Formula E: Season 5 Preview

Formula E is set to kick off for a fifth season this week with the brand new Gen 2 car waiting in the wings to take the electric series into the next phase of development. Season 4 was certainly as interesting as the preceding seasons, with another new champion in the form of Jean-Eric Vergne and Audi finally overturning Renault to become the top dog of the manufacturer’s battle. But what can we expect from season 5? The series has a new car that is able to last the entire race distance, different circuits in brand-new locations and the arrival of BMW permanently into the sport and HWA, a precursor to the Mercedes outfit expected in season 6.

Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Audi arguably had the most energy-efficient powertrain last season and despite a few minor issues with reliability, they fought back to finally claim the manufacturer’s title, one which had proven elusive in the first few seasons. Audi are certainly looking to start the new season on a high. They have continued to develop the powertrain and for the first time, will provide customer engines to British outfit Virgin Racing.

Audi have chosen to retain their line up of the past four seasons, a wise decision on their part. The solid partnership of season 3 champion Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt will work in their favour as the pair are familiar with the team and how the sport has developed since its infancy. Both drivers have proven over the course of their time in the German outfit that they are capable of producing results. Abt, in particularly, enjoyed a successful previous season, finally picking up his first win in Mexico City and finishing a respectable fifth in the championship. Di Grassi too had an insurgence towards the latter end of the season which enabled him to join in the championship duel between Vergne and Sam Bird.

Allan McNish delivered everything he was supposed to in his and Audi’s first year in the electric series – the title they so longed for. He also managed to placate his two drivers throughout the course of the season, showcasing that he is able to make tough decisions if necessary and will surely take forward his experience into the new season. Expect Audi to be favourites to snatch the title once again.

DS Techeetah

Credit: LAT/Formula E

The Chinese outfit came close to the coveted manufacturers title last year, impressive considering their customer team status. However, this season, they have chosen to partner with DS Automobiles, who have a proven track record in Formula E after working with Virgin since the series debut. By moving away from their customer status, the team will be afforded more testing time and more development of their own powertrain – something that held them back to an extent last year.

They have chosen to retain champion Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer as their line-up which is no surprise. Vergne had an incredible season, showered with many moments of mastery such as taking pole backwards in the first round at Hong Kong to dominating the streets of his home eprix at Paris. Lotterer too has begun to bed in and become more acquainted with the style of driving in Formula E and has been rewarded with a string of podiums. It still remains to be seen if Techeetah will continue where they left off, but it’s certain that they won’t be quiet next season.

Envision Virgin Racing

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Virgin had a stellar season – they almost handed Sam Bird his first ever Formula E championship title last year. The car too had zero reliability issues, certainly on Bird’s side of the garage which will be a comfort to new partner Techeetah. However, after Alex Lynn’s strong start in the British team at the latter end of season 3 in which the Brit took pole in his first ever qualifying session, he struggled immensely within the car with a string of retirements and placed no higher than sixth. It was to nobody’s surprise that Virgin announced once again that Bird would lead the charge for his fifth season in the sport.

However, change is on the horizon as Virgin are to be Audi’s first customer team and with such an arrangement, comes the arrival of Robin Frijns. Forced out from Andretti due to his Audi commitments last season, the Dutchman will provide a worthy teammate for Bird – one who knows the sport and will be warmly welcomed back to settle unfinished business. The Audi customer status has not limited Virgin’s testing hours with Bird and Frijns revealing that the supplier gave up some of their testing time to the British outfit. Lack of testing time did not hinder Techeetah last year from almost walking away the team title, and the team will have arguably the best powertrain on the grid. The British team will certainly be one to upset the party.

Mahindra Racing

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Mahindra’s pre-season was shaping up to be as dull as the latter half of their last season. After a strong start in Marrakesh with Felix Rosenqvist claiming the top step, the Indian team seemed to tail off and even their prized asset Rosenqvist struggled to impress. They suffered a double blow early in pre-season with Nick Heidfeld is stepping down into a development role and losing Rosenqvist to Indycar. However, the Indian outfit seized Jerome D’Ambrosio’s frustrations at an uncompetitive Dragon team and swooped in for the electric racing stalwart.  

His attachment to the team was no surprise as he had tested the car in pre-season. A driver with a wealth of experience in the sport, it is an excellent career move for the Belgian to move away from the struggling American outfit. Pascal Wehrlein, now free of the ties of Mercedes, will fill the second seat. He has tested the car and uniting both experience and new blood has worked for Mahindra in the past. We could see a revival of their good fortune in the past few seasons – certainly if they provide D’Ambrosio with the car he deserves.

Nissan e.dams

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Renault are gone but Nissan will fill the void left by the sport’s first ever constructor champions. After choosing to focus solely on their Formula One programme, the French team has handed over the reins to the Japanese outfit. They had a season to forget last year, with even the reliable Buemi failing to score a single win. He came close in Marrakesh but the Renault of season 4 seemed to lack the bite of previous seasons. Misery was added to the French outfit in that  their customer team Techeetah scored four wins through eventual champion Jean-Eric Vergne.

