Reigning Formula One world champion Mercedes-Benz GP has taken up an option on an entry to the 2018-19 Formula E season.
The news comes after fellow German marques Audi and BMW both announced future Formula E programmes of their own, in conjunction with ABT Schaeffler and Andretti respectively, as part of their growing commitment to hybrid electric vehicles.
Mercedes’ own foray into electric cars is set to begin in December, with the unveiling of their first ever electric SUV at the Paris Motor Show.
Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said: “We have been watching the growth of Formula E with great interest…and we are very pleased with an agreement that secures us an opportunity to enter the series in season five.
“Electrification will play a major role in the future of the automotive industry – racing has always been a technology R&D platform for the motor industry, and this will make Formula E very relevant in the future.”
Alejandro Agag added that Mercedes would be a “major boost” to Formula E’s “exciting mix of consolidated manufacturers like Renault, Citroen-DS, Audi, Mahindra [and] Jaguar.”
The 2018-19 Formula E season was already set to receive a great deal of interest from manufacturers, with the move from two cars per driver to single cars that can last a race distance creating a logistical opening for another two entries on the grid.
Porsche enters submits tender for season five battery supply
Porsche has emerged as the latest name in the running to become Formula E’s sole battery supplier in season five. Although the German marque’s application is as yet unconfirmed, it is believed Porsche is looking to add Formula E to a growing programme of electric and hybrid vehicles that already includes the Mission E concept car – slated for 2020 production – and the WEC LMP1 title-winning 919 Hybrid.
The FIA’s choice for the season five battery supply is expected to be formally announced at the forthcoming Hong Kong ePrix, with names such as McLaren, Williams Advanced Engineering, SAFT, DS and Mahindra also understood to be in the running.
New York ePrix track layout revealed
In the build-up to the new season, Formula E has revealed the track layout for the inaugural New York ePrix. The thirteen-turn track (pictured below) will be located in Brooklyn along the waterfront of Upper Bay, and features as its backdrop the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.
New York is one of four new host cities on the 2016-17 calendar, alongside Marrakesh, Brussels and Montreal, and has already been hailed by reigning champion Sébastien Buemi as a “spectacular” addition to “the most exciting calendar ever seen in motorsport”.
Formula E seeking new host cities for season four
Although the Formula E calendar has already swelled from nine cities in season two to twelve cities across five continents in season three, the series has announced this week that it is actively looking for yet more race hosts for the 2017-18 season.
CEO of Formula E Alejandro Agag said: “We have already enjoyed remarkable growth over two seasons of Formula E and now have partnerships with some of the most iconic cities in the world. There is now a unique opportunity for new cities to join our calendar and share in the continued growth of the championship.”
With Formula E’s pre-season testing complete, we’ve analysed each team’s performance to try and predict the results of the 2016-17 season.
There’s no doubt Renault still looks the strongest team going into season three. Pre-season testing was a display of both outright pace and reliability, headlined by Sébastien Buemi smashing Donington Park’s Formula E lap record and being the only driver to lap in the 1:28s. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it would be foolish at this stage to bet against Renault and Buemi retaining their respective titles this season.
Powered by a new, lighter, single motor powertrain, I expect DS Virgin to emerge as Renault’s closest competitor this season. Sam Bird has to be a strong tip for multiple wins and championship contention, and it shouldn’t take too long for three-time WTCC champion Lopez to bed in and start delivering the big points as well.
Faraday Future Dragon Racing
Dragon has looked strong throughout testing with its new bespoke Penske powertrain and Faraday Future backing. Although I can’t see a full title challenge from either driver just yet, the solid potential of the Penske 701-EV presents a great chance for d’Ambrosio to add to his win tally and Duval to return to the podium.
ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
I think ABT will slip back this season. The car is undoubtably quick – quick enough to challenge at the front, even – but with Virgin and Dragon both making significant gains over the summer, I believe ABT will have to wait until it has full Audi factory backing next season before it can contest the title again.
The new Mahindra looked in good form in testing, especially in the hands of street circuit ace Felix Rosenqvist. With such a tight midfield this season it will be tough for Mahindra to defend their previous fifth place in the standings, but with some solid performances and perhaps a few podiums along the way, it’s far from impossible.
MS Amlin Andretti
This should be a strong season for Andretti. Fielding arguably the strongest lineup on the grid in Robin Frijns and António Félix da Costa, regular points hauls and even podiums should be a regular occurrence – even if the car itself does not look as quick as Mahindra’s or Techeetah’s.
