At long last Formula E’s winter break is over, and this weekend the 2016–17 season will resume on the streets of Buenos Aires.
This will be the series’ third visit to the Argentine capital and the first race of the season to take place on a returning circuit. After the opening two rounds in Hong Kong and Marrakesh saw the likes of Felix Rosenqvist make a meteoric rise to the fore, the familiarity of the Puerto Madero Street Circuit may hand the advantage back to Formula E’s established stars for now.
That ought to make this weekend’s ePrix a very welcome event for the likes of Lucas di Grassi and Sam Bird, whose respective championship challenges have so far got off to a mixed start—a strong showing here at a track with which they are well accustomed could bring them right back into the mix.
Bird in particular seems to have a certain flair for the Puerto Madero track. The Briton has already notched up one victory, pole position and fastest lap from Formula E’s last two trips to Argentina, and in his lighter, single-motor DSV02 his chances of adding to that tally in 2017 are theoretically as high as ever.
Di Grassi, on the other hand, may not be able to directly challenge for the win on pace alone—his new ABT Schaeffler powertrain once again seems to favour consistency over raw speed, which could leave the Brazilian wanting on Formula E’s fastest circuit. But all the same di Grassi can never be truly discounted as a contender, thanks to his canny ability to put himself in a position to profit should his rivals come to any grief.
Nevertheless, even after just two of twelve rounds, it’s beginning to look like Bird and di Grassi will have to dig deeper than ever if they are to mount any assault on Sébastien Buemi.
The reigning champion has been bulletproof so far this season, able to marry his natural ability with a newfound serenity behind the wheel, and boosted by a Renault that appears to be both quicker than di Grassi’s ABT and more robust than Bird’s Virgin. Provided he can still tap into the momentum of his Hong Kong and Marrakesh wins after so long a break, it’s hard to see how anyone but the racing gods can stop Buemi on Saturday.
Behind those three you can expect to see Mahindra’s Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld once again contesting for another plucky podium position, and most likely battling with Nico Prost, who is making quiet fourth place finishes his habit this season. But also watch for José María López—the Argentinian may have had a scrappy start to his rookie season, but that rapid DSV02 and a probable FanBoost from his home crowd could really set his fortunes alight at last.
Lower down the order, this looks to be another trying weekend for NextEV. As was the case in Hong Kong and Marrakesh, the multiple long straights of the Puerto Madero circuit will be punishing for the team’s long-running energy efficiency problems, and even with a good qualifying position points may not be a possibility once the likes of Andretti, Dragon and Venturi come into play in the race.
Nor is there much likelihood of seeing Jaguar’s two rookies scoring their first points of the season, as both they and the team enter this weekend considerably on the back foot compared to their more experienced opponents.
That said, what checks out on paper is rarely what plays out on track, and the Puerto Madero race has not been without its upsets in the past—in 2015, for example, when António Félix da Costa sailed through the attrition of the pack to take his and Team Aguri’s maiden series victory. With such a strong field ready to pounce on the slightest opportunity, it would not take much of an incident on Saturday for the Buenos Aires ePrix to produce another result out of left field.
James Matthews, Formula E editor