However, Nissan are looking forward. They have retained Buemi – a smart move as they are new to Formula E and how it operates. The Swiss is a proven winner and capable of extracting everything he can from the machinery. They were dealt a further blow when they lost their rookie driver Alexander Albon to Formula One, just one day into their pre-season testing. However, the Japanese team recently announced the arrival of Oliver Rowland. The British driver is no stranger to the sport, having filled in for Nick Heidfeld at Mahindra when the German was ruled out with a hand injury. Rowland also has a proven track record in junior categories, and as talent such as Mitch Evans and Felix Rosenqvist have proven, Rowland could be a diamond in the rough. However, one question remains unanswered. Have Nissan let Audi and Techeetah take the upper hand in terms of development? Only time will tell.

Panasonic Jaguar

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Jaguar have gone from strength to strength this year with Mitch Evans taking the team’s first ever pole and even claimed a podium in the early stages of the season. The Kiwi driver finished a respectable seventh in the championship and showcased some excellent drives, particularly in Hong Kong and Punta del Este. Jaguar are a far cry from the team of two seasons ago and development of their powertrain coupled with retaining their strong driver line up has only aided them in their success.

It is expected that Jaguar will continue to grow stronger going into season 5 – as the British outfit have chosen to retain previous champion Piquet and Evans. This is crucial as both drivers know the car and how the team operate, so they were able to focus purely on race data and the configurations for the car during testing. The car’s reliability is still a cause for concern, certainly on Piquet’s side of the garage, but it is certain that this will improve. Jaguar are viewed as dark horses, and it would be foolish to write them off this season. It’s certain that they will be looking to improve on last year’s results.

Venturi

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Venturi benefited last year from Edo Mortara’s extensive Macau knowledge which allowed him to navigate the tight streets and take the team’s only podium. However, with Mortara tied to a DTM drive with Mercedes for the majority of the season, they missed out on crucial opportunities to gain points and for him to have a solid standing in the championship. At times, his inexperience showed – for example, when he lost the lead in Hong Kong with three laps to go, after becoming overly-confident in the win. However, he showcased that the talent and speed were there. Equally, his teammate Maro Engel quietly scooped up a number of points paying positions, including a fourth place in Paris.

The Monegasque team seem rejuvenated, however, as we approach season 4. They have become a customer team to HWA, Mercedes’ early entry into FE. Retaining Mortara will have its advantages as he wasn’t able to fulfil his full potential within his debut season and he can commit fully to the programme as Mercedes have ceased their DTM programme. The biggest change to the team, however, comes in the form of ex F1 star Felipe Massa and Susie Wolff coming into the team as driver and team principal respectively. Massa will surely lend a hand in ensuring that interest in the sport remains high whilst showcasing that retirement is the last thing on his mind, whilst Wolff certainly props up the Mercedes link but will enter into the team to provide new and innovative ideas to ensure their success. Venturi will be one to watch.

HWA Racelab

Credit: LAT/Formula E

As a new team and Mercedes’ precursor into Formula E, it’s unsure as to how the German outfit will fare in their maiden season. Will they do as Jaguar did in their first season? It certainly would not be a surprise if this were the case – the team enter the series just as the car has developed past the initial spec. However, having Venturi powertrains ensures that they don’t walk into Formula E completely blind. They also possess an excellent line-up in ex-McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne, who could use a boost of self-esteem and an opportunity to get out of Fernando Alonso’s shadow, and seasoned DTM driver Gary Paffett who came close to claiming the title last year.

NIO

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Once again, a season to forget for the British based outfit. Retaining the reliable Oliver Turvey was their bright light in season 4, with the British born driver consistently finishing in the points. However, Luca Filippi wasn’t as strong and lagged behind Turvey for the entire season. It’s no surprise that Filippi has been quietly released by the team as they fight to find a replacement to the Piquet shaped hole from two seasons ago.

Retaining their key asset Turvey was a must for the British team, and he will be expected to continue his reliability into the new season. He is joined this season by season regular Tom Dillmann, previously a driver of Venturi. He has also has a solid record of points scoring within his sporadic involvement in Formula E, with a personal best of P4 in New York last year. If NIO can deliver an excellent and reliable car, NIO could potentially have a solid season, particularly with two drivers who are able to score points consistently.

GEOX Dragon

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Dragon are a team in trouble. After looking bright for the first two seasons, the shine wore off and even a few podiums from the talented Jerome D’Ambrosio couldn’t stop the decline. The loss of Porsche WEC driver Neel Jani early in the season was a major blow as he certainly could have delivered within the car, given the chance. Their misfortune seemed to continue as they lost their star asset D’Ambrosio to Mahindra after lack of success. It is certainly a shame for the American outfit as the experienced Belgian driver was always able to extract more out of the machinery than most could, but on the other hand, it would be excellent to see D’Ambrosio in a competitive car once more.

