Nelson Piquet, who last year became the first Formula E driver’s champion, is on the verge of joining the FIA World Endurance Championship.
We understand that Piquet will compete with an LMP1 team for 2016, with an official announcement due to follow soon. He had tested with Nissan last year but the car maker has since withdrawn from the series.
While many Formula E drivers also race in WEC, with calendars that are complimentary, Piquet is thought to have little interest in remaining at NextEV TCR after the 2015-16 season ends. The team’s first effort at building a powertrain has resulted in a car that is difficult to drive, which has effectively ruled out a chance for Piquet to retain his title.
What’s more, the team is rumoured to be on the verge of being completely bought out by its title sponsor and may be considering a split with technical partner Campos. The team has been making high level strategic hires but Piquet could be forgiven for having doubts about how competitive an automotive start-up can be in the fiercely competitive arena of Formula E.
We understand that the driver is under contract at NextEV TCR for the third season but that the team may be prepared to release him early. We believe that Piquet is keen to remain in Formula E for at least another season but that he’d only consider driving for a team that could offer a solid title shot as well as a significant financial package.
That narrows the likely field to one of the big OEM-backed teams. Renault is unlikely to ditch its Frenchman Nico Prost, and ABT is unlikely to try housing Piquet under the same roof as lifelong adversary Lucas di Grassi. That really only leaves DS Virgin Racing and the new Jaguar squad.
Virgin had been in talks with Piquet last season as a possible replacement in 2015-16 for first season signing Jaime Alguersuari, a seat that Jean-Eric Vergne took when Piquet chose to remain with the team that had delivered him the title. However, it’s thought that the Frenchman has an option in his contract to leave DS Virgin Racing should F1 come calling; Piquet is believed to be the preferred choice should that happen.
Jaguar is also reported to be in talks with the defending champion. The British team, which will make use of Williams as technical partner, is understood to be keen on signing a “marquee name”, someone with box office power and proven race winning credentials. How far up the priority list a British name is, we’re not sure, but it’s likely that Sam Bird is on the target list too. We expect the team to make a decision on its drivers before the last race of the season.
While Piquet has clearly struggled to retain motivation in this season’s NextEV TCR car, the first season proved that he has what it takes to vanquish a grid full of sublimely talented drivers at well-resourced teams. Beating Sebastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi and Sam Bird was no small task, yet it was one he accomplished at a team without much in the way of racing pedigree. It would be a loss for the sport if Piquet wasn’t on the grid for season three and in a competitive car.