In a surprise turn of events, Abt has signed a deal to partner British driver Oliver Turvey after his NIO 333 team-mate, Chinese driver Ma Qinghua, was ruled out. A team statement earlier this week confirmed that a replacement driver would be required as current travel restrictions would likely prevent Ma’s arrival into Europe and his subsequent re-entry back into China.
Rumours of Abt’s return intensified last week when he hinted to his Twitch followers that he had “a sheet of paper waiting to be signed”, and today NIO 333 have confirmed the signing of Abt on a six-race deal.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity and the trust NIO 333 is giving me. I always loved racing and Formula E, therefore the opportunity to race in the final 6 races, my home races, and continue my record of completing in every single Formula E race is very exciting,” said Abt.
“Berlin is a great place for me. I have great memories there and, of course, having a home race is always something special. I will miss the fans, but I hope the viewers at home will see some exciting races.”
Speaking of his preparations, Abt added: “I will go to the UK in the middle of July to test the NIO 333 FE-005 car. There are a lot of things to learn and adapt to as the team members, the way of working and all the systems are completely new to me. We will use the time as best as we can. Personally, I will prepare myself mentally and physically for the hard challenge with 6 races almost in a row.
“I have competed in every race in Formula E’s history and I have been working with a leading manufacturer for the last 3 years. Therefore, I have a lot of experience and input for the team. I will do everything I can to achieve results together with Oliver.”
Vincent Wang, NIO 333 CEO said of the Abt deal: “When the possibility of signing Daniel for the Berlin finale was presented to me, it was an exciting prospect. As the saying goes in the eastern world, ‘a prodigal who returns is more precious than gold’, but the controversies surrounding him during the Race at Home Challenge reached quite a high level and will bring two opposite opinions.
“In the end, after discussing with some key figures of the paddock, we have decided to give Daniel an opportunity to return to Formula E. We welcome him with open arms into the team, we hope the home hero will redouble our efforts to finish this extraordinary season in style!”
Abt, a 10-time Formula E podium finisher, was released from his Audi Sport contract only last month after the team learned he’d invited professional sim racer Lorenz Hoerzing to take his place in an official Formula E-sanctioned Esports event.
Perhaps somewhat ironically, that race took place at a virtual version of the Berlin Templehof Circuit at which he’ll now compete this August with the NIO 333 team.
With Formula E having not raced since the end of February, Abt remains one of only three drivers to have competed in every Formula E race since the championship began, and was a winner at the Berlin Templehof Circuit as recently as 2018.
Earlier this year, Abt suggested to Inside Electric that he’d be unlikely to seek another drive were his contract not to be renewed at the end of this season and maintained he had little interest in racing in another category.
It’s understandable though that the nature of Abt’s departure from Audi has left him with a bitter taste in his mouth and perhaps a feeling of unfinished business in the series where he’s arguably built his reputation.
Speaking on the Inside Electric Podcast last month (prior to the events that led to his exit), Abt said he wouldn’t be taking Formula E’s ‘Race at Home’ sim racing championship too seriously, explaining that he didn’t “have the time to spend in my sim the whole day”, and admitting “I don’t have enough fun, to be honest.”
After losing his position at Audi, Abt released a video on his YouTube channel, saying: “I made a huge mistake. I stand by it. I hope you can forgive me,” before adding that he “felt pain, which I have never felt this way in my life.”
At last year’s Bern E-Prix, Abt indicated that leaving Formula E would likely mean the end of his racing career altogether, saying: “I’ve had five amazing years so far and I’ve loved it and enjoyed being here but I see how other motorsport is evolving, I go to a lot of other series and I watch races but I just don’t see the same atmosphere and spirit so it just does not really attract me.”
It remains to be seen whether Abt’s short-term NIO 333 deal was signed with a view to securing a more competitive return next season, or whether the 27-year-old sees it simply as the perfect chance to close the chapter on his racing career once and for all and at the circuit where he arguably reached his peak back in 2018.