Lopez on the other hand, is to be retained and this is a good choice. Despite some of his inexperience, he was given a second chance by the American team after a torrid team in his maiden season at Virgin and managed to deliver some decent results. If reliability was improved, it’s certain that Lopez could achieve more. Partnering the Argentinian is rookie driver, Maximilian Gunther. Before participating in the rookie test in Marrakesh, he had previous experience in junior categories, finishing in third place in Formula 3 last year, and also contested Macau, which will be good practise for the street circuits. It still remains to be seen what will happen at Dragon this year, but if they can be competitive, it’s certain that they could cause an upset like they have in the past.

BMW i Andretti

Credit: LAT/Formula E

If there were an award for the team with the worst luck last year, Andretti would take top honours. A revolving door policy on their second driver and lack of development from BMW hurt the team last season, resulting in them picking up the unfortunate honour of being the only outfit not to achieve a podium. Tom Blomqvist never seemed to have a chance to prove himself, forced out in the first round to satisfy sponsors, and eventually left quietly after six rounds. However, even seasoned Formula E driver Stephane Sarrazin failed to get results.

This season, now fully under BMW control, they retain Antonio Felix Da Costa for the third season, an excellent choice who knows the car and how the team operate. The Portuguese driver certainly could be seen as one of the German teams assets, having been in the electric series since its inception. They also welcome Alexander Sims, who lost out to the seat last year. Having being the development driver in season 3 and having an avid interest in electric cars, he has some knowledge of the series and of the car. He also performed well at last year’s testing in the season 4 car. BMW’s involvement and retaining the driver lineup throughout the season will be crucial for BMW Andretti’s success going into season 5.

The first round of season 5 of Formula E begins on December 15th in Riyadh.

Audi fly high as Mahindra hit trouble: Mexico City ePrix Race Report

Mexico City hosted its third ePrix at the famous Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City last weekend.

After the surprises in the inaugural race last year featuring a sublime energy-saving drive from last year’s champion Lucas Di Grassi and a duel between Jérôme D’Ambrosio and Jean-Éric Vergne, it was set to be another thrilling event on the motorsport calendar.

Di Grassi, still without points at this stage, had the misfortune of ending up in group 1 of qualifying. However, this did not deter the current champion as he lit up the timing screens purple, sending his Audi into the top spot, followed by Maro Engel’s Venturi and D’Ambrosio’s Dragon.

Though, this elation did not last long as group 2 – a formidable line up of Felix Rosenqvist, Sébastien Buemi, Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet and championship leader Vergne took to the track.

Rosenqvist wasted no time on his flying lap, snatching away P1 before an insurgent Buemi bit back and took the top spot away from the Swede, with Piquet and Bird slotting themselves into superpole contention.

Within group 3, António Félix Da Costa had a stormer, putting his Andretti into third position, with last year’s polesitter Oliver Turvey also impressing, depriving Vergne of a shot of superpole.

Group 4 also held promise with the likes of dark horses such as Mitch Evans and Daniel Abt and the best track conditions. However, a series of messy laps left everyone in mid-table positions and out of the superpole positions, leaving Buemi, Rosenqvist, Da Costa, Turvey and Alex Lynn to fight for the pole.

Lynn set the bar in superpole initially despite a looming penalty, with a respectable time of a 1.02.014. Turvey followed, slotting in behind Lynn after a scrappy lap. Da Costa had another excellent run, managing to place himself on provisional pole, much to the delight of his Andretti team.

However, two men stood in the way of his first official pole, two men who excel in qualifying and in claiming pole positions. Rosenqvist went first and pulled out a stellar lap, shaving two tenths off Da Costa’s time. Buemi was the last man standing, the only one capable of toppling a dominant Mahindra. However, a lap ridden with mistakes left him adrift in a lowly fifth and Rosenqvist picked up the three points and the bragging rights for starting on pole, followed by Da Costa, Lynn, Turvey and Buemi.

Da Costa’s elation at being on the front row did not last, however. He was given a penalty before the start for a underweight car, dropping him back to fourth, whilst Lynn took his grid penalty from the previous race for mechanical alterations on his car.

The race started with relative calmness as Rosenqvist held P1 and began to pull away from the chasing Turvey. Evans made quick work of André Lotterer’s Techeetah for P8 and Vergne swept past Da Costa, eager to keep his championship lead strong. Struggling Audi looked better in this race – Di Grassi despite his position and a ten second time penalty looming carved his way through the field in the early stages as Abt hunted down Buemi for P3.

However, the curse of Mexico struck once again as Rosenqvist’s car slowed to a stop, putting the leader of the race dead last and allowing Turvey to take the lead. Rosenqvist was able to get his Mahindra going again before it stopped again and he crawled to the pits to take his other car. Mahindra’s bad luck continued as Nick Heidfeld’s car also suffered mechanical problems, stopping mid race.

Audi, however, seemed invigorated. Spurred on by their recent troubles, Abt jumped Turvey in the pits, leading the NIO driver to fight against a charging Vergne and Buemi. Buemi used his fanboost to get past Vergne, eager to capture his first win of this season as he proceeded to hunt down Turvey, but the British driver proved a harder nut to crack.

Evans give way to Piquet in order to utilise the Brazilian’s drive and lower energy consumption. Piquet was able to edge past Vergne as he fought to collect his first podium since the inaugural season in which he became champion.

