Why Envision can wake a dormant Formula E giant

Sebastien Buemi ends an eight-season association with e.dams in Formula E next season to partner up with Envision Racing. The 2015-16 champion hasn't had an easy run in recent years, but his new surroundings could well be what he needs to convert his burning ambition for more title success

Why Envision can wake a dormant Formula E giant
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Although he's served under two manufacturers during his time in Formula E, Sebastien Buemi has been a one-club man. Renault made way for Nissan ahead of the introduction of the Gen2 regulations back in 2018, but the core of the e.dams squad running the show on race days remained the same – Buemi among them for eight consecutive years.

But Nissan has elected to ring the changes for 2022-23. The Japanese manufacturer has now purchased the e.dams team, an offshoot of the DAMS operation familiar from FIA Formula 2, and signed up the all-French duo of Sacha Fenestraz and Norman Nato for next season. Amid the usual driver merry-go-round that pervades the off-season, Buemi has opted for pastures new with Envision, where he will replace the Abt-bound Robin Frijns.

The Nissan experience has soured for Buemi as the team had to battle through fundamental issues with its IM03 powertrain, so his move comes at the right time. The first two seasons under Nissan's stewardship effectively continued the e.dams squad's tenure at the front even, with the shift in regulations to the Gen2 formula. The FIA, however, took a dim view of Nissan's controversial twin-motor arrangement and outlawed it, leaving it to build something entirely new for the following year. Although the powertrain was still capable of solid results for Buemi and Oliver Rowland, with the Briton taking a win at one of the six Berlin races, Nissan opted to twist part of the way through the following season in order to best take advantage of the new homologation rules.

But while other manufacturers made great strides for 2020-21 and beyond, it didn't work out for Nissan. Although Rowland was a solid bet for points in a gratuitously random season, Buemi scored just 20 to endure his worst year in Formula E by far. For its part, Nissan dropped from second in the teams' standings to 10th, underlining its underperformance.

Last year was similarly difficult for Buemi, although he managed to score 10 more points compared to the previous term. Although the 50% increase doesn't amount to much in the results tables, it underlines the greater frequency with which the Swiss was able to drag the IM03 kicking and screaming into the points. Fifth in New York and sixth in London could be perceived as pedestrian achievements given Buemi's pedigree in Formula E, but it's the most that he could realistically squeeze out of the troubled Nissan.

"We had a problem with the package," Buemi told Motorsport.com, reclining into his chair in the Seoul team and crew catering tent. "Unfortunately, it was homologated since last year. So most of seasons seven and eight were compromised due to that. Obviously, we were fighting as hard as we could. But there is a good explanation behind why we were where we were. Unfortunately, this is the sport, that's the rule. The team has done a great job trying to perform the best it could. But obviously, the limitations were there and we couldn't change them.

"Given what we have achieved in the past, I'm not happy to be P6, to be honest," Buemi said of his second-highest watermark. "I'm kind of disappointed with the season. And last year, obviously, I know why, unfortunately. But yeah, somehow, unfortunately, P6 is a great result for us. Considering the limitations we had in New York and in London, we were quite good. So yeah, in the end, it was good, but obviously, I was hoping to achieve more than just P6."

After a fruitful start to his Formula E career with the squad, Buemi and Nissan e.dams struggled towards a split

After a fruitful start to his Formula E career with the squad, Buemi and Nissan e.dams struggled towards a split

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

That Buemi speaks of disappointment and fighting against the odds exemplifies what followers of Formula E have been hoping to hear: that he's still every bit as fired up and hungry for success as during his pomp. The Buemi that succumbed to the emotion of his 2015-16 title, and the Buemi enraptured by a rampaging fervour following the 2017 Montreal race still exists, but the ferocity of his feelings has been tempered by maturity and pragmatism.

At 33 years old, Buemi embarks on this new phase of his Formula E career in his prime. His successes elsewhere, particularly in winning four of the last five Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota, continue to exhibit his talent behind the wheel – but in battling for scraps in Formula E with below-par machinery, a driver rarely gets the chance to show that. It's only when you consider the data that Nissan had available, Buemi says, that a dose of context frames the season in a slightly better light.

"We knew exactly what we lacked," he explains. "And with all the simulation, we knew exactly how much that would bring us. We had the numbers. So knowing those things, I can tell you that the season has been quite good. Obviously in motorsport, only the result counts. So at the end of the day, this is the way it is. I have been lucky to be in a very good car for many years. For a couple of years now, it's been more difficult, but we've worked hard. And we'll see in the future.

"It's obviously difficult to make sure you have the best success in both [Formula E and WEC]. I had that in the past from time to time, or sometimes I had it in Formula E, but not in WEC. Obviously it's a different world, it's a different car, it's a different team. But sometimes, in difficult moments, it's nice to see that I have success still. And I'm doing a good job. You don't forget how to drive overnight. So it's good in a tough season to still have success."

Buemi will want both flavours of success next season. With Envision, he's joined a team brimming with potential and one that has frequently held its own against the manufacturer entities as an Audi customer team. Even after Audi's departure prior to last season, Envision was a frequent visitor to the podium aside from a difficult middle stint in Berlin, Jakarta and Marrakech. The team in green was able to shake off a barren run, with third-year driver Nick Cassidy - who remains on board to partner Buemi - emerging as a bona fide frontrunner.

"I want to be back at the front. That's my objective. And these two seasons fuelled me very much, you know, because I didn't have the tools to be at the front. So I want to prove that next year," Sebastien Buemi

Although Cassidy's opening race in New York ended in the barrier, he was still awarded the win, and there's every reason to believe that he would have doubled up on Brooklyn victories had he not been stripped of pole in the second race for a battery change.

Buemi hopes to reignite his Formula E prospects with Envision

Buemi hopes to reignite his Formula E prospects with Envision

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

What differs for Envision this season is that it now has a supply of Jaguar powertrains for the Gen3 era. While Audi had ended its tenure in Formula E and effectively left Envision with no works support for 2021-22, the team now has the backing of a fully committed manufacturer – and one with championship-contending pedigree. Although the pain of Mitch Evans missing out on last season's title despite a total of four excellent wins will have lingered, it will also encourage Jaguar to make a success of its new package for the new regulations. From that, Envision will benefit, and the two teams' closeness will offer the potential for a very fruitful partnership.

With a competitive team and powertrain, Envision provides the environment that Buemi will need to make a play for a second Formula E title. Although it's not quite a works drive, the British squad is the nearest thing to it, and a multi-year deal offers Buemi the chance to grow into the team and bring his own expertise to the table.

"I want to be back at the front," Buemi said of 2022-23, ahead of his final race for Nissan. "That's my objective. And these two seasons fuelled me very much, you know, because I didn't have the tools to be at the front. So I want to prove that next year."

If his Envision move means that Buemi can belt out the classics next year, then the championship narrative can only be enhanced by a once-dominant driver recovering his form. A title in the first season might not be an eventuality he immediately envisions, but it's not outside the realms of possibility. After all, Buemi's still got it.

Sylvain Filippi stands with Buemi - hoping the two will get the best out of each other

Sylvain Filippi stands with Buemi - hoping the two will get the best out of each other

Photo by: Mark Roe

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Buemi leaves Nissan for Envision in Formula E for 2022-23
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