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Formula E’s mid-season driver changes, explained

Formula E hit the pause button on their on-track proceedings in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the news racing will resume with six races in nine days at the Berlin street circuit there’s been a glutton of off-track matters to handle.

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, Mahindra Racing and 333 NIO have all made changes to their driver rosters for the final six rounds, with Daniel Abt, Pascal Wehrlein and Ma Qing Hua all departing, but what are the reasons behind this and who’s taking their places? 

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler – Daniel Abt to Rene Rast

This change is by some distance the most seismic of the three. Abt had been a regular on Audi’s roster since their, and Formula Es, debut at Season One’s Beijing ePrix opener, and along with Lucas di Grassi he made up the only unchanged duo still intact on the grid – not to mention a Seasons Three and Four Teams’ winning one.

That was, however, until last May, when COVID-19 had brought the championship to a standstill and racing moved into the virtual space. Abt was found to have used a ringer – another driver taking his place and assuming his identity – in the fifth round of the Formula E Race at Home Challenge, and after being given a €10,000 fine by the FIA Audi decided to end their six-year partnership.

His chosen replacement, Rene Rast, has sizeable history with the brand in motorsport. Having not only competed in a Formula E race before – Season Two’s 2016 Berlin ePrix, a track he will be returning to for his six-race stint -, he is also the current and 2017 DTM champion, and has 17 wins to his name in the series.

It’s a tough ask to deputise mid-season, but given Rast already has experience of Berlin, is joining with clear momentum from his DTM successes and will be inheriting a capable car, hopes should be high for the German on home soil.

Mahindra Racing – Pascal Wehrlein to Alex Lynn

Following in the wake of Audi’s decision to part company with Abt came Wehrlein’s departure from Mahindra. Wehrlein has impressed within Formula E since the Indian team gave him his debut at the second round of Season Five with a string of solid results matched with blistering pace.

This has meant he’s been on the radar of other teams, both inside and outside of Formula E, for some time, and rumours have followed the German-Mauritian around during the season as to whether he would remain with Mahindra or depart. That decision has now been made and it remains to be seen where he will choose to race.

His replacement is a man already very familiar with mid-season fort holding. Lynn, who made his Formula E debut with DS Virgin Racing in Season Three’s New York ePrix, joined the team full time for Season Four but found himself released at the season’s end. He deputised for Jaguar from Rome onwards in Season Five, after Season One champion Nelson Piquet Jr. left.

A GP3 champion and ex-Red Bull and Williams F1 junior, Lynn has already proven his pedigree and ability to deliver solid results in Formula E, and his experience with both Gen 2 machinery and the task of stepping into a new team mid-campaign should be a major boost for Mahindra in the final six rounds.

333 NIO – Ma Qing Hua to Daniel Abt

The final change is a rather unfortunate one. Hua has been ruled unable to compete in the final six rounds of Season Six due to travel restrictions, and as a result he misses out on a chance to end his return to the sport on a high note. 333 NIO have struggled for results at the bottom of the table, so recruiting the right replacement was of top priority.

They couldn’t have hoped for better. Fresh from his Audi departure, Abt today agreed to join the team for the final six rounds, and brings with him both race-winning pedigree and the experience of spending nigh-on six seasons with a title-winning outfit.

Abt has two wins – both taken in Season Four, his most successful to date – and has a highest championship finish of 5th, also in that campaign. 333 NIO have a star-studded appointment, and along with the continued strength of lead driver Oliver Turvey it could be a happy end to the season for a 333 NIO team hungry for positivity.

Image sources: Phaceless Photographer/Rajan Jongda, Audi GmbH, Mahindra/SpaceSuit