Di Grassi claimed fastest lap whilst out of the points paying position and set about clawing through the field to capture P10 and capture his first points of the season. As Di Grassi closed in on P10, Buemi and Piquet gave chase to Turvey as Abt continued to pull away.

Piquet forced Turvey to lock up into turn one but failed to get past his ex-teammate. Di Grassi managed to clinch P9, his first points since his disastrous title defence began as Abt finally claimed his first win of Formula E, followed by an impressive Turvey and Buemi.

Driver Debrief: André Lotterer

Techeetah rookie André Lotterer is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead in Formula E. We caught up with him to discuss Techeetah’s prospects and how he felt about the testing so far.

Lotterer, a seasoned WEC and Super Formula driver, was initially sceptical about Formula E but he admits that his opinions have changed towards the sport.

“I think a lot of people were sceptical about it because nobody was used to it. It’s just that my voice was probably picked out more strongly than others due to my status.”  Lotterer reveals. “But then obviously you’re allowed to change your mind and it’s something that everybody needed to get used to. “

“Due to my situation in WEC, racing for Porsche and Audi, I was super happy with where I was but things changed and I began to get more interested. In the end, It doesn’t matter what car you race, you have to be the best at it and there’s a lot of top drivers here. There’s a world championship and it’s challenging so it’s the place to be be now. That finally attracted me and it’s going in the right direction with the new season’s car.”

Lotterer said that he was ‘always curious’ about the sport, helped by his regular contact with ex-Audi teammate and current Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi.

”Indirectly [he brought me into the sport]. We talk about it and I was always curious how it is.”

”At the beginning, I didn’t really consider [Formula E] but motorsport is changing and we are racing for the future. This is what you want as a new driver – a new challenge. This was this case for me with everything that is changing in the world right now.”

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Tuesday 3 October 2017.
Andre Lotterer (GER), TECHEETAH, Renault Z.E. 17
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _J6I9436

Lotterer has already completed two days of testing with Techeetah and is making use of the limited test opportunities that the team, as a Renault customer, have at hand. For the experienced driver, the test provides more of a learning curve as he admitted that the car has been a challenge to get to grips with.

”It’s very different [to drive],” Lotterer explains, “It’s completely different to anything I’ve done before, not only because of the electric engine but mostly because of the tyres and the nature of the car with the battery and the weight.”

Here, the speeds are lower but the car is more challenging to drive because it has less potential in terms of grip with the tyres. The braking is a very random factor due to the regeneration on the rear axle and the carbon brakes have a specific way of working in different temperature ranges so it is a lot of guessing on the brakes but the driving part itself is quite fun.”

Although positive about the season ahead, Lotterer was realistic in terms of what he can achieve in these early stages.

”First of all, I need to play catch up. It is not an easy task to join the championship with only three days of testing. I was for the first time in the car two days ago, so that’s the way it is as a private team when you’re not a manufacturer. At the beginning there’s a learning curve, for sure, but this is what we have to accept and something I need to catch up as fast as possible.

We always push to do the best and achieve but at the beginning, I am going to find out where I am. Here, it is a bit difficult to judge. Thing is, here is not that representative in terms of the circuit. The same guys are at the front that were competing in the championship, so being in the middle of it for the first step is not too bad. I really go race by race, give everything and do my best but I know I am going to have to face some learning time in the beginning.

But I have to say the team is a very good team, packed with a lot of brain cells. The guys in the systems side are very smart. We are only one of the teams that cannot go testing so considering that, sometimes [Techeetah] beating the Renault team is quite impressive.”

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Monday 2 October 2017.
Andre Lotterer (GER), TECHEETAH, Renault Z.E. 17
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Competing alongside seasoned driver Jean-Éric Vergne, Lotterer was very optimistic about what he could learn from the French driver.

“It’s really good to have him [Jev] . Obviously, he’s a really good reference now after winning the race in Montréal so this is good for me to be able to learn from him and he’s a good team player. He wants to have a good global performance of the team and he’s been helping me out with getting up to speed and sharing his information which is not something you can take for granted from teammates in general.”

 With Porsche’s arrival into Formula E in Season 6, it seems reasonable that they would want to take on a presumably more experienced Lotterer into their new team, but Lotterer argued that it was not the case, stating that Techeetah was his long term prospect.

“No,  of course [this is not a short term prospect]. My aim is to come and find a good situation. As a professional race car driver, you want to optimise everything – my performance, the team’s performance, everything. This doesn’t go from one day to the other so it’s going to take some time but hopefully in the long run, it will pay off. “

Formula E Pre-Season Testing Report: Day Two

The second day of Formula E testing kicked off once more under the sunshine of the Ricardo Tormo circuit. It was another opportunity for drivers and teams to gain valuable information from their cars.

Despite the controversy and problems that the drivers encountered yesterday with the built in chicane on the main straight, an additional chicane has been added just before the start-finish line, which distorted the times to an extent. Techeetah’s Jean-Éric Vergne locked up twice on the exit of the new chicane and many of the drivers seemed uncomfortable with the new addition to the track.

