At the end of the final race in Berlin, Venturi and Felipe Massa called time on their partnership and Massa’s two year stint in Formula E was over.
On the face of it, it was quite a difficult two years for the 2008 F1 vice champion. In Season 5 he took a bit of time to get up to speed but was able to scrap for points and achieved a very good podium in Monaco.
Season 6 left more to be desired.
Massa no longer could play the rookie card and struggled to match the race pace of his teammate Edoardo Mortara.
Mortara clearly gelled with managing an FE car better than Massa who could string together the good qualifying and tenacious racecraft that his talent exudes. But his races seemingly consisted of him falling back.
His end of season points tally was 3 to Mortara’s 49.
Massa leaving seems the right way to go for the team and for him. So despite his contract being with Venturi for Season 7, Massa has left early and leaves another interesting gap in the FE driver market.
The FE driver market has been a blast in 2020.
Be it the riotous sacking of Daniel Abt or the mysterious split of Brendon Hartley and Dragon. FE has not been lacking.
For any seat, there are numerous candidates and Venturi has a long time to make the decision and by no means should rush.
Here are a few suggestions though in case they need a few ideas:
Hartley acquitted himself well to Formula E with his short stint with Dragon at the start of the season. He really wanted a drive in FE after leaving F1 and seats harder to come by at the top of WEC so sorted out the drive for himself rather than hanging around waiting to see if he would be given the Porsche drive.
He outqualified his very capable teammate Nico Muller 4-1 and scored the only points Dragon were awarded all season which was enough to put them ahead of NIO in the championship.
The circumstances for Hartley leaving Dragon are unclear, only that he split from the team in the lockdown after the Race at Home esports Challenge, like Wehrlein did with Mahindra, but Hartley had no public reason to split.
Whether he has chosen not to compete in the series or was forced out is not clear. If Venturi are after a very well developed and fast driver with the credentials of a Le Mans winner then Hartley is surely a strong consideration.
An obvious contender would be the reserve and test driver for Venturi, Norman Nato. He drove for the team in the Marrakech Rookie test in March this year and was sixth at the end of the day, eight tenths clear than Venturi’s other rookie, Arthur Leclerc, albeit with Nato being a much more experienced driver than the young Leclerc.
Nato is currently third in the LMP1 championship in the WEC driving for Rebellion winning in Bahrain and Shanghai with teammates Gustavo Menezes and Bruno Senna. Nato has had a moderate single seater career finishing 5th in the 2016 GP2 series but that was the highlight.
His relationship with the team is an important factor that is obviously in Nato’s favour and he will be hoping one that can help him secure a full time FE seat.
Fresh off the back of a star super sub performance for Jaguar and James Calado, Blomqvist has to be on Venturi’s list. Qualifying in Super Pole on debut and very nearly scoring points was an excellent performance from the son of Rally champion Stig.
He came across very well and slotted into the gap left by the outgoing James Calado perfectly. He did what Calado couldn’t do immediately qualifying in super pole, straight away higher than Calado did across the season.
With more time in a Formula E programme and the confidence of a full time drive to replace an F1 vice champion then Blomqvist could really fly and would be a huge asset to Venturi and the championship.
Simona De Silvestro
Current Porsche test and development driver Simona De Silvestro has been round the motorsport block. She competed in the early seasons of Formula E, in V8 Supercars in Australia and in five runnings of the Indy 500.
In her role with Porsche she is obviously still part of the FE circus and did perform decently when she had her Season 2 stint with Andretti. However she was outperformed by Robin Frijns on the other side of the garage.
Realistically, De Silvestro is an extremely knowledgeable and experienced driver but the recent results are not as spectacular as some other drivers who could be feasibly under consideration and this counts against her unfortunately.
Long time DS Techeetah test and reserve driver has been on the fringes of an FE seat for some time. He was obviously linked with Antonio Felix Da Costa’s current seat when Andre Lotterer moved to Porsche and many reasonably thought he would be a logical choice to make the step up.
He was there to jump into Jean-Eric Vergne’s Techeetah in practice in Marrakech when JEV was considerably ill. In his first run in the car he performed relatively well, he was 20th on the time sheets with four cars slower than him.
Rossiter was given his first FE chance in a test with Venturi in 2017 but didn’t make it to a race seat which allowed Techeetah to swoop in and he has been there ever since.
The champions obviously rate him enough to keep him on the payroll and he would presumably jump at the chance to get a race seat but Venturi might want someone a bit younger in a similar mould to Edoardo Mortara who is a fine example of a driver who has worked really well for them.
One of the forgotten Formula E frontrunners, Rosenqvist finished third in his debut season with Mahindra and won three races over his two season stint in the championship.
He was the early championship favourite in Season 4 before reliability hit and prevented him from sustaining the fight with the likes of JEV, Lucas Di Grassi and Sam Bird.
Despite only competing in two seasons and one cameo round, Rosenqvist is still third on the poles list, only behind JEV and Sebastien Buemi. Certainly a strong showing for Swede.
He is now racing in IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing, partnered with (and holding his own with) Scott Dixon, so a return to Formula E is not likely to be on the cards for Rosenqvist but he would certainly provide a fantastic lineup for Venturi if he was able to be coaxed into the seat.
A young driver who has not lost any of the hype behind her is Jamie Chadwick. The W Series champion and Williams F1 development driver performed well in the Marrakech Rookie Test for Jaguar this year. Prior to that she had also tested with NIO in Season 5.
Chadwick would certainly bring profile to the team being a hugely popular driver with a large following. A race seat in Formula E would be a decision that many would love. She is performing solidly in Formula Regional European championship alongside the likes of Arthur Leclerc and has scored a podium and points in all the races so far but more would need to be seen presumably before a high tier race seat such as those in Formula E would be considered.
