The Nissan Formula E Team grew in stature throughout the opening season of the Gen3 era, but can they take another step in the right direction in 2024?
Nissan took their time in the 2022/23 season to really show their true potential, having often shown glimpses of it but never the real deal until the latter stages of the season. With a driver pairing of rookie Sacha Fenestraz and the returning Norman Nato, the Japanese manufacturer had a good balance of youth and experience.
However, given that Fenestraz was a rookie and that it was Nato’s returning campaign, both required time to settle into the team and into the Gen3 machinery. Season nine marked Nissan’s first Formula E season as an official manufacturer, something which presented its own challenges.
Despite his inexperience, it was Fenestraz who made the better impression in the opening rounds for Nissan, with the Frenchman having proven to be quite the driver over a single-lap. Fenestraz made three duel appearances in the opening eight rounds, including a momentary record-breaking pole position in Cape Town.
Had it not been for a collision with Nick Cassidy on the final lap in the South African city, the rookie would’ve claimed a podium on just his sixth Formula E appearance. Instead, he scored just four points in the first half of the season, courtesy of one top-10 finish in Hyderabad. This underlined Nissan’s crushing problem. They had effective one-lap pace but woeful efficiency.
It was a similar story for Nato in the opening half of season nine, with the Formula E race winner having made just the one duel appearance. However, the more experienced Frenchman was more successful when it came to the races, as he managed 10 points in the first half of his comeback season.
In the opening eight rounds, it was really only in Cape Town where Nissan looked ultra-competitive in both qualifying and in the race. Somewhat worryingly, they started the season considerably worse than customer team NEOM McLaren.
McLaren claimed two poles and a podium in the opening eight rounds, yet they went on to suffer Nissan’s initial misery in the second half of the season. The Woking-based team scored just three points in the final seven rounds. Whilst McLaren suddenly fell virtually to the back of the pack in the pecking order, Nissan suddenly went in the other direction.
Fenestraz’s impressive one-lap pace remained a threat, with Nato having also come to the duel party. Even though Nato scored more points than Fenestraz in the first half of the season, it was the rookie who had arguably been the more impressive driver.
This completely flipped on its head, as Nato finally unlocked his potential. The 31-year-old showed that the Nissan powertrain can be both quick and efficient when set-up correctly, something he demonstrated by claiming consecutive points finishes in the last six rounds.
His six-race points scoring run included a stellar podium in Rome, in what just so happened to be Nissan’s first as an official Formula E manufacturer. Nato ended the season 31 points ahead of Fenestraz and in P10 in the Drivers’ Championship. Had he shown his second half of the season pace in the opening rounds, then a top-eight would’ve been a huge possibility.
Fenestraz, on the other hand, continued to struggle when it came to managing his energy, something he’ll need to improve on in his sophomore season which will be spent at Nissan. Even though Nato has switched to Andretti after being replaced at Nissan by the returning Oliver Rowland, he proved something very important. Nissan do have real potential.
Whilst it’s unlikely that they’ll consistently be able to take the fight to the Jaguars and the Porsches, Nato proved that the car can be efficient, something which, if Fenestraz can understand, will benefit the team massively.
The current powertrain freeze until 2025 means that Nissan can’t alter too much, but they can play around with the software. If they can discover something which can make the car efficient at most rounds, then they could seriously challenge the top half of the Constructors’ Championship – the team finished seventh in 2022/23.
Nissan were in many ways the second or third quickest team over one-lap, something which will open up plenty of opportunities for Fenestraz and Rowland in season 10 if they can look after their energy.
Overall, the Japanese company’s first season as an official Formula E manufacturer was more than promising, with 2024 being about extracting their powertrain’s potential on a more consistent basis. If they manage that, then they could very easily collect several podiums and perhaps even a victory next year.
Nissan are, without a shadow of a doubt, an outfit to keep an eye on next season.