Two new drivers made their debut this morning as Andretti elected to run Alexander Sims, who participated yesterday, and DTM driver Tom Blomqvist in place of António Félix da Costa. Blomqvist had a troubled run, running into problems with his car, but Sims had another consistent session. Venturi’s new development driver Michaël Benyahia was out on track this morning as he fought to impress the Monégasque team.

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Tuesday 3 October 2017.
Alexander Sims (GBR), Andretti Formula E, Andretti ATEC-03
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _J6I9478

Renault made their mark early in the day on a cool track as Prost immediately began to turn the timing screens purple. However, Audi Abt Schaeffler found some momentum with Daniel Abt taking the top spot at the end of the first hour.

Audi continued to look strong and consistent on the circuit but Renault e.Dams began to fight back, improving on a warmer track. Buemi and Prost occupied the top two positions as the session ticked over the two hour mark.

Oliver Turvey had another solid run, showcasing the NIO car has been through significant development over the winter period. He took the top spot from Buemi, only for the e.Dams driver to snatch it back moments later with a blistering time of a 1.21.890. It was a position that he would retain for the rest of the session, giving indications of what Renault e.Dams could be capable of in season 4. Felix Rosenqvist had a productive session, finishing in P2 and Sam Bird rounded out the top three.

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Tuesday 3 October 2017.
Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams, Renault Z.E 17
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _W6I0626

Renault continued their dominant form into the afternoon as Prost immediately turned the sectors purple with a 1.23.544. They pushed hard, consistently taking the top spots in a duel with Mahindra’s Rosenqvist and Techeetah’s Vergne.

Rosenqvist had a strong run this afternoon, putting himself into P2 in the early stages of the session before pulling together a monster lap of a 1.22.747.

Venturi’s James Rossiter brought out a red flag an hour from the end of the session after hitting the new temporary chicane installed at the beginning of the straight. The barriers were once more retooled, but many drivers were still unhappy with the set up. Buemi again went down to the site of the crash, documenting the damage.

Audi struggled in the opening stages of the afternoon session but Di Grassi soon found some pace, snatching P1 away when the session restarted following Rossiter’s incident. However, it was Buemi who whitewashed the session, taking the top position back moments later. The race ended with Buemi in P1 with Di Grassi in second and a solid effort from Nelson Piquet Jr placed him in P3.

Formula E Pre-Season Testing: Day One Report

The Ricardo Tormo circuit, situated on the outskirts of Valencia, is hosting the Formula E collective test this week in preparation for Season 4. It provides  the first opportunity for drivers to get to grips with their performance in terms of their competitors.

In the first morning session of the three day test, Mahindra set the initial pace but Jaguar also showed promise from the start. By the end of the first hour, Mitch Evans topped the leaderboard with a 1.19.776, followed by Audi Abt Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi who was a mere one tenth behind.

Jaguar showcased that their development throughout the winter has paid off as Evans continued to dominate throughout the session. Nelson Piquet Jr also seemed to settle into his new team, taking P6 by the end of the session. DS Virgin’s Alex Lynn in a new dark testing livery, and Evans fought for the top spoils, however, Sam Bird improved on a warmer track, taking first position with a time of 1.18.669. The Audi’s of Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt followed.

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Monday 2 October 2017.
Jaguar
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _W6I9911

DS Virgin and Audi Abt Schaeffler looked strong on this track – however, it is not indicative of the true potential of the cars when they perform on street circuits.

Regardless of this, the test has shown that all the teams have made significant development over the winter. Renault didn’t show their potential in this session as they only occupied P8 and P9 and Sébastien Buemi seemed generally unhappy with the set-up of his car.

Mahindra faded after a strong start, with Felix Rosenqvist only completing 17 laps. Techeetah also seemed to struggle getting to grips with the track, with Jean-Éric Vergne managing P11 and new driver André Lotterer P16.

Formula E has eight new drivers undertaking test duties this week. Alexander Sims made his mark in his attempt to take the second Andretti seat as the IMSA driver outperformed teammate Antonio Felix Da Costa in the morning session and made a solid start.

James Rossiter, previous test driver for Honda and Force India was the best placed of the rookies, having a excellent session which placed him in P12. The other rookies, including newly unveiled Indycar and GP2 NIO driver, Luca Filippi, had solid runs, clocking up over 20 laps a piece, good preparation for the days to come as they become familiar with the car.

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Monday 2 October 2017.
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _W6I9571

In the afternoon session, Buemi and Renault showed their hand, leaping to the top of the timing screens. Jaguar once again made a solid start with Piquet and Evans climbing the rankings.

Techeetah had a much better afternoon, with Vergne shaking off the troubles of this morning and slotting himself into P3 at the beginning of the session. However, Bird soon brought out a red flag as he crashed out on the tyre chicane just before turn one, forcing his car to be towed away as he beat a hasty retreat to the pits. Racing resumed soon after with Rosenqvist snatching the top spot with a blistering time of 1.18.779.

