Formula E Attack Mode: Worth the Hype?

Announced in 2018, Formula E’s Attack Mode was set to create yet more excitement and variety up and down the grid in the 2018/19 season. The official Formula E website describes the mode as an opportunity for drivers to ‘race harder, giving them the edge to keep ahead of the competition’. The mode can be activated at different points in the race; drivers are given an extra 25kW (12%) of power, however the duration and number of times a driver can activate the mode is not fixed. FIA officials determine these details one hour before the race, keeping team strategists, drivers and fans guessing.

But as fans are just getting to grips with the Gen2 cars, is this new feature a step too far in trying to keep the series interesting?

Seeing it in action for the first time in Ad Diriyah, you might be forgiven for thinking you were watching a real-life version of Mario Kart. Indeed, fans have criticised Formula E mastermind, Alejandro Agag, for ‘dumbing down’ the feature by likening it to a video game, suggesting that gimmicks such as this one make Formula E an easy target for cynics of new racing formulas.

Some fans have likened Attack Modeto a joker lap in Rallycross and, indeed, it’s easy to see the similarities, as drivers are forced to move away from the racing line in order to activate the feature, before re-joining the race with the added boost. But even this could throw up problems, with dirty tyres and unsafe manoeuvres to attack, and re-join the race. Okay, so that part is down to the reliability of the drivers, but is it really worth the drama where we have plenty already?

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Watching Attack Mode in action for the second time in Marrakesh, you could say that the feature really didn’t add much to the race. Drivers such as Jean Eric Vergne were able to steadily work their way up the grid, providing the fans with a couple of interesting overtakes, most of the action wasn’t really a direct result of the Attack Mode feature.

As the use of Attack Mode is mandatory for each car, drivers are forced to use the feature to simply tick a box. Ultimately, as we saw in Marrakesh, drivers chose to use their final Attack Mode during a safety car towards the very end of the race, which arguably contradicts the whole point of the feature’s introduction.

If this is the case, why was it introduced?

Perhaps FE bosses are keen to avoid the same accusations their counterparts in F1 are currently receiving, that the racing simply isn’t entertaining enough. However, when compared to Formula 1, realistically Formula E is in the infancy of what it can achieve. Even from the very first race in 2014, Nick Heidfeld managed to crash his way, quite literally, into the news headlines by ploughing his Venturi into the barrier. Since then, Formula E has continued to provide fans with entertaining races, enhanced by the FanBoost feature that was introduced from the very first season.

Daniel Abt (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler), Valencia pre-season testing – Credit: LAT/Formula E

With that in mind, what of the FanBoost?

At the moment, Formula E have no plans to alter or get rid of the FanBoost feature that allows fans to vote for their favourite driver, giving them a further two ‘boosts’ on track. With some critics labelling the FanBoost a mere popularity contest from the beginning, the introduction of Attack Mode where all drivers are given at least one boost before the race even starts, it opens up the question of where FanBoost really fits in this new feature.

Unlike Formula 1, Formula E features cars, teams and drivers on a more even playing field. The series already offers unpredictable racing and fans haven’t exactly been crying out for the series to be made more ‘interesting’ in the same way F1 fans have. Perhaps Formula E bosses are keen to avoid the same criticism, however with the addition of Attack Mode, it is difficult to know exactly what audience they are attempting to appeal to.

With only two races down, the true value of Attack Mode remains to be seen. If bosses expected Attack Mode would make for an explosive opener to the 2018/19 season, they were sorely mistaken.

The next E-Prix will take place in Santiago on 26th January.

Jean-Eric Vergne approached over 2019 F1 drive

2017–18 Formula E champion Jean-Éric Vergne has said that he has been approached by an F1 team over a 2019 race drive.

LAT Images / Formula E Media

The former Toro Rosso F1 driver revealed the contact in an interview with crash.net when asked about his chances of returning to Grand Prix racing:

“It’s a possibility. It’s funny how the world of motorsport changes. Three years ago, I don’t think anybody would have called me from F1 and said: ‘Hey, do you have a contract for next season?’.

“When you change your state of mind, when you change a little bit how you work, you see the results straight away. You see it in the results, and you see it in how people look at you and how they speak to you. When you start representing a brand [like Formula E], it changes a lot of things.”

