For some, Nico Müller will be a new face in the FIA Formula E paddock this season. The 27-year-old from Switzerland was confirmed to be racing at Dragon Racing for season six, alongside fellow Formula E rookie Brendon Hartley. However, this new challenge won’t be the first experience of the all-electric championship for Müller, who comes from finishing runner-up in the 2019 DTM Championship.
Having been the Audi test and reserve driver for their Formula E programme over the last few years, Müller has gained plenty of experience behind-the-scenes in a role that saw him complete hours on hours of simulator work as well as attending race weekends where he would work closely with Audi on team and media duties.
However, Müller, like all racing drivers, wanted more to his Formula E career than just setting laps in a simulator. When given the chance to get behind the wheel of a Formula E car during the 2018 Marrakesh rookie test, he not only grabbed the opportunity with both hands but did so with his foot placed firmly on the acceleration pedal.
During both the 2018 and 2019 rookie test, Müller topped the timesheets. Seriously impressive when you see he was competing against names like Jamie Chadwick, Arthur Leclerc and current GP2 Champion, and now Mercedes Formula E driver, Nyck de Vries.
So, why did Müller struggle to make the call up to Audi? The likelihood is Audi are settled with their duo of Abt and di Grassi. It works, the two drivers makeup one of the strongest couplings on the grid and have done since the very first Formula E race in Beijing.
Abt and di Grassi were a safe choice and with season six welcoming two of Audi’s biggest manufacturing rivals in Porsche and Mercedes, perhaps Audi thought was best to stick with what they know.
Another opportunity missed for Müller, but he didn’t give up hope. Just weeks later Head of Audi Motorsport, Dieter Gass, made a public statement about Müller’s future in FIA Formula E.
The press release then went on to clarify that Müller had received the “necessary permission” from Gass who understood that “race drivers do not have an infinite number of opportunities in their careers.
“I am pleased [Müller’s signing to Dragon] has worked out with the clear priority on DTM and I wish Nico all the best in the electric motorsport series – even though, as an exception to the norm, he will become one of our competitors on race day.”
It is understood that signing to Dragon terminates Müller’s Test and Reserve role with Audi, as would be expected.
So, as one door with Audi closes, another one remains firmly wedged open.
Müller’s six-season history with DTM has not only cemented him as the most experienced driver within the current Audi-backed ABT Sportsline team but as a tough component on-track. This year he finished the season in second place, losing only to his teammate and 2019 Champion René Rast.
However, as stated by Dieter Gass, DTM must come as a priority over Formula E. It is therefore expected that Müller will miss the twelfth round in New York as it clashes with DTM at the Norisring. It is not known yet if other Formula E Drivers with DTM commitments, like Robin Frijns, will also be prioritising the German Touring Car Championship over Formula E.
Although his relationship with Audi didn’t supply him with a full-time Formula E drive, the experienced that he gained whilst as their Test and Reserve Driver clearly will help massively when it comes to developing and setting up the Dragon car this season. Especially, when you consider his new teammate Brendon Hartley has no experience of Formula E apart from testing with Porsche in March earlier this year.
We have also seen firsthand that Müller is mega quick. During pre-season testing in Valencia, he set a time within the top ten in five of the six sessions. He also set the third-fastest time overall at testing too; a 1:15.198, being beaten only by BMW’s Max Guenther and Pascal Wehrlein who both have a year in Formula E under their belts. Not to forget his two rookie tests which he went quickest in too.
Overall, very impressive performance in a car which faced many struggled last year and resulted in Dragon being bottom of the table in the Constructors’ Championship. Can this be their year with the help of Müller and new recruit Brendon Hartley? The real answers will make themselves clear when we head to Diriyah this month.