However, red flags continued to plague the drivers as they struggled in the rising temperatures. Lotterer stopped at turn 7 with a mechanical issue and had to be towed off the track, only to appear a short while later and climb the order. However, turn 7 seemed to pose a problem for Techeetah as Vergne also fell victim to the corner, hitting the gravel and red flagging the session once more.

As racing resumed, Audi began to gain momentum, as Di Grassi and Abt fought for the top position in the latter stages. Buemi also contested the top spot, snatching the position away from Di Grassi by a margin of only two thousandths of a second. However, it was the NIO car of Oliver Turvey who finished on top. With two minutes to go, he put in a time of 1.18.565, the fastest of the day.

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Monday 2 October 2017.
Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing, DS Virgin DSV-03
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _J6I9240

We grabbed a few words with DS Virgin Racing’s Alex Lynn and Sam Bird on how the day went and on the upcoming season:

Q:  Congratulations on securing the drive, Alex. Just wanted to know what your thoughts on the session so far today?

Alex Lynn: Yeah, it’s very positive. We had a good day. Many laps, car went round and round so very positive. I think the lads have been working really hard in the workshop to get everything done.

Q: What are your aims for this season? Where do you want to be in terms of Formula E?

AL: I think the plan is to definitely win races and be on the podium, that’s the immediate goal and what we’d like to achieve. As a team, I think we want to learn as much as we can over the next few days and arrive in Hong Kong in a strong position.

Q: How challenging is this circuit in comparison to the street circuits you usually operate on?

Sam Bird: The circuit doesn’t represent what we will be running on but it’s unrepresentative for everybody so everybody’s in the same boat. We were very quick this morning, I think the track got a little bit quicker this evening but we were doing race running so no worries. Compared to Hong Kong, the average speeds are enormous so what we run here is not what everyone will run in Hong Kong.

Q: Do you feel the season 4 car a significant step forward?

SB: I think there are some teams that have made the jump forwards and hopefully, we can see where we come out of it. There’s certainly a lot of teams who have put a lot of effort and resources and obviously their new systems and we will have to see where we are after that.

Q: What are your opinions on the way the series is going?

SB: It’s very exciting. This series is in a very stable situation right now, loads of new manufacturers coming on board and some big names.Amazing driver line up again this season and a great calendar, just need London back on the calendar. I fully expect it to flourish.

Formula E: What to Expect for Season 4?

As the curtain has fallen on season 3 of Formula E, fans have been treated to a masterclass in the emergence of new dominant forces in the form of drivers and manufacturers alike.

The powerhouse Jaguar joined the electric street racing series this year and while they are still in the infancy stages of development, they certainly are showing promise. Audi committed their future to Formula E to great effect as Lucas di Grassi became the third different champion in three years. Porsche and Mercedes have too committed themselves to the series. But what of season 4? What are we to expect from the next series that kicks off in four months time?

Renault e.Dams

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Renault e.Dams hit the ground running in season 3, picking up four wins in the first five races courtesy of Sébastien Buemi. The reigning champion seemed unstoppable, able to use the superior speed of the car to his advantage. Although Nico Prost did not secure a podium finish this year, he contributed to the team’s success by regularly finishing in the points. This gave the French team the edge over Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport.

Expect a similar dynamic next season as Renault has already confirmed that they are retaining Buemi and Prost. Stability surely will be an advantage. Many manufacturers are rumoured to be changing their line ups and recruiting drivers new to electric racing, but e.Dams are sticking to a formula with proven success in keeping two experienced drivers who know how to handle their cars.

The car is expected to be one of the strongest again next year as development will have occurred throughout the season. Buemi will undoubtedly be hungry to take his title back after losing it in such a dramatic fashion in Montréal. The team will also want to secure their fourth successive team title to cement their dominance in the series. Expect e.Dams to continue to use their successful formula next year.

Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

A name change beckons for the team that won the Driver’s Championship. Audi are officially taking charge of the German outfit and success is sure to follow them. Abt have had a surprisingly successful season, collecting two race wins and the championship for Lucas di Grassi. The team have made some clever strategic decisions, resulting in success in Hong Kong and Mexico to great effect. The success can only continue into season 4 as Audi comes into the frame as an official partner.

The likelihood is that the lineup at the German team will remain unchanged as both drivers have ties to the manufacturers. Di Grassi will want to secure a second successive title and Daniel Abt has proved that he can back up his teammate in order to achieve results. Stability again could be an advantage, certainly within this team as they hand over to their new partner.

Audi have no distractions from other series and will therefore have been able to develop their technology to focus on giving the best car to their drivers. They will want results and having di Grassi as a works driver with proven success will only heighten their expectations. Expect Audi’s increased involvement, coupled with di Grassi’s hunger, to bring them results and the hope of their first Teams’ Championship—a title that has so far eluded the German outfit.

Mahindra Racing

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Arguably one of the standout teams this season, Mahindra managed to rip apart the Abt vs e.Dams battle that has been raging for the past two seasons. Nick Heidfeld has certainly delivered results, taking five podium finishes and helping Mahindra towards securing third place in the teams’ standings over DS Virgin.