LAT Images / Formula E Media

Vergne’s comments have come amid a breakout year for the Frenchman, in which he took four Formula E victories en route to the season four title with Techeetah, as well as an LMP2 class win at Le Mans with G-Drive (although this was later taken away for a team technical infringement).

They also follow a series of surprise announcements in the F1 driver market over the summer, which will see Daniel Ricciardo move from Red Bull to Renault and Fernando Alonso step away from the series in 2019.

Vergne’s previous F1 tenure spanned three years at Toro Rosso between 2012–2014, in which he partnered future Red Bull graduates Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat. He was dropped from the Red Bull programme for 2015 in favour of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, and spent two full seasons as a simulator driver at Ferrari before leaving the F1 paddock completely in early 2017.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Who might Vergne’s F1 suitor be?

Although Vergne confirmed he had been approached by an F1 team for next year, he gave no clues as to which team was interested in his services.

The most obvious possibility is his former employer, Toro Rosso. The Red Bull junior team is in need of at least one new driver for next year—with Pierre Gasly set to replace Ricciardo—and proved last year with Brendon Hartley that calling back ex-academy drivers is an option when an F1-ready protege isn’t available.

The chances of Vergne wanting to return to the Red Bull fold after the manner of his 2014 exit are slim—although Vergne hasn’t necessarily said he’s entertaining the offer he’s received, for that matter.

Haas were said to have had an interest in Vergne ahead of their maiden campaign in 2016, and may do so again as they weigh up alternatives to Romain Grosjean. Williams may also have been the ones to offer Vergne a 2019 drive, as Lance Stroll’s expected move to Force India will leave a race seat open at the Grove team.

Le Mans LMP2: G-Drive takes maiden Le Mans win

The #26 G-Drive of Jean-Éric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov put in a commanding display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take the outfit’s first win at the event.

The #26 initially had a poor start, with Vergne losing places at on the opening lap and dropping to seventh. But after recovering one place to sixth, Vergne then went a lap longer before pitting than the leading group and the offset was enough to bring the #26 out into first, where it remained for the rest of the race to finish fifth overall and two laps up on the rest of the LMP2 field.

#36 Signatech Alpine A470 / Andrej Alesko, WEC Media

Finishing a distant second behind G-Drive was the #36 Signatech Alpine, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão.

For most of the race, the #36 had been locked in a close fight over the runners-up spot with the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier, with the two cars trading second and third throughout Saturday evening and into the night.

But with four hours remaining on Sunday morning, Will Stevens brought the #23 Ligier into the pits with technical issues—he was kept there for over an hour, dropping him to 11th and allowing Signatech Alpine to finish second unchallenged.

Panis-Barthez’s lengthy stop promoted the polesitting #48 IDEC Sport Oreca into third, until gearbox problems ended the latter’s race within the final hours.

In the #48’s absence, the #39 Graff Oreca inherited third and held the position until the chequered flag, with Tristan Gommendy fending off a late charge by former race winner Loïc Duval in TDS Racing’s #28 car.

#47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 / Marius Hecker, WEC Media

Juan Pablo Montoya ended his Le Mans debut in fifth in the #32 United Autosports after a puncture in the penultimate hour dropped the Colombian a lap behind the LMP2 leaders. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s all-Malaysian #37 car finished sixth while the #31 Dragonspeed, which had started second and led early on, finished seventh.

Racing Team Nederland’s #29 was the highest Dallara finisher in ninth, sandwiched between the #38 and #33 Jackie Chan cars. There were issues for the #35 SMP and the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse, with steering problems for the former and a late crash for the latter putting them 12th and 13th in class respectively.

As well as the #48 IDEC, there were four other retirements in the 20-car LMP2 field. The #34 Jackie Chan became the first after suffering an engine failure during the night, and was followed two laps later by the #40 G-Drive, which was spun into the Porsche Curves wall by José Gutiérrez. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing also retired, and United Autosports’ #22 car crashed out from fourth with four hours left.

The #44 Eurasia did not retire, but went unclassified as it failed to complete the final lap of the race.

