At the beginning of the 2020/2021 Formula E season, there were a fair few who saw Porsche as a team to watch, expecting them to challenge for the World Championship title. Given the power and might behind them, it was not a bad prediction to make, but the season never worked out for them, as they struggled to improve on their 2019/2020 performance. In this article, we will try and work out the reasons why things went wrong for them, and why they appeared to struggle in the majority of last season’s races.
If we analyse Andre Lotterer’s individual race performances, we immediately notice a big issue; collisions. It is difficult to recall a race when the German wasn’t involved in controversy, with plenty of drivers becoming acquainted with bits of Porsche carbon fibre at some point last season. Alexander Sims’ Mahindra in the first Puebla race, Edoardo Mortara’s Venturi and Sebastien Buemi’s Nissan in the first Valencia race, Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoorne in the first Rome race, and the DS Techeetah of Antonio Felix da Costa in the second London race; all were involved in scrapes with Lotterer’s Porsche, with a mixture of results.
When we consider why the German failed to trouble the points for the majority of the season, this has to be a major factor. In fact, Lotterer failed to score any points until Round 6, a second-placed finish at the second Valencia race, and that was his only visit to the podium all season. Overall, he finished 17th in the Drivers’ World Championship, which is a pretty poor result for a driver who has been in Formula E since 2017 and knows his way around the paddock.
It is not fair to say that it is entirely his fault, but certainly his form and propensity to nudge other cars during races was a big factor in Porsche’s inability to compete with the frontrunners last season.
Lotterer’s teammate, fellow German Pascal Wehrlein, had different problems. The former Manor and Sauber Formula 1 driver was on the wrong side of the stewards on a few occasions, mostly for using more power than was allowed, with the Puebla double-header being a particularly good example of that, as he was disqualified from the first race and lost his place on the podium after the second race, following another stewards’ enquiry. In fact, like Lotterer, Wehrlein was only on the podium once last season, in the second Rome race. He did have more luck with points, but still finished outside the top 10 in the final drivers’ standings.
We have already mentioned how Wehrlein is an experienced racing driver, despite still being just 26 years old, and he has been in Formula E since 2018, spending his first two seasons with Mahindra. As a result, we thought he would do better, but it didn’t fall for him this season, and his tendency to overuse power led to his inability to convert good qualifying performances into podiums (he finished quickest in the group stage whilst qualifying for the first Puebla race, as an example).
It wasn’t only down to the drivers, though, as there is no doubting that the team is responsible for some of last season’s failures. In their debut Formula E season, 2019/2020, they finished a respectable eighth in the teams’ standings, which gave them something to build on for 2020/2021. However, they also finished eighth last season, which suggests that they didn’t make the progress we thought they would.
In their first season, they chose Lotterer and Porsche factory driver Neel Jani to drive for them, but replaced Jani with Wehrlein for 2020/2021. We do need to remember that 2019/2020 was disrupted, with many races being cancelled as a result of the pandemic, but a return to a more regular calendar last season meant there were more points available.
With this in mind, perhaps the best way to assess Porsche’s progress is to focus on the points differences between them and those around them. In 2019/2020, Mahindra finished 30 points behind them, but were only nine behind in 2020/2021. This implies that other teams made progress and Porsche didn’t. To add insult to injury, we mentioned in a season preview that Venturi were a team who needed to do better, and they went from a 10th-placed finish in 2019/2020 to seventh last season, showing the extent of their improvements and highlighting the lack of development made by others.
Porsche are one of the big four German manufacturers, alongside Audi, Mercedes and BMW. With BMW and Audi now no longer involved in the World Championship, and new world champions Mercedes departing after next season, the spotlight will be on Porsche to take advantage and move up the table. The question for them is whether they can do so, and, on their showing last season, the answer sems to be no. However, with a few months to work on what went wrong, we hope that, as a package, they will be much more competitive next season, climbing the standings and finally showing us what they can really do.