However, it’s Felix Rosenqvist that has been somewhat of a revelation in season 3. Rosenqvist has shown star potential and that he could certainly be a future champion within the series. He took an impressive win in Berlin and would have repeated the same feat the following day if it wasn’t for an unfortunate penalty.

Mahindra need to retain Rosenqvist and therefore, they need to ensure that their car remains competitive in season 4. They will face stiff competition, certainly as Audi and BMW step up their involvement within their respective teams but they will have pushed development throughout the season. It’s expected that Mahindra will retain both of their drivers. Stability will improve the outfit and both drivers are extremely capable of producing results. Rosenqvist will want to have a chance of the title next year and with the way things are progressing, it would be foolish to write him off as a serious competitor.

DS Virgin Racing

Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

Finishing in fourth position, DS Virgin are a team in which their overall position does not showcase the entire picture. The car has been improved massively in season 3. They replaced the ‘pancake’ twin motor that hindered their progress in season 2, replacing it with a single motor and two speed gearbox, similar to Renault’s approach. The development worked in DS Virgin’s favour. Without the added weight, the car became lighter and easier to handle for the drivers. The British team will seek to develop the technology they have mastered further, as they will need to produce a car in season 4 worthy of giving Sam Bird a credible shot at the title.

Bird has been one of the standout stars of season 3, winning both races of the double header in New York. His strong results and his commitment will make the team want to retain the British driver. José María López, on the other hand, entered Formula E as a complete novice, but he has had moments of genius and showed that he can deliver. He can be the competition that Bird needs to elevate himself, shown in their many intra-team fights over the season.

The only problem for DS Virgin is that of their reserve driver, Alex Lynn. The young British driver showed excellent potential in snatching pole away from teammate Bird in his first race. Can DS retain Lynn? He has excellent potential for the future but other teams could have an eye on him. Lynn certainly will not want to spend another season on standby. Although retaining Bird and López would allow for stability, Lynn certainly appears to be a driver to watch in the future and DS Virgin will have a headache over what to do for next season. Despite this, DS Virgin are certain to build on their successes in season 3, poised to be a future challenger for the title.

Techeetah

Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E

The Chinese team have gone from strength to strength this season, finally able to provide a car in which Jean-Éric Vergne could take his first Formula E win. Techeetah are a Renault customer, so expect improvements within the powertrain technology. After ushering Ma Qing Hua and Esteban Gutiérrez through the revolving doors, the team seem to have developed a good team dynamic  with Vergne and Stéphane Sarrazin. Both are experienced drivers, who have cut their teeth in the sport since the inaugural season. Vergne has shown that he can deliver results, taking one race win and four second place podiums. It is expected that the Chinese team will retain him, certainly on the basis of his success over the season.

New team recruit Sarrazin has had mixed luck, picking up two podium finishes but suffering from a handful of races in which he did not score any points. There is certainly a question mark over his future in the team. Although he has delivered, he is ageing and would not be considered a long-term prospect. Could Techeetah change their driver line up again next season? It seems a bit absurd to do so. Sarrazin is a seasoned driver, capable of delivering results when needed and he has no prior racing commitments, a factor that could determine other driver’s futures.

The stability of retaining their successful drivers would certainly aid the team in development. However, despite the unstable nature of their line up, Techeetah have produced some good results in season 3. Regardless of what they do, expect to see them duelling with the top cars next year as they continue to develop.

NextEV NIO

FIA Formula E

NextEV NIO have had a relatively quiet season. Nevertheless, they have managed to achieve some success. Oliver Turvey and Nelson Piquet Jr have given the team a healthy supply of points throughout the season. Turvey scored his first pole in Mexico City and Piquet secured pole in the first race, but their progress seems to have been hindered by the same problem that DS Virgin faced in season 2. NextEV operate a heavier twin ‘pancake’ motor set up without a multi-speed gearbox, and the lack of lower and higher gears could have potentially hindered the performance; it’s uncertain if NextEV NIO will continue with this set up into next season or if they will revise the concept.

The car has often let the drivers down, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Turvey has the potential needed to turn the team into a force to be reckoned with if he has the machinery to do it. The NextEV NIO car needs to be competitive next year or they will face losing former champion Piquet. He has not hidden his frustrations with the car’s performance this season. If he is given reassurance that the team will be able to compete with the top runners, he will stay. After his success in season one, he will be hungry to take the title that was once his. Can NextEV retain Piquet, move forward and develop a more competitive car? Only time will tell.

MS Amlin Andretti

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Andretti have had a mixed season. Some of the settings used in testing were incorrect for the handling of the car and have been unable to be changed due to the regulations. This has shown in their results as their highest finish was 5th place, courtesy of António Félix Da Costa in Hong Kong. They have claimed a few points positions over the course of the season but have suffered from a number of unfortunate accidents and retirements.

Andretti have always appeared to be on the back foot, ever since they reverted back to the specification technology in season two. The development has progressed since then, although there are still teething issues as it is their first full development of their own powertrain. However, things are looking a little brighter for the American team. The giant of BMW has confirmed that it will begin to take over the running of Andretti next year in preparation for the introduction of their own powertrain in season 5.