#22 United Autosports Ligier JSP217 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Zurich ePrix: Di Grassi wins as penalties shrink Vergne’s title lead

Lucas di Grassi ended his season four win drought by rising from fifth to first in Sunday’s Zurich ePrix, while title challenger Sam Bird finished second to slash Jean-Éric Vergne’s championship lead by almost half.

Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

The race began in mixed-up fashion, with Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer starting well from second to threaten maiden polesitter Mitch Evans off the line. But although Evans managed to defend from Lotterer and drop him back into pressure from third-placed Bird, the Jaguar driver was unable to pull clear of the cars behind as he struggled with rising battery temperatures.

This brought di Grassi right onto the back of the podium pack, once the Audi driver dispatched with Jérôme d’Ambrosio for fourth place. By lap 13 di Grassi had passed Bird at the hairpin—taking advantage of the Briton’s battle with Lotterer ahead to close in on the pair—and three laps later did what Bird was unable to and took second from Lotterer.

With Evans’ battery issues continuing out in front, di Grassi was quickly onto the gearbox of the Jaguar—and on lap 18 the outgoing champion made his move on the run to Turn 1, and breezed past into first place.

Once in the lead di Grassi continued to build a gap to those behind him, and at the end of lap 39 crossed the finish line 7.5s ahead to take his first and Audi’s third win of the 2017–18 season.

Jean-Éric Vergne, Techeetah / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

But while last season’s champion enjoyed his best Formula E weekend since last year’s Montreal finale, current championship leader Vergne suffered huge losses at the Zurich ePrix.

Coming into the weekend with a mathematical chance of clinching the title, Vergne qualified near the back of the grid in 17th while his only remaining rival Bird was set to start from the second row.

Vergne made good progress in the early stages and before the halfway stage had already got his Techeetah up into the lower points. But on lap 17 Vergne came together with Felix Rosenqvist while taking eighth, sending the Mahindra driver into the wall at Turn 1 and triggering a full course yellow to remove the debris.

Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

This proved to be the defining moment of the race, as shortly after the halfway pitstops it was announced that Vergne—along with Lotterer, Evans and Sébastien Buemi—had been given a drive-through penalty for speeding under the full course yellow.

These penalties drastically altered the order. With fewer than ten laps remaining, Lotterer, Evans and Buemi dropped from second, third and fourth respectively, while Vergne was once more put outside the points after his trip through the pitlane.

Worse still for Vergne, the penalties for those in front meant that Bird was elevated to second place, where the DS Virgin driver finished to add another 18 points to his championship challenge.

Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

D’Ambrosio completed the podium in third, his and Dragon’s first podium since the 2016 London ePrix, while Lotterer held on for fourth.

Buemi recovered from his penalty to take fifth, one place higher than he started, after using his FanBoost to pass Evans in the closing stages—Evans lost a further place to Nick Heidfeld before the end, and finished behind the German in seventh. António Félix da Costa and Oliver Turvey were promoted into the lower points by the penalties ahead and a retirement for Nico Prost, and finished eighth and ninth respectively.

Meanwhile, Vergne fought his way back into tenth place to take the final point of the day. The Frenchman had been set to add another point with the fastest lap, until his Techeetah teammate Lotterer take that honour away in the final stages.

Vergne’s low finish and Bird’s podium mean the gap at the top of the standings is now down from 40 to 23 points with only the double header in New York—which Bird dominated last season—left to go.

Montréal ePrix: muted teams’ triumph for Renault as di Grassi snatches title

Renault e.Dams claimed their third straight Formula E teams’ title at Montréal’s season finale, but their celebrations were overshadowed by Lucas di Grassi’s triumph over Sébastien Buemi in the Drivers’ Championship.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Going into the Canadian title decider, it was looking almost impossible for anyone but Buemi to take the top honours this season. The Swiss driver had been a man transformed by his first title win last season—opening up his defence with a hat-trick of wins, Buemi went on to claim victory in almost every race he contested, and such was his form that he still held the championship lead before Montréal despite missing the two previous races in New York City.

