When the new FIA Extreme E (XE) World Championship begins in the desert sands of the Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia this weekend, it won’t just be simply the start of another racing series but a revolutionary concept whose on-track glammer is matched only by its lofty off-track ambitions.
Cast your minds back to January 2019, during the official announcement on the cold, rainy and wintery deck of RMS St. Helena. The motorsport world gathered in anticipation for what was to come. A new championship.
Alejandro Agag, CEO of both Formula E and Extreme E unveiled his dream, an off-road electric SUV racing series that would travel the world to draw attention to climate change through environmentally friendly racing.
The series will take place in five remote locations affected by climate change, where all the equipment and cars are transported by a ‘floating paddock’ cargo ship, which will also serve as a laboratory for scientists to conduct research and enact conservation projects.
Each team features a male and female driver who must take turns throughout each race, and competitors can earn a boost by performing big jumps and winning online fan votes.
Throw in a strong driver line-up including F1 champion Jenson Button , multiple-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
Something that fascinates me is the incredible mixture of young and established names in motorsport with the likes of Carlos Sainz Snr, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi involved in the series in some way. These personalities and brands are essential to providing Extreme E with a credibility amongst hardcore motorsport fans.
One the other hand you have Veloce Racing, a tech firm and esports squad taking its first step into real-world motorsport. Younger audiences will be familiar with their esports exploits but will inevitably follow with intrigue their transition into the physical world.
It carries the same energy as when ‘new money’ from the Industrial Revolution joined the ranks of the traditional aristocratic and landed gentry of Britain in the 18th century. We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what a traditional race team can look like.
Whether you are a racing ‘super-fan’, an environmentalist or a travel connoisseur, Extreme E has something for everyone.
But do not just take it from me, take it from the man who set up the whole series. During the official press conference Alejandro Agag spoke about his thoughts on the season opener:
“It would have been impossible to organise this race without our hosts and the teams” said Alejandro on the Friday morning before the opening qualifying session. “it’s an incredibly happy day for me. Many people did not think this was going to happen, that is true, this is quite out of the box.”
“This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.
On the future of Extreme E Alejandro was keen to highlight that set it apart from the Formula E championship: “They are very different. Which one will be bigger? Who knows? They can both become very big, of course, I am keen on both.”
“In terms of manufacturers in season one (Formula E) we had Mahindra, Audi had support with Abt, Renault had support with DAMS. However, already here we have two in season one. We have Cupra, Hummer and Lotus which may become a full partner in the future.”
Importantly, as we have seen with Formula E manufacturers tend to come and go. This has left Alejandro with a philosophy which favours independent teams over manufacturers. With a strong independent line-up including teams owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Veloce, Nico Rosberg, Carlos Sainz Snr and many others, there is certainly a freshness and originality to this grid.
“There are very significant manufacturers who are interested in Extreme E. But you have to build championships independently of manufacturers because when they go, they go. […] Manufacturers are not necessary.”
On which team are the favourites going into the inaugural season, Alejandro was coy, suggesting a competitive title battle:
“Ganassi was looking strong, even though they had a technical problem this morning. But outside of them it looks really open. If I had nine dollars I would put one dollar on each of the other nine teams.”
There have been some minor last-minute alterations to the format in response to reliability. A qualifying race will now be replaced by a series of time trials on Saturday that will form the grid for the semi-final, crazy race and final showdown on Sunday.
On reliability, Alejandro played down his concerns: “I’m not too concerned. “
“(During testing) 18 out of 20 cars broke down. Here this morning two out of nine broke. I hope no car breaks tomorrow but that’s part of racing. I have to say if seven out of nine cars broke this morning I would be concerned.”
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 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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
With another Formula E season wrapped up, it’s time to look back over the last twelve races and assess the teams and drivers of the 2016–17 season.
N.B.: All team and driver scores are out of ten. We have included only those drivers who contested at least half of the 2016–17 season with their teams; one-off replacements Conway, Lynn and Gasly, as well as Techeetah’s Ma and Gutiérrez, are therefore not included.
Renault e.Dams (8): Sébastien Buemi (8), Nico Prost (8)
But for a few isolated slip-ups, Renault e.Dams might have enjoyed the perfect campaign in season three. With Sébastien Buemi’s six commanding wins, Nico Prost’s near-perfect run in the points and Pierre Gasly’s superb debut in New York, it was little surprise to see the French team take its third straight teams’ title at the end of the year.
However, with such highlights it’s impossible to ignore those occasions that held Renault back from another double crown this season. The team let itself down more than once with technical disqualifications in Berlin and Montréal, whilst Buemi’s ‘win-or-bust’ results proved his biggest obstacle to a second title; and with such a strong car beneath him, it will be sobering for Prost to finish the season without a single podium to his name. Even for such an all-conquering team, there is still much for Renault to improve upon in season four.
ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport (7): Lucas di Grassi (8), Daniel Abt (7)
For the ABT Schaeffler Audi team, this has largely been a season of two halves. On the one hand, Lucas di Grassi claimed his first Drivers’ Championship by way of two sensational wins, five further podiums and three pole positions, and an on-form Daniel Abt recorded no lower finish than seventh, helping the team close to within twenty points of title-winners Renault.