Improvements should be seen within the technology in the Andretti car from next season. BMW have placed themselves in a prime spot, copying the model that Audi put forward, by developing and testing technologies within these first few seasons before the 250kW regulation comes into play. They have also begun to bring their own staff into the outfit and the driver line up is expected to change to reflect this. Da Costa has had a poor season marred by accidents, but he is a BMW works driver and will be expected to stay in the team.

Robin Frijns’ future is a little more unclear. Although he has achieved better results than his teammate, he has an Audi Blancpain contract and BMW will want more control over who drives for them next season. It is expected that Frijns will leave the team, possibly going elsewhere and Alexander Sims will be brought in as his replacement. Although Sims is a BMW driver, he would be at a disadvantage as he has relatively little Formula E experience. Season 4 could well be a work in progress for the American team and we may not see clear-cut results until season 5 when BMW fully takes over the reins.

Faraday Future Dragon Racing

Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

Season 3 was one to forget for the American outfit. After sharing Venturi’s effective powertrain in season 2, they moved to adopt their own in season 3, but the niggles of a new power system were seen in the results of their two experienced drivers Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Loïc Duval. Their cars were simply not competitive enough and they often fell victim to first lap accidents. However, season 3 was somewhat of a teething year for their new technology and they could potentially refine this next year, adopting other teams’ successful approaches.

They do have another advantage in retaining the talented d’Ambrosio for season 4. The Belgian has shown in previous seasons that he is capable of producing results, securing a number of wins and podiums in previous seasons. Although the competitiveness of the machinery he worked with this year has hindered his progress, he showed what he was capable of with a defensive masterclass in Mexico City, able to hold the chasing Vergne off for much of the race despite having lower useable energy.

Duval, on the other hand, seems to have driven his last race for the American team. He has had a torrid season, marred by accidents and retirements and he chose to uphold his DTM commitments over the Formula E race in Paris. His results and attitude could cause owner Jay Penske to look elsewhere for a more committed driver. Dragon are a far cry from the team they were—but if they can develop their technology, they stand a chance of being competitive in season 4.

Venturi

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

The Monegasque team has had a relatively quiet but unstable season. Their successful powertrain of season 2 was retained but it was the details within the technology that were refined. The older technology, however, caused the team to fall behind the rest of the pack. Many teams had moved on and introduced new technology and concepts to their cars, leaving Venturi behind.

They also suffered a few blows in terms of their driver line up. They lost the experienced Mike Conway before season 3 even started, the British driver choosing to focus on his Toyota WEC commitments. Maro Engel, a familiar face within DTM, was brought in to replace the departing Conway; he has shown some promise but remains inconsistent, still adapting to electric racing. Venturi also lost Stéphane Sarrazin to Techeetah, bringing in rookie Tom Dillmann to take his vacant seat.

Dillmann has so far impressed in season 3, finding his feet before finishing in the points in the last three races. Such instability can have contributed by Venturi’s poor showing this season. Dillmann hasn’t been given enough time to show his potential and Engel too was a novice, both drivers have done a fairly good job, given the machinery they’ve been given. However, if Venturi refine their technology, they may want to cast their eye over the paddock and bring in new drivers who could push their cars to the next level.

Panasonic Jaguar Racing

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

The new boys to Formula E have certainly had a season to remember. They entered season 3 through a more traditional approach—choosing to create their own powertrain and their own technology, rather than partnering with another team. It certainly seems to be a risk that was worth taking. Although suffering from a shaky start, Jaguar have learned fast and applied these revisions to their car, and there is no doubt that this development will continue into season 4.

Mitch Evans and Adam Carroll soon began to use the machinery they had been given to their advantage. Evans was consistent in qualifying and managed to secure Jaguar’s highest position of fourth place at the Mexico City ePrix. He has produced some excellent results despite driving a car still in the early stages of its development. It is expected that he will be retained.

Carroll on the other hand, has not performed as well. However, these teething issues are part and parcel of being a relatively new Formula E team. Carroll is proven as an experienced driver in many other motorsport series’ and his involvement with the team as they work through their infancy could keep him with the team. Stability could a key as Jaguar seek to refine and develop their car into one that shows competitiveness. Placing an inexperienced driver into Carroll’s seat could hinder the remarkable progress that Jaguar have made. No matter what happens with their line up, expect Jaguar to further develop their technology, drawing influence from what other teams have produced over the course of season 3.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Season 4 of Formula E will undoubtedly be interesting. The technology within the powertrain will continue to be refined in preparation for the one-car set up in season 5. Manufacturers will push the boundaries, using tried and tested technology and newly refined concepts in order to fight for the honour of the Teams’ Championship.

Mercedes and Porsche could also have a role in the new season, despite not coming in until season 5. They could choose to partner with a team in order to exchange data and technology. Do not expect either team to enter the series unprepared. In season 3, nine rookies entered the series either for a single race or an entire season. They all contributed to making the season an interesting one to watch. The uncertainty over some drivers’ seats for season 4 will again make the prospect of fresh blood entering the electric series a exciting one. Whatever happens, it’s certain that Formula E is here to stay and will continue to grow into the new season.