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The key strength that convinced di Grassi to join Formula E's 2023 tailender

In moving away from Mahindra to its customer team, Lucas di Grassi will be racing for a third different Formula E squad in as many years. But in what amounts to a spiritual homecoming to the Abt outfit he raced for in the first seven years of his tenure in the all-electric championship, the Brazilian believes he's in the right place to add to his roll of honour in the years to come

Thomas Biermaier, Team Principal, CEO, ABT CUPRA Formula E Team, Lucas di Grassi, Mahindra Racing

“What I’m really looking forward to is fighting for the championship after season 10. This is where I want to get back to and although nothing is 100% certain, I am very certain that Abt will make the best decision.”

Lucas di Grassi’s return to Abt Cupra ahead of the upcoming 2023-24 Formula E campaign might be a surprise when looking at the raw statistics as, on paper, di Grassi has moved from the second-worst team to the worst based on last season’s final classification.

Mahindra finished 20 points clear of its customer outfit Abt, but both were comprehensively behind the performance of other teams as the former outfit suffered numerous delays to its development of the new Gen3 machine while the latter made a late decision to rejoin the Formula E grid after a year away.

Previously Abt and di Grassi enjoyed a long and successful relationship together that neither side particularly wanted to end. But Audi withdrawing its involvement from the team, which subsequently withdrew from Formula E in 2021 signalled the end of a partnership that had lasted seven years, yielding a drivers’ title for di Grassi in 2016-17 and the teams’ crown a year later.

Di Grassi was forced to find employment elsewhere, joining Venturi - where he recorded one win and fifth in the standings, before switching to Mahindra last season for what was hoped by both parties to be the start of a long-term endeavour. The campaign started brightly, with di Grassi bagging pole in the Mexico City season opener and finishing on the podium – beaten only by Porsche powertrain users Jake Dennis and Pascal Wehrlein.

But thereafter his campaign crumbled, as the Brazilian only reached the points twice more across 15 races, while the team also parted ways with Oliver Rowland - now back at Nissan - after the halfway point of the season.

The lacklustre performance of the team stemmed back to the departure of long-standing team principal Dilbagh Gill in September 2022, a time when the development of the new Gen3 machine was at a critical phase. Although ex-FIA man Frederic Bertrand took over at the helm, di Grassi believes vital momentum was lost as well, while a general change in direction meant it was always going to be on the backfoot.

Di Grassi claimed a surprise pole for the Mexico season opener, but the remainder of his season at Mahindra was disappointing

Di Grassi claimed a surprise pole for the Mexico season opener, but the remainder of his season at Mahindra was disappointing

Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

“The four months we had no leadership was very, very important because it was leading up to a new car, complex car, so we were delayed with everything,” says di Grassi. “When Fred came onboard, you first need to come into the company, understand the problems and then start making the decisions. Regardless who you put there, it’s a slow process.”

He adds: “I had agreed with Dilbagh we would make some changes very fast but, as he left, I couldn’t and then I didn’t want to wait another year or more. I wanted to go to an environment that I knew I could be competitive.

“I have a few more years in front of me. I think I did a very good season last year, but I need to be in the right environment, I need to be competitive while I think I still can win races and championships. I cannot wait five years for the team to be competitive again.”

"I know operationally Abt is very, very strong. I think it's one of the strongest in Formula E" Lucas di Grassi

The 39-year-old is one of the most successful drivers on the grid, currently tied on the most wins in the all-electric championship alongside Sebastien Buemi with 13. One of only five drivers to have competed in more than 100 races, he has incredibly missed only one Formula E race, when both Mahindra and Abt cars withdrew from the Cape Town E-Prix due to suspension failure concerns last season.

Even with their past success together, the decision to move back to Abt might seem like a roll of the dice for di Grassi, but he has reasons to be optimistic. Even during a season where it finished last, there were glimmers of hope that Abt may once again reach the front in Formula E as Nico Muller, who is remaining with the team for a second season, claimed three points finishes in the final four races of the campaign to underline the team's continued progress.

But the highlight came in qualifying for the second Berlin E-Prix when, in wet conditions, Muller and team-mate Robin Frijns pulled off the surprise of the season by locking out the front row. The session had been the first time all the teams had run in completely wet conditions together and highlighted that, while it may have been behind its rivals on pure performance, from an engineering perspective Abt was as strong as ever.

That is a point which has drawn di Grassi back to the team, as he says: “I know operationally Abt is very, very strong. I think it is the strongest team, if not the strongest team, [then] one of the strongest in Formula E.”

A stunning wet qualifying in Berlin put both Abt cars on the front row in the highlight of the team's Formula E return

A stunning wet qualifying in Berlin put both Abt cars on the front row in the highlight of the team's Formula E return

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

At an age when many drivers would be considering retirement, di Grassi is already looking beyond the upcoming season – which gets under way with pre-season testing in Valencia next week. The ex-Virgin Formula 1 driver has targeted the 2024-25 campaign, when an evolution of the Gen3 car is due to be put into service, as a time when he might be able to race at the front in Formula E, while Abt will have had a second season under its belt since returning.

It's clear that despite the disappointment of the most recent campaign, di Grassi states he is as hungry as ever to win races and challenge for the championship. There are no plans yet to follow his former Audi LMP1 team-mate Andre Lotterer in stepping away from single-seater racing.

“At the moment I want to remain in the championship as long as I’m competitive, that’s my target,” says di Grassi. “I don’t have a timeframe in mind, as far as I think I can win races I will still be there. That could be two, three, four, five years, I don’t know. At the moment I’m planning for let’s say the next two years to see where I am and then to move with that.

“And if I’m not competitive for any reason, let’s say for consecutive seasons and I feel that I’m not hungry anymore for any reason, the car is not competitive, then also there would be no problem [in retiring]. It’s very unlikely that I would change series.

“I’ve done my career in a very good way from F1 to the World Endurance Championship to Formula E, and Formula E is a championship that I helped to create. I love everybody there so in the end I think it’s almost certain that I will finish my career in Formula E in the next three, four, five years.”

Di Grassi recognises that success may not come straight away, but is confident he can get back to winning ways at Abt

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Di Grassi recognises that success may not come straight away, but is confident he can get back to winning ways at Abt

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