Talking Points: 2016 Hong Kong ePrix

The rookies shone

One of the most obvious takeaways from the Hong Kong ePrix was the remarkable job done by Formula E’s five rookie drivers in establishing themselves amongst an already impressive grid. José María López in particular showed his potential pace in qualifying third, as did Felix Rosenqvist by starting sixth and setting the fastest lap of the race; and not to mention Maro Engel, who was not only the highest rookie finisher in ninth but also consistently outperformed his more experienced teammate Sarrazin through qualifying and the race.

 

The series’ two rookie teams also made strong impressions on their respective debuts. Although Techeetah’s day ended with a double DNF brought on by technical issues and a first lap collision, the Chinese team displayed considerable speed all weekend, suggesting even that Jean-Éric Vergne might have been a contender for pole had qualifying run uninterrupted. Jaguar also ran well despite lacking the pace to challenge the front, and it was a shame that their strategic dare of a long first stint could only net them twelfth.

Track layouts are still an issue

Formula E’s logistical side once again came under scrutiny in Hong Kong, after the profile of the Turn 3-4 chicane was controversially altered prior to qualifying. With the change contributing to heavy crashes from di Grassi, Frijns and Lopez across the day, it was no wonder the decision came under heavy fire from the teams and drivers, who reportedly were only notified of it a few minutes before qualifying.

Last-minute alterations such as this have unfortunately become a by-product of the “pop-up” nature of Formula E’s street tracks. But although these problems may always present themselves, the disorganised way in which they are solved does not likewise need to remain a fixture – if Formula E is to truly become a top-line series, it must remove these clumsy incidents from its DNA.

HONG KONG, CHINA – OCTOBER 9: In this handout image supplied by Formula E,
during the FIA Formula E Championship Hong Kong ePrix at the Central Harbourfront Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by LAT Photographic / Formula E via Getty Images)

Reliability will be key

Managing reliability emerged as one of the critical tasks for teams in Hong Kong, with mechanical or technical trouble contributing to at least three of the five retirements, and afflicting many more drivers besides.

With several teams incorporating new powertrain designs this season, a few technical gremlins are only to be expected, especially from the two new teams. But as Formula E is now reaching a level where it is attracting big name marques like Audi and Mercedes, it can’t be good to see its existing outfits still suffering from niggling technological troubles after three seasons of development.

The field is as close as ever

Although on paper another Buemi/ di Grassi podium looked to be all too predictable, the Hong Kong ePrix proved that Formula E’s third season will be every bit as varied as its predecessors.

Sam Bird looks set to be a true contender for the title this season, if his qualifying and early race pace are anything to go by. The improvements made by stalwart midfielders Andretti and Mahindra showed enough give the top three teams something to think about, whilst Dragon and Techeetah should also have the ability to mix it at the front if they can overcome their various reliability issues. According to Hong Kong, there is not a single team on the 2016-17 grid that could not be considered a regular challenger for points – and at least six of them should be targeting the podium from here on out, if not the occasional race win too.

FIA Formula E Hong Kong e-Prix.
First Practice Session.
Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams, Spark-Renault, Renault Z.E 16.
Hong Kong Harbour, Hong Kong, Asia.
Sunday 9 October 2016.
Photo: Adam Warner / FE / LAT
ref: Digital Image _L5R7464

James Matthews, Formula E editor

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