Original story from The Race.
To the outside world at least, reigning Formula E champion Mercedes EQ has retained that magic ingredient heading into its final season as a manufacturer: continuity.
As it postures for a title defence it has surface stability in its driver line-up, its management, and its engineering cell – a well-planned change of engineer for Stoffel Vandoorne aside. This involves Marius Meier-Diedrich, who left for Porsche last autumn, being replaced by Nick Cassidy’s former engineer at Envision Virgin Racing, Stephen Lane.
But the solidity also needed maintenance. Some adjustment has taken place at the team since September, when several key staff arrived from HWA’s Affalterbach base in Germany.
That agreement was concluded just weeks after Daimler confirmed Mercedes would not be continuing its all-electric quest into the Gen3 era. This was awkward.
While the changes had long been in the pipeline, so too another alteration was made. This was because one staffer, who would not be making the move from Germany to the UK, was team manager Brice Bosi (who does remain at HWA).
It necessitated a switch that has gone remarkably under the radar since the end of Mercedes’ double-title-winning season in Berlin last summer.
It’s a significant evolution, too, and one that includes two well-known faces and names in international motorsport: Gary Paffett as the new team manager, and Jake Hughes as the full-time reserve and development driver.
Paffett has been embedded in the team since the day after he won his second DTM title at Hockenheim in 2018. That was when he arrived at Formula E’s Valencia test, having only just dusted the celebratory confetti from his hair.
He was straight into it, and as his role developed from race driver to reserve and sim driver, and then on to senior advisor and strategist, the more it became clear he was an important part of the success of Mercedes in Formula E.
Paffett explained to The Race this week why he’s moving into more of a management and sporting liaison role, describing it as “a fair bit of responsibility” but “a natural fit”.
“I’m looking forward to it, and it’s hopefully going to put us in a good position to defend the two world championships this year,” says Paffett.
“Formula E is so different to any other championship because we have so few staff at the track. I think everybody has to be able to multitask, be able to put many different hats on, muck-in and help out wherever possible.”
Paffett will still be active in his senior advisory role and working with the engineers on strategic matters. These responsibilities will be dovetailed alongside “working with the FIA more on the sporting and technical sides”.
It’s sure to throw up the tantalising prospect of another ex-driver in animated conversation with stewards and FIA officials either mid- or post-race, something that Allan McNish, Jerome d’Ambrosio and James Rossiter have all experienced in recent seasons.
The second figure in this internal re-shuffle at Mercedes is Jake Hughes who, like Paffett, has had roles in the all-electric championship stretching back to the first Gen2 season in 2018/19. That’s not all he shares in common with Paffett, though, as Hughes also comes from the Mark Blundell-run MB Partners sports management and marketing agency.
Hughes has had a few Formula E tests for NIO and then Mercedes, but had much more hands-on time in the team’s simulator and in the garages of Mercedes and the Mercedes-powered Venturi team last season.
It would likely have been Hughes who would have stepped in last season had either Stoffel Vandoorne or Nyck de Vries been unable to race. Officially he was Venturi’s reserve, but in essence he had a dual role.
For 2022 he will be the official reserve for the reigning champion team, though he describes this to The Race as a “bit of a continuation of what I did last year, where I learned a lot”.
But this is far from just a nominal role to plug a gap if indeed one appears. Hughes says he feels that he was “encouraged to contribute, not just even in my simulator role, but in voicing opinions for race weekends”.
Hughes and his management team did have dialogue with teams for potential race seats, but when nothing suitable attracted them there was a firm realisation that the reserve role with Mercedes, in tandem with the recently announced Van Amersfoort F2 programme, represented a tidy 2022 package.
“There was some sort of consideration of what might be possible in terms of racing [in Formula E] for this year, but I wanted to be the reserve driver here and I didn’t want to be anywhere else,” confirms Hughes.
His relationship with Paffett is strong. The two get on and have a strong understanding between them, something that Hughes is happy to open up about.
“I’ve always kind of known at some point that Gary would make a very good team manager or have a leading role within a team as successful and as important as Mercedes,” he says.
“We know how trusted he is in the paddock and how trusted and valued his opinion is. The likes of Ian [James], Toto [Wolff], Tony [Ross] and people like that really trust Gary.
“He’s obviously achieved so much within the sport that it’d be silly of me not to lean on him a lot. To be embedded with him and to try and get as much information as I can from him, will hopefully help me go forward.”
Hughes and Paffett have important roles in determining how 2022 will pan out for Mercedes’ final hurrah in Formula E – providing a British backbone to the potent Benelux exterior of the team’s driver line-up.
At opposite ends of their competitive careers, their fortunes could make for a fascinating subplot to a season that some believe will involve a heightened level of dominance from Mercedes.
Whether those theories bear fruit remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if they do become a reality. That’s because the strength in depth that the title holder possesses right now makes it a strong bet to tighten its grip on the trophies its rivals are trying so forcefully to prise away.