UNDERWHELMING OR UNDERRATED? FORMULA E’S INDYCAR CONVERT ASSESSED
August 29, 2022
Appraising Oliver Askew’s debut season in Formula E isn’t an easy task.
That’s because his relatively modest points haul of 24 points, 102 in arrears to team-mate Jake Dennis in 2022, should be caveated with several factors that were way beyond his control.
At the same time, he and the team are naturally disappointed with the final points total, although a true and constructive argument can be made for saying that his fourth place in London and fifth in Seoul helped push Avalanche Andretti above Porsche in the final teams’ standings.
There are some in the Formula E paddock who believe the BMW technical package was among the very best in the championship over the last two seasons.
That’s a difficult assumption to check off fully because in Formula E the variances of getting the Gen2 car in sweet spots, particularly in qualifying, are so nuanced that overall there was very little to choose between Mercedes (and Venturi), DS, Jaguar, Audi (and Envision) Porsche and BMW.
What made the difference was preparation, brainpower (software included) and simply just doing the best job on the day.
Andretti, although it did a very fine job for much of 2022, didn’t have enough of those days.
It was always going to be slightly on the back foot, having to re-shape its team in all areas after BMW announced its rather scatty withdrawal in December 2020.
It needed to hire, it needed to pay the way (via Avalanche) and it needed to re-calibrate in terms of putting energy into its Gen3 future. That ended up being with the very people it beat to sixth in the standings, Porsche.
For Askew, it was a season in his nascent career like no other. He did the right thing though. He came into it eyes open and arms outstretched, ready to see and feel the full experience.
“It’s definitely been one of the biggest challenges of my career, and I think that’s common,” he tells The Race.
“It’s just the nature of the series; it’s one of the most difficult in the world and I knew that going into it.
“It’s been a massive learning curve, mainly in the first half of the year, and I think the second half to the last quarter it’s been starting to click a bit.”
Askew was speaking before his excellent run to fifth place in Seoul where he stayed in touch with Robin Frijns at the end of the race and set a fastest lap just 0.1s off team-mate Jake Dennis.
It was clear that Askew was enjoying himself as he learned, in what was the final season of a rules set, with minimal testing and in a more naturally hierarchical qualifying system, all of which built up formidable unseen foes for the Floridian to deal with.
But as well as eventually taking to Formula E, Askew has found the notoriously fickle brake set-up of mechanical and electronic (brake-by-wire) and the inconsistencies of the brake materials themselves to be among the toughest factors.
“It’s definitely been enjoyable and honestly the energy management side has probably been one of the lesser learning curves. That sort of comes automatic and you sort of just follow the system of the car.
“It’s more like the one-lap pace which then transfers a bit into the race pace. It’s like how the car needs to be driven, and the brakes are super finicky and really s**t to be honest. That’s been the major learning curve.”
This scuppered Askew on several occasions and there were races where he got lost. Jakarta seemed to be a case in point and it was a brutal experience.
At a track new to everyone for the first time in 2022, Askew went missing. He hauled it back at Seoul in another ‘new for all’ configuration but timing-wise the Jakarta experience could have been crucial in shaping his future in Formula E.
“It was so damn hot,” he recalls of what was “probably the most challenging” weekend of his season.
“After the race, I was wondering if it was just me and I was happy to learn that all the drivers were completely wiped out after that.
“From a physical standpoint, that was the most difficult. I mean, these cars aren’t that demanding but that one was brutal.”
But there were more positive signs that Askew could really cultivate a career in Formula E. The first one came early in the first event at Diriyah in January. He was half-expecting it, too – because “the guys were telling me going into it [first race in Saudi], if a rookie is going to perform at one track this year it’s going to be Saudi because that isn’t a Formula E track, it’s more naturally flowing, like road course-esque”.
“That goes back to my point: that track suits me naturally, it doesn’t have a lot of big braking zones, it’s all rhythm.”
Then there was Marrakesh where he first made it through to the qualifying knock-out phase when he squeezed through to the quarter-finals in an insanely close group session that saw the top eight covered by 0.2s.
He took seventh on the grid but then saw his race “kind of fall apart in the first lap when I lost my wing and we didn’t have the pace after that”.
Qualifying-wise Askew was hammered by Dennis at 13-3 and the average start position, fifth for the Brit and 13th for the American, was ultimately telling.
Yet the results did come for Askew in London and Seoul. The problem was that they also came for Dennis and they came with bigger rewards.
“We expected it [the results] a long time ago but for whatever reason when I have a good qualifying we’re not able to get there,” says Askew.
“So that [London] was finally, like, the first time where we could hold position and use our qualifying performance to our advantage.
“I don’t think we have the race pace to, you know, unless we have a huge energy advantage, to start at the back and move forwards, so for me and the team qualifying is really important.
“That was the day [London] where everything just came together.”
It is palpably clear that Andretti found a lost star in Jake Dennis or certainly one that needed re-discovering. His form in 2022 was masked a little in half of the races as Avalanche Andretti continued to re-calibrate, with BMW readying for full withdrawal.
For Askew, who has got along well with his team-mate, it was a tough gauge to be measured by, but he seems the sort of character who wanted such a challenge.
“He [Dennis] has definitely set the standard in this series for rookies coming in,” says Askew.
“You see, for some guys when they come in it clicks right away and for some guys it takes a bit longer for them, but eventually yeah they do get it.
“A lot of it I think comes down to what your natural driving style is, and if that works for Formula E then it works – but if not, then you need to adapt.”
It’s clear that Andretti has been forming a plan to draft in the ultra-experienced Andre Lotterer to potentially bridge the link to its powertrain provider Porsche in 2023.
The plan has existed since around May time but is still said to be only partly agreed upon. It’s a complex situation, one that Askew is not keen to get involved with, publicly at least.
“Decisions haven’t been made right now,” he says when asked about the future.
And when asked whether he’d heard about the prospect of a works Porsche driver taking his seat, he said: “Honestly, no.
“I don’t know which drivers are going where, and I’m not concerned at all.
“If they want to have me back, I’ll come back. [No other options] in Formula E but I would like to go back to IndyCar if the opportunity comes up there.”