Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

IndyCar’s loss becomes Formula E’s gain

The dominoes have been teetering ever since driver Sebastien Bourdais crashed during Indy 500 practice a few weeks ago. It’s just the way racing is — one driver’s (and one series’) loss can quickly become an opportunity for many others. This week, former F1 driver Esteban Gutiérrez, who was already filling a vacated seat in Formula E, left the all-electric series to take over Bourdais’ ride for the rest of the IndyCar season.

Some are mad that Gutiérrez jumped ship so fast, especially because he was competitive in the three races he ran. But I’m fine with Gutiérrez leaving for a few reasons.

First, if he didn’t really want to be there in the first place, then why does it matter if he’s gone? As much as I like the series so far, I don’t expect 100% loyalty from the participants. When there’s only a dozen races a season, how can you? Based on Current E’s earnings breakdown from December, the best case scenario for a driver payout is around $50,000, and that’s only if you win. If Current E’s math is right, Gutiérrez’s best finish of 8th only netted him around $16,000. The money — but especially the opportunity — is greater in IndyCar.

Now, of course, he could have improved on that. He was turning good laps and hovering around the back end of the top 10 in what was just his first 3 races in the series. And Techeetah uses Renault’s powertrain, which is clearly the best in the series.

But Techeetah is also a young team that is still sort of scrambling to put together consistent races. And while their cars use that vaunted Renault tech, they don’t have full access to make every little tweak they desire. They also can’t test like a manufacturer-run team can.

Gutiérrez splitting is that he wasn’t the only domino to fall. Today we learned that Stéphane Sarrazin is jumping from the Venturi team to fill Gutiérrez’s spot. Tom Dillmann, in turn, will take Sarrazin’s spot at Venturi.

For whatever reason, I adore Sarrazin, even though he’s often lost in the back of the pack. I really hope he can translate the few bright sparks of success he had with Venturi into an even brighter flash in this final 6-race stretch with Techeetah.

And Dillmann by all accounts really does want to be in Formula E. He tested for Team Aguri last year, drove a few shakedown laps in Mexico City, and came home 8th for Venturi in Paris.

Being flexible and driving across different disciplines of open wheel racing is the only way to survive as a driver, unless you’re one of the few who actually dominate a particular series. IndyCar lost Bourdais for the rest of the season, but gained an eager, quick driver with some name recognition. Techeetah lost that, but gained one of the steadiest forces in Formula E (and a good compliment to his hot-headed teammate). And Venturi gets to replace Sarrazin with a capable driver who has been looking for a foot in the door. Other than Bourdais, who is thankfully recovering well so far from one of the more terrifying wrecks in recent memory, everybody wins — until a new domino falls, that is.