Formula E season four mid-term review

April 6, 2018

Formula E season four mid-term review

April 6, 2018

For a second straight year, a former Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula 1 driver has dominated the opening half of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship season, with a significant points lead.

But will Jean-Eric Vergne be able to do what Sebastien Buemi could not do last season and keep the momentum going after the mid-term recess?

It’s an interesting question to be sure, because Vergne hasn’t been in a proper championship-contending scenario in seven years, since 2011 in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.

Buemi, meanwhile, won Formula E’s second season crown but despite a comprehensive beating of the field for most of season three, saw last season’s title slip from his grasp.

Vergne hits the halfway point in the season having had both great pace and great results thus far. The Techeetah driver has won twice, at Santiago ahead of teammate Andre Lotterer and at Punta del Este ahead of season four champ Lucas di Grassi. Vergne’s jumped out to a 30-point lead in the series with 109 points, on the strength of four other top-five finishes and two pole positions.

His two closest rivals have also won, but had one bad race apiece that leave them more than one race’s worth of points behind.

Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist has also won twice, but he failed to score in Mexico when his car stopped on course while leading. DS Virgin’s Sam Bird also failed to score in Mexico. Rosenqvist (79 points) and Bird (76) still can re-enter the fight, but will need Vergne to have a similar stroke of bad luck at least once.

The fourth winner this season in six races is Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Daniel Abt, who’d be even higher in points had a technical error found in post-race inspection at Hong Kong not occurred. He was disqualified from what would have been his first career win there. Alas, he finally got on the scoreboard in Mexico.

Neither Buemi nor di Grassi, the last two series champions, have had much in the way of luck or results this season. Renault e.dams’ Buemi recovered from a rough Hong Kong with three straight podiums, but fell out of the points in Uruguay. He’s 57 points behind Vergne in fourth place. Di Grassi has endured a wealth of mechanical issues that have left both he and the Audi team confounded. With only one podium finish and 21 points scored all year, di Grassi’s title repeat hopes have been dashed.

Elsewhere, Panasonic Jaguar Racing has improved by leaps and bounds this year. Both season one champ Nelson Piquet Jr. and teammate Mitch Evans have regularly banked top-fives, with Evans scoring the team’s first podium at Hong Kong after Abt got disqualified. They sit fifth and sixth in points. Oliver Turvey (NIO), Edo Mortara (Venturi), and Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra) have also made a podium this year.

In the team’s standings, Techeetah leads Mahindra by 27 points, 127-100. DS Virgin, Jaguar and Renault complete the top five.

Buemi held an even bigger lead over di Grassi at the sixth race last year, than Vergne does over Rosenqvist this year. Buemi won five of the first six races, and led di Grassi by 53 points (132-89). However failures to score in three of the next four races saw Buemi’s lead drop to just 10 points over di Grassi leaving New York.  He lost the title in Montreal with an incident in practice, then compounded with a disqualification from the first race.

Last season’s final six races were only contested at three venues. Berlin, New York and Montreal all held doubleheader race weekends. However, this year’s final six races will take place in five venues.

The series has a four-race European swing ahead. Formula E races in the streets of Rome and Paris in April, Tempelhof Airport in Berlin in May, and into Zurich in mid-June. New York in mid-July will now host the season finale, and the only remaining doubleheader weekend this year.

Off-track, Formula E has had two major steps forward with the confirmation of ABB Group as its new title sponsor, and both the digital and formal launch of its new Gen2 race car. The steps forward for the electric open-wheel championship with the new car means in-race car swaps will become a thing of the past in season five.

There’s renewed enthusiasm among all the manufacturers present in this series, too. Beyond the series’ current partners, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes are ramping up for debuts in further seasons. Michelin celebrated its five-year anniversary with Formula E in March.

The future is bright for Formula E. The question for the rest of season four is who will carry the torch as its champion into its new era starting in season five, with a first-time champion likely to emerge.

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