New entrant Techeetah was something of a revelation in testing, with a customer Renault drivetrain taking Jean-Éric Vergne to the top of the timesheets on three of the six days. Whether that form will carry over into the rest of the season is another question, though; as is whether Vergne and Ma Qinghua have the consistency and ability to extract the most from the Techeetah package.
A modest beginning for Formula E’s newest marque, but based on what we’ve seen in testing I don’t think Jaguar yet has what it needs to best an established midfield name like Andretti or Mahindra, especially when led by two rookies in Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans. But with what looks to be a reliable car, regular lower points finishes should provide a good foundation for future success.
The Monegasque team has had a troubled pre-season, lacking not only in pace but crucially reliability. Holding on to last season’s sixth place looks like much too tall an order for Venturi – battling to keep NextEV behind seems their most realistic goal in season three.
Whilst NextEV doesn’t look to have returned to its season one performance, its Formula 002 powertrain does at least show some improvement over last season – especially in qualifying trim. But last season NextEV’s troubles weren’t with running at speed so much as running efficiently in the race, and so it remains to be seen whether the team can fare any better than scrapping for ninth and tenth place again.
The Techeetah team has continued its impressive Formula E debut, with lead driver Jean-Éric Vergne topping the timesheets on two of the final three days of pre-season testing.
The Frenchman was already responsible for lowering Donington Park’s Formula E lap record in the first week of testing, but showed the Chinese team’s pace was not a one-off by recording an almost identical time on Monday and then lowering it yet further on Tuesday with a 1:29.196s.
On Wednesday Vergne went faster again by almost a second, but was denied a clean sweep at the top when Sébastien Buemi just edged into the 1:28s in the morning session.
This proved to be Renault e.Dams’ only real display of pace all week – cemented by Nico Prost coming third, three tenths behind Buemi – as the defending champions focused on long runs for most of the test.
But though Renault and customers Techeetah appeared to be stretching their legs in front, the rest of the field was far from left behind – in fact, the top ten was rarely separated by more than a second across the week.
In particular, DS Virgin appear to have made a significant step towards the front – aided in part by José María Lopez’s swift settling into the series – and were the only team bar Renault to see both drivers finish each day within the top ten.
Dragon too continued to show a resurgence of its season one potential, and in the hands of Daniel Abt the ABT Schaeffler FE02 looked to be at least as solid as its predecessor.
Mahindra had a somewhat muted second test with Heidfeld and Rosenqvist only managing a best of sixth and eleventh respectively, whilst Andretti and Venturi – the latter having struggled for reliability across both weeks – failed to set a single top ten time between them.
Channel 5 has been announced as Formula E’s live UK broadcasters for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. All races from Hong Kong through to New York will be shown live on Channel 5, with qualifying sessions broadcast on sister channel Spike and practice sessions covered via Channel 5’s social media.
Channel 5’s Mark Shurman called the deal “a fantastic opportunity” to promote Formula E’s technology and racing in the UK.
Jaguar sign Mitch Evans to final race seat
Jaguar Racing has completed its debut lineup by signing Mitch Evans alongside Adam Carroll. The 2012 GP3 champion drove for the team in the first pre-season test as part of a rota with Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell, but is the only one of the three to be retained for the second test.
Evans and Carroll, along with the team’s final race livery, are expected to be confirmed by Jaguar later this week.
Audi aiming for full works squad in season four
Audi has intensified its relationship with the ABT Schaeffler squad as part of a build towards running a full factory programme in the 2017-18 season. This follows comments last season from Lucas di Grassi that ABT needs greater involvement from Audi if it is to consistently beat Renault in the future, as well a commitment from Audi to make every fourth vehicle in their line electric by 2025.
Audi brand ambassador Allan McNish called it “the next step” for the marque: “We introduced the diesel injection back in 2006 and more latterly the e-tron hybrid. The next step in road car tech is electrification…so therefore there is an obvious synergy in what happens on the circuit to what happens on the road and Formula E is very important for the future.”
DS Virgin converts to single motor powertrain
DS Virgin has begun season three with a major change in design, running a new single motor DSV-02 powertrain in a bid to better compete with the likes of Renault and ABT. The team previously ran a twin motor setup last season but struggled to fully keep touch with its lighter, single motor rivals.
Conquering weight issues has also been marked as a key area in Mahindra’s summer improvements, with Nick Heidfeld calling the packaging of his new M3Electro “like night and day” compared to the team’s season two challenger.
