Just like fellow Formula E race winners and consistent leaders, DS Automobiles, Jaguar repeated its tough start to last season with a tense showing in Mexico City last Saturday to kick off its 2023 title chase.
Jaguar is not panicking. So don’t expect some seaward-looking big cat feeling sorry for herself after a rough start in her Gen3 quest and hunt for those elusive FE titles she so craves.
Two points for Mitch Evans’ ninth place finish after major reliability issues ahead of the E-Prix indeed showed the steel running through the team’s backbone. But more importantly, it also showed that while the Jaguar I-Type 7 was initially fragile, it also has plenty of potential for much better.
Evans may have thought his chances of scoring points was just as badly damaged as the front of his car on Friday evening when he came back to the pits in a recovery vehicle with a low-loader.
On his in-lap at the end of practice one, he had an issue that caused him to stumble into the Turn 12 barriers. The team worked late into the night making repairs, but more important was understanding what had caused the incident and how to resolve it afterward.
Jaguar had updated its software for Mexico and introduced several other measures after its customer team Envision’s new driver, Sebastien Buemi, was hit on the final day of testing at Valencia last month.
Although this has never been confirmed, an element within the inverter is thought to have triggered this episode.
Evans’ accident was described as being caused by a non-manufacturer perimeter part. After further changes were made, Sam Bird had an issue in FP2 that caused him to pull off the track at slow speed but obviously with little control of the car.
The race believes this was similar to the other shutdowns, but this time the software update protected both the powertrain and front MGU, allowing the team to quickly reset once the car was recovered.
The unfortunate events didn’t end there, however, as Bird’s race only lasted five laps when a driveshaft failure occurred just as he pulled straight into the pits to perform the first safety car restart.
Bird, who has been running his first race of any kind (other than the London Marathon) since last July, joked that he “wouldn’t class what I did as a race”. He missed last year’s season finale after suffering a hand injury in the London FE round.
â€œLuckily it is a race and it is a long road, not everyone will finish every race. I had a bad one, now I need some good ones,” Bird told The Race.
When asked what to focus on over the next two rounds in Diriyah, Bird was blunt.
“Reliability,” he replied. â€œWe must go back and examine everything.
â€œIâ€™m not worried, Iâ€™m sure we will make it as a team. Whether it’s minor bugs in the software or bigger issues, we’ll get through it.
“This team is a great team, they work extremely hard. That was a tough question, but hopefully we’ll be at the top of the timesheets again soon.â€
Not many doubt that, but it was surprising that Jaguar fell behind so quickly.
It had made a good impression at Valencia with Evans setting the fourth fastest time but there were clearly significant issues with how everything fitted into his package.
Aside from the Gremlins, there were also problems with driving dynamics. Evans in particular was dissatisfied in qualifying when he missed the cut for the duels, albeit just barely (0.046s).
There appeared to be a change in the original turn schedule for the Kiwi in the group session, which caused some consternation as he clearly felt this was contributing to not finding enough to progress.
â€žI canâ€™t do several laps in a row and improve,â€œ he shouted to his engineer Josep Roca over the team radio.
â€žWe are treating the tires too hard, they donâ€™t cool enough.â€œ
Despite a request for a “massive cool down” from Roca, Evans couldn’t muster enough. He wasn’t alone, as many in the field suffered from Hankook’s new all-weather rubber.
So Jaguar must repeat the transformation it accomplished last year when it rebounded from a miserable lap in Mexico City to a double race win in Rome thanks to Evans. Then it was a quiet and measured recalibration that paid off, setting a title bid that only fell at the final hurdle.
Bird has won twice at Diriyah, while Evans has a more modest return but excels in the pure driving challenge of the Saudi coaster.
Jaguar can also be encouraged by the performance of its first-ever customer team, Envision, after Buemi and Nick Cassidy scored two points, with Buemi just over a few seconds adrift of the final podium spot.
Given his track record and the positive signs shown by his pre-season and his client’s Mexico weekend, one would think Jaguar would have the tools to bounce back to the sharp end of the grid. But this is an uncertain and unpredictable new era for Formula E, and Jaguar has more uncertainties than most after the first lap.