Six weeks ago in Mexico City the Formula E Championship was treated to one of the most enthralling races in its brief history. NextEV’s Oliver Turvey led the field away after the stewards sent original polesitter Daniel Abt to the back of the grid, only to break down early on and surrender the lead to José María López; but when the pit stops came around it was Lucas di Grassi in front, having leapfrogged the field with a remarkably brave early strategy call, and the Brazilian eventually came home to take his first win of the season.
Now the 2016–17 championship begins its European leg, a four-race stretch beginning this weekend on the streets of Monte Carlo.
This will be the second running of the Monaco ePrix—the event not featuring last season after forming part of the sport’s inaugural calendar in 2015. Of the twenty drivers who contested that first race around the principality, twelve are returning in 2017, including ten of the eleven previous points scorers.
One such driver who will be hoping to repeat his previous Monaco ePrix result is Sébastien Buemi. Up until the chequered flag fell in Mexico City, Buemi had been known as “runaway championship leader”, but an off-colour fourteenth-place finish for the Swiss driver saw his title lead slashed to just five points by di Grassi’s win.
It will be a boon, then, for Buemi to reset and return to an event he not only won last time around, but dominated from pole position. Another such win on Saturday would be the perfect way for the defending champion to put his difficult Mexico weekend behind him and reassert his authority over the title race.
Also on the lookout for a strong finish in Monaco will be Nico Prost and Daniel Abt. With their respective teammates contesting the Formula E title, both drivers have been left somewhat in the shadow this season, but with consistent results in the four races so far neither should be discounted from the sharp end of the grid this weekend.
So too will Jaguar be hoping for another visit to top ten on Saturday after securing its first points in Formula E last time out. Admittedly the competition from NextEV, Andretti and Dragon will be tough to overcome a second time running, but the British marque can take some hope from the success its two drivers have had around the principality—one win and three podiums between them—throughout their respective junior formula careers.
At the other end of the spectrum are Mahindra and DS Virgin. Although both teams have taken two podiums each from the opening four races, their overall results have been variable at best; a double points haul on Saturday—and another podium if possible—will be crucial for either outfit if they are to close the gap to the front and avoid being overhauled for third by Techeetah.
However, DS Virgin may already be on the back foot this weekend—after sustaining vertebrae damage in a heavy crash during the 6 Hours of Silverstone, López may be forced to sit out the Monaco ePrix on medical grounds. The team does have reserve driver Alex Lynn on standby, but any late substitution is far from ideal at a circuit such as Monte Carlo.
Similarly, there could well be another fresh face in the Andretti garage as well, as a knee injury for Robin Frijns has brought the possibility that the Dutchman’s car could instead be piloted by BMW GT and Andretti development driver Alexander Sims. However, Frijns has insisted that his plan is still to race on Saturday, providing his injury does not hamper him changing into his second car.
And finally, if any team is hungrier than the rest for a solid performance in Monaco this weekend, it has to be Venturi. Coming into their home event, the team currently sits well adrift at the bottom of the standings on just three points, thirteen behind ninth-placed Jaguar.
Various mechanical and electrical problems have so far blighted Venturi’s running in season three—contributing to retirements for Maro Engel in each of the last three races in succession—but with a little luck on home soil both he and Stéphane Sarrazin are more than capable of bringing home a top ten finish for the Monegasque team.
James Matthews, Deputy Editor
All images courtesy of FIA Formula E