Taking Sam Bird’s place at Envision Virgin will not be easy, but for a Formula E rookie to do so seems a particularly big ask. Despite a growing reputation following years of success in Japan, Kiwi Nick Cassidy is realistic about the challenge ahead as he explains exclusively to Inside Electric.
At the championship’s official ‘rookie test’ held earlier this year in Marrakesh, Cassidy made the headlines by smashing the Circuit Moulay El Hassan’s lap record on his first outing in Formula E machinery.
Having spent the past five years competing in the highly competitive Super GT and Super Formula championships, extending his stay in Japan was always an option for 2021 and beyond.
Cassidy admits that joining Formula E wasn’t at the forefront of his mind when he committed to the test [with Virgin] back in March, but the offer of a full-season race seat was too good to turn down.
“I wasn’t going to the [Marrakesh rookie] test with the objective of getting a race seat straight away – I viewed it as using the experience to learn the car, to think about Formula E in the future [and] if it was to ever come up, I would be in a better position having had some knowledge,” said Cassidy.
“At the same time, I guess it was something I was thinking about for the future, I just didn’t realise it would be that soon. I was in a position in Japan where, in a strange way, I had kind of achieved everything I could.
“I had to decide did I want to keep doing the same thing every year or challenge myself, and for sure the safe option would have been to stay there. The series is still going well, it’s still all good there, but it’s the easy option.
“I wanted to put myself against the best in what’s become one of the world’s leading championships. When the offer came after that Marrakesh rookie test, I jumped at it.”
Despite having plenty of recent single seater experience – 11 podiums and three wins in Super Formula plus a 2019 title win – the 26-year-old concedes that his experience there counts for little now in a series he describes as “so different to any other part of my career.”
“It’s so different. Not gonna lie, the push laps come pretty naturally to me, it’s driving a race car as fast as you can. Managing the race seems very different and I’m just struggling for experience now, to be honest,” said Cassidy.
“I think that’s gonna be something I’ll get better and better at through the year. I think everyone can drive fast in a race, but how to position yourself in the right way and position yourself better than others – you need a bit of knowledge from the past to get the most out of that.
“I still think I can do a good job, but that’s an aspect is so different to any other part of my career.”
One of the unique features of Formula E pre-season testing [which you don’t see in other series such as F1, F2 etc] are the exhibition races. Basically, these are organised sessions that consist of the entire grid being on track at the same time ‘racing’ one another.
Although no driver is likely to display the same level of commitment in these as they might do in an actual E-Prix, Cassidy believes there is significant value to having them, particularly for rookie drivers, which makes it all the more frustrating that a technical issue impacted his involvement in one during the recent test in Valencia.
“[The exhibition race] was hugely important to me because I haven’t done a race run in testing before. That was my first run, and I didn’t even know what happens to the car when we’re low on energy or anything like that,” Cassidy said.
“We had a problem around 11 laps in so that was the race run and our afternoon was done. That put us out and it hurt a bit to miss those few hours as it was quite important to me.
“I think the main thing for me is also that you’ve obviously prepared yourself the whole race to then be strong or weak at the end, depending on your strategy or what’s happened in the laps prior.
“Doing the first 10 laps was great but how that was going to set me up for the finish is what I don’t know right now.”
While Cassidy has some fairly modest expectations for his Virgin race debut in a month’s time, he is notably more confident about tackling Formula E’s high-stakes qualifying format – something he believes will come more natural to him in the early races.
“I’m looking forward to qualifying because it’s just one lap, a fair bit of pressure,” said Cassidy. “You don’t know the track conditions, you don’t have many laps at 250kw which makes it really hard.
“I’m looking forward to that because it’s part of the challenge and at the moment the push lap stuff is a lot more natural to me.”
“I’m sure the team have higher expectations than this, but from my side, [the target for Santiago] is just to finish both races. I think it’s important to get experience of the championship early first and foremost.
“Of course, I’m going to be pushing like crazy like everyone else, trying to do the best job possible, but it’s important to get that race knowledge under my belt early.”