Silly season came early for Formula E, this year – or maybe exactly when it would have, anyway, except that by this time we’d be expecting to have nearly finished the calendar not in suspended animation between the fifth and sixth races.
Pascal Wehrlein‘s sudden departure from Mahindra earlier this month made the pieces start shifting mid-season, with the German rumoured to be off to Porsche and Mahindra suddenly short of a driver to finish the disrupted 2019-2020 season.
It opened the door for Alex Lynn, Formula E’s seemingly-perpetual comeback kid. He was the first person ever to drive Jaguar’s 2016-17 car, looked set to take the seat and then was snubbed for now-lead driver Mitch Evans. He took a reserve role with DS Virgin that year, delivering an impressive performance including a debut pole in New York, in for Jose-Maria Lopez on the WEC clash that year but converting that to a race seat the following season, while the team was fighting with their powertrain supplier, that ended in frustration and no renewal the following year.
Lynn made an almost-comeback in Mexico, returning to Jaguar as the team’s relationship with Nelson Piquet Jr disintegrated, before finally getting the race seat for a second-half resurgence alongside Mitch Evans including some standout results only snatched away by technical issues. But again, it didn’t lead to a renewal and Lynn found himself short of a Formula E a seat again at the start of this season, although still keen to be in the series.
Yesterday, he was announced as Mahindra’s new driver and will be completing the six Tempelhof races that round out this COVID-19 affected season with them in August. We caught up with Alex at the end of his first day with the team, after an on-track test with teammate Jerome D’Ambrosio driving and Lynn working with his new engineering team.
There’s an element of deja-vu, inevitably, to interviewing a driver on his second mid-season re-entry to Formula E in two consecutive years but Lynn said he hoped it wasn’t a pattern to continue. “Hopefully the last.
“This time round, I really don’t feel any intimidation. I would say, last year, that I did – I’ll be honest. But yeah, unfortunately it’s not a habit I want to get into, coming in halfway through but this is the second year in a row and I feel like I could do it even better. I feel like last year went pretty good and now it’s about doing even better than that, so if I can do that then I’ll be extremely happy. And the most exciting thing is the competition element, I would say Formula E offers a world-class competition and as a driver all you want to do is compete against the best. “
Lynn confirmed he’d started speaking to Mahindra following Wehrlein’s departure, seeing an opportunity with the team, “Obviously during lockdown everything was a bit quiet – I felt like, I really did want to get back into Formula E as soon as I can and if it was going to be mid-season then I’d just jump at the chance. Then with the Pascal news, that unlocked the driver market a bit and of course Mahindra needed a driver.
“It was really great speaking with Dilbagh [Gill, Mahindra team principal] and we hit it off – and here we are. “
Lynn steps in mid-season but, unusually, still in championship contention; while it’d take truly freak circumstances for all the frontrunners to score no points at all during the six Tempelhof races he, like all the drivers, is technically still in the running. And with the track being where Mahindra took their first win, expectations have to be high at the former air strip despite the very changed circumstances of the lockdown races, including overnight track changes between double-header “weekends.” Not to mention six races taking place over nine days, in a series used to breaks of sometimes more than a month between events.
Lynn said that preparation remained the key thing, as with any Formula E race. “Honestly it’s hard to tell right now because I think we’re still coming to grips with what it’s going to be like and it’s my first day in the job. It’s just, again, about preparation – I don’t think Formula E can change the circuits so much, maybe one or two corners but it won’t be possible to do anything major.
“Apart from maybe doing it in reverse, which that would be a major change. But it’s just about being adaptable and I think that’s been this championship’s key message for a long time – adapting to a difficult schedule, which it always is but this time it’s three times more difficult and we just need to try and do the best.”
On what he could hope for for the season, he said he wanted to stay humble – but clearly be ambitious, aiming for a full-season seat next year. “First of all, it’s so boring isn’t it but I need to turn up and do the job.
“Again, I’m being humble but I’ll drive for a great team, I feel like I’m a fast driver so when those two elements come together and hopefully it goes well then we should be in a good position, making predictions is too hard right now but, again, I think I’m luck enough to be driving a fast car so, with that being said, you expect to achieve good results and that’s the name of the game, no matter what.”
Lynn makes his on-track debut for Mahindra at the first Berlin race, on August 5th.