But on arrival in Canada, Buemi seemed like a different driver altogether to the one in control of his last ePrix in Berlin. An uncharacteristic off in practice saw him damage his chassis against the wall, denting his confidence ahead of qualifying and handing him a hefty grid penalty for race one; then, starting the race from twelfth, Buemi’s cautious approach left him right in the heart of the opening lap scrum, where he picked up steering damage from contact with Robin Frijns’ Andretti, which severely hampered his progress early on.

By contrast, di Grassi was having every bit the race he needed. His third pole of the season narrowed the championship deficit to just seven points, and after seeing off Jean-Éric Vergne at the start the Brazilian raced away into an early lead. He was then largely not seen again, and despite a late safety car bringing Vergne right onto his tail in the final laps, di Grassi took his second win of the season ahead of Vergne and Stéphane Sarrazin, and with it the lead of the championship by six points—this lead later became eighteen points, when Buemi was disqualified from his eventual fourth-place finish after his rebuilt car was found to be three kilograms underweight.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

This stacked the odds considerably in di Grassi’s favour ahead of the second and final race of the weekend. All the Abt driver needed to do to clinch the title was finish ahead of Buemi, and even if his rival went on to win the race, any result within the top four would have given di Grassi enough points to become champion.

Nevertheless, Sunday did not start smoothly for di Grassi. A scruffy Super Pole lap left him only fifth on the grid behind Felix Rosenqvist, Sam Bird, Jean-Éric Vergne and Nick Heidfeld; di Grassi then dropped back at the start and was almost tagged by his teammate going through the first corner.

But compared to his title rival, di Grassi’s troubles were nothing. For the second time in Montréal Buemi started way down the grid, in thirteenth place after making a mistake on his flying qualifying lap. That once again placed him in the firing line at the first corner, and as the pack bunched up he was hit from behind in the braking zone, this time by António Félix da Costa in the sister Andretti. The contact was enough to dislodge one of Buemi’s rear wheel guards, and as it flapped loose from the back of his Renault the stewards called him in to the pits with a black and orange flag—by the time he rejoined the track, Buemi was in last place and his title hopes lay in tatters.

Sam Bagnall/LAT/Formula E

Meanwhile, as Buemi’s impromptu stop all but sealed the title for di Grassi, the front of the field was playing host to a tight race for the win between polesitter Rosenqvist and a charging Vergne.

The Frenchman had been able to eat into Rosenqvist’s five-second lead after saving the energy for a later stop, and partway through the second stint had no trouble breezing past the Mahindra for the lead. Vergne then set about using the remainder of his saved energy to ease clear of Rosenqvist—by the time the chequered flag fell at the end of lap 37, Vergne had built up a buffer of almost a second to seal his and the Techeetah team’s first Formula E victory.

Rosenqvist followed Vergne home in second, despite coming under further pressure from José María López in the closing laps, and with his fifth podium of the season triumphed in his battle with Sam Bird for third in the final standings; Bird himself crossed the line fourth ahead of Rosenqvist’s teammate Nick Heidfeld, who had fallen back from an earlier podium position.

Incoming champion di Grassi had been set to finish sixth, but with his title already secured he swapped places with teammate Daniel Abt on the final lap and finished seventh instead. Stéphane Sarrazin came eighth, Jérôme d’Ambrosio closed a difficult season for Dragon with two points in ninth, and Tom Dillmann took the fourth points finish of his rookie season with tenth. The final fastest lap of the season was set by Nico Prost, who finished outside the top ten for the first time this season and fell to sixth in the overall standings.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Renault e.Dams’ three non-scoring results in Montréal allowed Abt Schaeffler Audi to close up in the teams’ standings, though in the end the French marque still had twenty points in hand to take its third consecutive crown.

Mahindra finished its best Formula E season to date by beating DS Virgin to third, and in spite of numerous driver changes across the season Techeetah ended its impressive debut campaign as the fifth-fastest team ahead of NextEV NIO.

There were no changes in position with the final four teams—Andretti, Dragon, Venturi and Jaguar—even though each team scored at least one top ten finish this weekend. The latter two are unlikely to be disheartened by coming ninth and tenth, considering both have shown great improvement from starting the season well out of contention for the points; as for Andretti and Dragon, teams used to scoring podiums in past seasons, finishing down in the latter half of the table will leave much for the two American outfits to consider over the off-season.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E