It would be a hugely marketable move but there is still a lot to see in her 2020 series which would provide more understanding of where her form is and whether the punt is worth it.
Venturi obviously aren’t afraid of a big name move either. Remember Jacques Villeneuve? Felipe Massa is another example. Taking a plunge with the young but well known Chadwick is very possible.
Taking a rising star from F1 fringes into Formula E has worked well in recent years.
Nyck De Vries and Oliver Rowland are two prime examples. They have had the faith of big manufactuers and have rewarded that. Rowland getting his first win for Nissan last week and De Vries, his first podium with Mercedes. Mitch Evans being plucked from GP2 by Jaguar is coming up clutch too.
So a driver like Jack Aitken is surely one to take a stab at. He’s popular, like Chadwick, so would really bring the fanboosting the Venturi. He has WTF1 sponsorship and that would be very well liked from the PR team.
He is also a cracking race car driver who has been a bit hampered by an uncompetitive Campos in Formula 2 ruining his stride. He came on song in his second season and fought for wins and podiums often but his third season this year has been a bit flat for those tipping him as a championship contender.
But he is not in a frontrunning team. There is still a quality driver there and he would be a huge asset to not just Venturi, but all of Formula E.
Another young driver that Venturi could cultivate is UNI-Virtuosi and Renault junior Guanyu Zhou.
Fernando Alonso’s return to Renault has seemingly hampered his F1 chances at least for the next couple of years considering his Renault links.
Guanyu Zhou is a serious frontrunner in F2 in only his second season and if he gets very close to the title this year then another year there could stall his career momentum so a step up to FE would be very favourable for Zhou.
He’s a driver who Venturi could then put their all behind and could keep for a long time. The potential a young up and coming driver could bring to Formula E is very high. Drivers looking to prove themselves fit in fantastically.
They seek to prove themselves and race aggressively but also put the work in to learn the car.
Nyck De Vries is already an expert on regen and energy saving.
A keen, eager young guy would be a very good call for Venturi.
The pandemic has obviously moved all of these decisions back a few months and the likelihood is that a decision won’t be made until quite close to testing in the winter when all other race series have ended which will give Venturi a broad spectrum of drivers to choose from.
Whether they don’t pick anyone on this list and grab someone from the field in Formula E already who have uncertain futures, such as proven race winner Jerome D’Ambrosio or pole winner Alex Lynn. The assumption is Lynn will carry on with Mahindra.
Venturi will make a considered decision that is customary for Susie Wolff and her team. All of these suggestions would be good for the team, some are more realistic than others based on links to Venturi and links to other teams.
What do the Last-Lap team think?
Rob Hansford: Jack Aitken could be the perfect fit for Venturi. Young, ambitious and versatile and he has plenty of pace on his day. It’s unlikely he will get his chance to make his F1 debut next season and if he really wants to push his career forwards, he needs to make that next step from F2.
He is in his third year in F2 now, making him a veteran of the series, and while he’s not having the best of seasons so far, last season showed he can mix it with the best of them.
Aitken could just be the perfect fit for Venturi, mixing youth and experience, and Mortara could be the right benchmark for Aitken to prove he is worthy of a future drive within F1.
Mohammed Rehman: Formula E can present a real opportunity to Norman Nato, and he can be a real asset to the team and take Massa’s seat. The 28-year-old may not be from the absolute youngest generation of F2 and F3 drivers, but his years in endurance racing, plus a difficult time in F2, means that he could really go for a new challenge. He took part in the annual Rookie Test in Marrakech earlier this year, where he finished 6th in the standings.
More importantly, he is quite familiar with the team as one of three test/reserve drivers. Venturi could use his determination and racing experience to find the confidence they need if they want to push themselves, amongst developing the car, to lead the pack of midfield teams.
Adam Dickinson: I’m not especially dialled into FE or its driver market, but Antonio Giovinazzi would seem a good fit. Nothing’s confirmed yet but I highly doubt he’ll keep his F1 seat given the rich talent in the Ferrari Driver Academy and that he’s not set the world alight in F1.
The Italian wasn’t even in the conversation for Sebastian Vettel’s vacated 2021 seat so his time in the Scuderia programme seems to be limited. A change of scene however could do him good.
He’s still relatively young (26) so has time to grow into Formula E, similar to another GP2 star that didn’t cut it in F1: Stoffel Vandoorne.
However, Giovinazzi could be a good fit as a reserve F1 driver next year and if Kimi Raikkonen leaves then Alfa Romeo could want to keep him in the team for some continuity. He’d also done some endurance racing before signing for Alfa, so if he is cut loose he might prefer to return to that familiar rather than another unknown.
But the pull of Formula E is strong and it’d signal a definite ambition if he did take the leap and signed with Venturi.
Freddie Coates: I think either Jerome D’Ambrosio or Tom Blomqvist. Both quite safe choices? Yep, especially D’Ambrosio. But a proven race winner and a young up and comer who has performed well on debut are both assets to the team.
D’Ambrosio is a solid reliable performer who in a good car can pick up results, especially by keeping his nose clean whilst the rest of Formula E exists in chaos.
Blomqvist, as said above, proved he has pace (albeit in Group 4) in Berlin pretty much out of nowhere. So with nurture and care he surely could make a very solid partner to Mortara. Venturi could therefore grow with the driver and develop over the next few seasons to be a very solid team.
D’Ambrosio is leaving Mahindra after a more lacklustre season than his debut with the team but a proven operator such as him would work wonders for the team, definitely in the short term results which Venturi feel they are worthy.
For a team that is slowly growing and nipping at the heels of the front runners on its day then Venturi need a driver they can develop and build with.
The driver market is not over in Formula E. Most teams have contracts to sign.
Expect a lot of rumblings all the way until Santiago in January.