Meanwhile, the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport squad has confirmed it will be continuing with the single motor and three-speed gearbox philosophy established last season.
The first week of public Formula E testing has concluded, with Renault e.Dams once again staking their claim as the team to beat in the 2016-17 season
Although Renault only topped the timesheets once – defending champion Sébastien Buemi ended day one seven tenths ahead of the field on a 1:30.143s – the French marque appeared on ominous form all week, with Buemi and Nicolas Prost logging a total of five out of a possible six top ten times across the three days.
By comparison, their season two rivals ABT had a quiet few days. Loitering comfortably but not outstandingly within the top ten, the German team’s performance would suggest their ABT Schaeffler FE02 package will again focus on consistent race form over qualifying pace.
The other takeaway from this first test is that many of the midfield teams appear to have closed up over the summer – if not to Renault then certainly to the likes of ABT and DS Virgin.
New entrant Techeetah were perhaps the biggest surprise, with Jean-Éric Vergne finishing fastest on day two after breaking the Formula E lap record around Donington Park, and almost doing the same on Thursday by being the only driver to lap below 1:31s in the wet afternoon conditions.
Swedish debutant Felix Rosenqvist made a strong start to his Formula E career with Mahindra, spending most of day two at the top of the times before being pipped by Vergne. Also showing pace was two-time race winner Jérôme d’Ambrosio in his new Penske-powered Dragon car, and was one of only four other drivers – Buemi, Heidfeld, Abt and Bird – to end each day within the top ten.
For the much-anticipated Jaguar team, this first week was a modest beginning to life in Formula E – the British marque ended day one sixth and ninth with Alex Lynn and Adam Carroll respectively, but managed no more than thirteenth fastest across the remainder of the week.
However, headline-grabbing times were hardly to expected just yet as the team look to bed in their new I-Type 1 powertrain and evaluate drivers for the season ahead. With that in mind, the fact that the team suffered no fatal technical issues and were not left propping up the timesheets hints at real promise for the future – and may even give teams like Venturi and NextEV something to worry about.
Mahindra Racing enter the 2016-17 season with a revised lineup, pairing the stalwart Nick Heidfeld with young Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist. During testing, we grabbed a quick word with Felix to get to know Mahindra’s newest signing a little better.
Born in Värnamo, Sweden, 24-year-old Felix Rosenqvist made his single seater debut in regional Formula Renault, taking titles in the Asian, Swedish and NEZ Formula Renault 2.0 series’ between 2008 and 2009. International recognition came with a third-place finish in his maiden European Formula 3 campaign in 2012 and victory in the prestigious 2014 Macau Grand Prix.
In 2015, Felix took the European F3 title in dominant fashion, finishing more than a hundred points over second-placed Antonio Giovinazzi and racking up a run of 15 consecutive podiums – including eight victories – and a second Macau win to tie off the season. After stints in DTM, Blancpain GT and IndyLights – the latter yielding three wins – Felix was called up by Mahindra to replace Bruno Senna for the 2016-17 Formula E season.
TPCO: Is Formula E’s preference for street circuits a big part of its appeal for you, given your strong history at tracks like Macau?
FR: Yes, it sure is. It’s a big reason why I considered to join Formula E. I love every street circuit and I always had good results on them so for me it made perfect sense.
TPCO: Considering the unique technical challenge of Formula E, how much of a confidence boost is it for a rookie driver to make their debut with a team as solid as Mahindra?
FR: For sure it helps me a lot to join a team that has been here since the start of the championship. Even with my teammate Nick being very experienced and a good team leader it feels like I’m in good hands.
TPCO: Are you aiming for any particular results this season, or is the focus just on finding your feet for now?
FR: For now I don’t really know where I am when it comes to the performance. Obviously the first test went well but I think it’s way early to judge lap times for now. I think I will just prepare in the best possible way and then I guess we will see in Hong Kong!
TPCO: How do you feel going up against a teammate as experienced and highly-regarded as Nick – is it a little daunting, or do you enjoy the challenge?
FR: I think it’s first of all very helpful to have Nick as he’s a great teacher when it comes to leading a team – something that takes a long time to learn as a driver. He’s easy to work with and I hope I can push him as well!
TPCO: Speaking of teammates, is there any current driver, from Formula E or beyond, against whom you’d love to test yourself?
FR: I think in the last seasons I had the opportunity to put myself up against very good drivers around the world, a couple of weeks ago I tested the same car as Scott Dixon and I was very impressed with him. I would love to try to go against Hamilton!
TPCO: Who would you regard as the toughest rival so far in your career?
