top six finish could be on the cards, but can this be good enough for a man of Michael Andretti’s deserved stature in the sport.

Does Andretti really care about Formula E? If he did, wouldn’t he be personally sorting this latest situation out?

Again, more questions than answers.

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 from 2014-17. Contact Sam



    • Avatar

      Sam Smith

      November 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      It was an interesting story wasn’t it. Will be fascinating to see how he does in HK but really up against it. If he qualified in Top 12 it would be a huge achievement.

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