Jean-Eric Vergne’s first race post-Red Bull is coming sooner than he probably thought it would.
The Frenchman will have at least a one-off ride with the Andretti Formula E outfit, driving the team’s No. 28 entry at the third round of the championship at Punta del Este. Franck Montagny continues in the team’s No. 27.
But it could potentially be the start of something more for the former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver.
“It’s not often that you get to race at this time of the year,” Vergne said in a release. “I am really looking forward to this opportunity, especially given its location in a place like Punta del Este. Although I have no experience in this new series, I am excited about the prospect of racing in Formula E, and racing for such a prestigious team as Andretti.
“As always, the main objective of the weekend is to stay out front and finish the year on a high note. The weekend will be a little like a journey into the unknown, but it is a journey that I am thoroughly looking forward to!”
Added team principal Michael Andretti, “We’re really happy to put JEV (Jean-Éric Vergne) in the car for Punta del Este. He has great talent and we think he’ll pair well with our team for competitive results. I also think having interest and participation from respected F1 drivers shows great strength and the true potential for Formula E as a series and World Championship.”
IF YOU’RE INTO READING TEA LEAVES, THIS IS A VERY INTRIGUING MOVE
The Vergne appointment creates more questions than answers, though.
Vergne is already the team’s third driver in as many races. Charles Pic ran the opener in Beijing, with Matthew Brabham, the team’s reserve driver, filling in for Pic in Putrajaya, Malaysia a few weeks ago when Pic was in Abu Dhabi for the Formula One season finale.
The team release has some interesting language about that. It reads in part: “the previous two rounds … saw the team’s full-season championship driver Montagny, as well as Charles Pic and reserve driver Matthew Brabham in competition for Andretti.”
With Pic known to be exploring his options in North America for 2015, this is a sign that his plans and Andretti’s could be venturing down separate paths. And as a further case in point, Pic is not listed as a driver on the Andretti FE website, and Vergne is.
In the same breath, this opens up the possibility that Vergne – who like Pic is at a stage where his active Formula One career is at a crossroads – could enter into discussion of the currently vacant fourth Andretti Autosport entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
You might remember when Montagny drove a fifth IndyCar at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis this year in a move that seemed out of the blue to some, but was clearly a sign of things to come.
That Montagny race served as a chance for the fifth car crew to prep for the arrival of Kurt Busch for the rest of the month of May, which was undoubtedly going to be a bigger story than “Franck the Tank” getting reacclimatized before he got taken out in one of the more spectacular accidents of the year. But the Montagny/Andretti signing made sense because the team had a one-off working with him in Sonoma 2009, this rekindled it, and it would lead to his role as full-time FE driver.
In some respects Andretti could now be spoiled for choice for the fourth car. If United Fiber & Data can be confirmed as a sole primary sponsor, that could reduce the budget necessary for a driver or driver(s) to bring to the seat. Witness UFD tweeting three times in the last three days when they haven’t previously tweeted in a month, noting the announcing of their “2015 UFD Girls Reveal,” and their previous public statements they plan to continue with Andretti and Andretti’s telling MotorSportsTalk previously they were working on UFD, and an official announcement could be imminent.
Vergne must now be included in the discussion of potential Andretti Autosport IndyCar drivers with this move, along with others including but not limited to Justin Wilson, Daniel Abt and Zach Veach.