FR: I think Esteban Ocon is a very good driver, and the one that impressed me the most when he won his rookie F3 season in 2014, and also won GP3 the following year as a rookie as well.
TPCO: Which location this season are you most looking forward to racing in? And is there any location not on the calendar that you would like to visit with Formula E in the future?
FR: I look forward to Buenos Aires and Mexico as I’ve never been to South America. I think the championship should visit Stockholm for sure, and also come back to London.
TPCO: What are the most difficult, and most rewarding, parts of racing all over the world?
FR: The most difficult is the fact that you’re always a bit jet lagged and tired, and also your private life becomes a bit compromised when it comes to meeting family and friends. The rewarding part is that you get to do what you love every day, and as a young guy it’s nice that you can really go for something instead of being home drinking beer every weekend.
TPCO: How do you like to unwind after a race weekend?
FR: Normally I love just being home for one day doing nothing, then I feel ready to go again – as long as I get this day I’m good!
TPCO: Any predictions for the season – for yourself, for Mahindra, or for Formula E in general?
FR: It’s way too early to judge, at the moment we are just looking at ourselves and focusing on our programme. I think the team has done a very impressive job during the off-season and I can’t wait to see our final product in Hong Kong! For myself, I can just prepare as well as possible and then see how it goes I guess 🙂
As public testing commences at Donington Park, we’ve taken a proverbial walk down the 2016-17 grid to help you get to know Formula E’s Class of Season Three.
The sharp end of the championship looks much the same this season, with Renault retaining defending drivers’ champion Sébastien Buemi and race winner Nico Prost, and ABT fending off advances from Jaguar to keep Lucas di Grassi alongside Daniel Abt.
Loïc Duval and two-time ePrix winner Jérôme d’Ambrosio will return as well for a second full season together at Dragon Racing. The American team should be one to watch this season, entering for the first time as a powertrain manufacturer in its own right under a technical alliance with Faraday Future.
NextEV, the last of the teams to field an unchanged lineup, could potentially be another dark horse challenger provided they can overcome the issues that kept them propping up the back of the grid last season – particularly if Oliver Turvey can keep up the superb qualifying form shown in the last few races of 2016.
Race winner Sam Bird remains at DS Virgin, but his season two teammate Jean-Éric Vergne is off to join Techeetah, the Chinese outfit who bought up the Team Aguri entry at the end of last season.
How competitive the Techeetah team will be is hard to tell – despite being the only team this season not to be linked in some way to a major manufacturer, they do at least have the benefit of heavy investment from Chinese Media Capital and a supply of Renault’s class-leading powertrains. Nevertheless, Techeetah may struggle to fully realise the potential of their package, if previous performances from Vergne and the returning Ma Qinghua are any indication.
By contrast, Techeetah’s rivals Andretti will be fielding perhaps the strongest lineup of the grid, having poached Team Aguri’s star driver António Félix da Costa to partner their own Robin Frijns. With two of last season’s hottest talents on board – and with reported involvement from BMW to boot – the 2016-17 season should be a strong showing for MS Amlin Andretti – perhaps even yielding the American team’s elusive first win.
Vergne’s vacant Virgin Racing seat will be taken by two-time WTCC champion José María López. The Argentine may not have raced single seaters since his 2006 GP2 campaign but comes with plenty of racing pedigree as a Citroën factory driver, and should bring DS Virgin the boost they need to consistently battle the likes of Renault and ABT.
López is joined on the grid by four fellow rookies: GT World Cup winner Maro Engel enters the sport alongside Stéphane Sarrazin at Venturi, whilst Mahindra have replaced Bruno Senna with 2015 European F3 champion Felix Rosenqvist.
The last of the rookies come courtesy of the much-anticipated Panasonic Jaguar Racing team. Blancpain GT racer Adam Carroll – who narrowly missed an outing with Team Aguri in Berlin last season – joined the team early on after completing a series of private tests earlier in the year, and is joined by 2012 GP3 champion Mitch Evans, who was chosen after outperforming Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell in a pre-season shootout. Chinese single-seater stalwart Ho-Pin Tung also joins Jaguar as test and reserve driver, returning to the series after a brief but unsuccessful stint with Team China in season one.
Full 2016-17 Formula E grid:
Renault e.Dams: Nico PROST (8) / Sébastien BUEMI (9)
ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport: Lucas DI GRASSI (11) / Daniel ABT (66)
DS Virgin Racing: Sam BIRD (2) / José María LÓPEZ (37)