But on the other hand, the ABT FE02 clearly lacked the pace di Grassi needed to fight Buemi (not to mention Rosenqvist and Bird, too) all season long; in the hands of Daniel Abt, it also proved frustratingly unreliable. Hopes will be high that Audi’s full factory involvement next season will bring both the speed and consistency ABT needs to mount a true dual title campaign.
Mahindra Racing (9.5): Nick Heidfeld (7), Felix Rosenqvist (9)
It should go without saying that Felix Rosenqvist was the standout star of season three, but we’ll say it again anyway. Four podiums, three pole positions, two fastest laps and one ePrix win would constitute a great season for any driver, but for a series rookie Rosenqvist’s results have been nothing short of remarkable. The Swede still has a few inconsistencies to iron out, but there’s no doubt that he’s a Formula E champion waiting to happen.
As for Nick Heidfeld, kudos must be given for his ability to keep up with his rapid young teammate despite being a veritable pensioner in driver’s years. With five podiums and plenty of points helping Mahindra to third in the teams’ championship, any calls for Quick Nick to retire have been conclusively put down this season.
DS Virgin Racing (7): Sam Bird (8), José María López (7)
After a promising pre-season it proved a slow start to season three for DS Virgin, as Sam Bird’s two early podiums were offset by multiple mechanical glitches and José María López took time to find his feet in single-seaters again after a long touring car career.
But in the latter half of the season the team really came together in the way testing promised. New York, with Bird’s double win and Alex Lynn’s pole on debut, was undoubtably their peak, and López’ development from unsettled rookie to double podium finisher proved his critics wrong. If the team can get on top of its technical issues, Bird and López will surely prove ones to watch in next season’s title battle.
Techeetah had a lot of promise coming into the season with Renault power behind them, but it took a while for the Chinese team to come good on that potential. Mechanical failures in Hong Kong and Paris and Jean-Éric Vergne’s terminal collision with Nelson Piquet in Monaco robbed the team of chances to challenge at the front, whilst regular changes to its driver lineup made it difficult for Techeetah to settle down and build on its foundations.
But once the team recruited Stéphane Sarrazin to partner Vergne for the final six rounds, things improved. Vergne finished each of the remaining races in the points and led Sarrazin to two double podiums in New York and Montréal, not to mention to his and Techeetah’s first ePrix win in the season finale—without doubt a superb end to what might have been a torrid campaign.
NextEV NIO (7): Nelson Piquet (7), Oliver Turvey (6)
Compared with last year’s bottom-of-the-table finish, season three was a vast improvement for NextEV. A front row lockout in Hong Kong, double points finish in Buenos Aires and fourth for Nelson Piquet in Monaco helped lift the Chinese team up to a comfortable sixth by season’s end; however, NextEV’s persistent problems with energy consumption in race trim—something with which Oliver Turvey seemed to have especial difficulty handling—robbed both drivers of valuable points on many occasions.
MS Amlin Andretti (5): António Félix da Costa (4), Robin Frijns (6)
Andretti would have been hoping for better than seventh place this season, having picked up two of the hottest properties on last year’s driver market and a technical alliance with BMW, but an uncompetitive ATEC-02 powertrain left Frijns’ and da Costa’s abilities untapped. Da Costa in particular struggled, logging just the one points finish with a clever pit strategy in Hong Kong; and while Frijns made it into the top ten five times, his seat is reportedly in jeopardy for season four.
Despite picking up Faraday Future backing and appearing rapid in pre-season testing, eighth place and a meagre 33 points proved all Dragon Racing could achieve in season three. The US outfit’s main problem lay with the pace of its new Penske powertrain, though matters were not helped by its drivers clashing on track and retiring from a total of six events. Loïc Duval seemed to come off the worst, even with a greater final points total than d’Ambrosio, and may be left looking for a drive elsewhere this summer.
Venturi (7): Maro Engel (8), Tom Dillmann (7)
On paper Venturi’s third season in Formula E looked like something of a backward slide, slumping from sixth to ninth in the standings with even low-key points finishes a rarity. But considering the Monegasque team’s reliability concerns in early testing, their progress this season tells a better story than their results. Maro Engel especially impressed, qualifying second in Mexico and finishing fifth in Monaco, whilst Tom Dillmann’s four points finishes from just seven starts says much about the Frenchman’s future potential.
Panasonic Jaguar Racing (7): Adam Carroll (5), Mitch Evans (7)
Jaguar was eager to play down expectations ahead of its maiden Formula E outing. Initially that modesty seemed well-founded, as the British marque started the season a long way off the points, but a strong push during the European leg brought Jaguar into regular midfield contention. Mitch Evans took the team’s best result with fourth in Mexico City and generally had the measure of his older teammate in both qualifying and race pace; with the driver market still wide open for season four, Adam Carroll may find his seat hard to hold on to from the bottom of the standings.