“Encouraging” first half of the season sets up Renault push in Spa

The Renault Sport F1 team has been buoyed by the progress made so far this season and is aiming to make further gains this weekend in Spa, according to lead driver Nico Hülkenberg.

Renault Sport F1 Team

“[2017 has] been very encouraging, especially in the last few races,” the German driver said ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. “We’ve found a good balance with qualifying performance and race pace—Silverstone highlighted that—it’s at a better level now.

“We are heading in the right direction and are looking competitive, but we want to keep pushing ourselves.”

Hülkenberg also said that Renault’s momentum this season has mirrored his own: “I’m pleased with how the car is feeling and the progress we are making. This year’s cars and fun and faster, allowing me to push harder which suits my driving style a lot more than in recent years.

“It was a shame to finish how we did in Hungary (retiring on lap 67 with a brake issue), but in general there are positive feelings.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Part of Renault’s push this weekend will come in the form of software and hardware power unit upgrades scheduled for Belgium and the following race at Monza.

Although the updates are not part of a major development package, Renault engine chief Remi Taffin said the team is focusing on improving its reliability issues at two of the most power-hungry tracks on the calendar:

“Qualifying pace has looked good with Great Britain and Hungary exemplifying our ability to be the fourth-best team. It’s just a case of building on that and bettering the race pace.

“That comes from levelling up everything, we need to show off reliability and mileage and that is something we are giving close attention.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Any improvements to Renault’s engine reliability will come as a sure boost to Jolyon Palmer, who has so far taken the brunt of the French marque’s misfortune this season.

However, Palmer has conceded that reliability issues have not been his only obstacle in the first eleven races of 2017, with the Briton struggling to get to grips with the RS17 in the same way as his teammate.

“It’s been challenging,” he said, referring to the first half of his season. “The 2017 regulations mean a car that’s very different from before, so you have to relearn how to extract the maximum performance from it. Getting the right set-up is difficult and this is only compounded when you miss out on track time.”

But Palmer has also said that a refreshing summer break—in which he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro—and the prospect of returning to the “awesome” Spa circuit has given him fresh inspiration for the first of the remaining nine races:

“To drive it is simply immense. Nothing prepares you for heading flat out down the hill and then coming up the other side and down that straight. Pouhon will be an exciting corner this year, it brings a real challenge as it’s a very quick double apex left.

“I’ve had some good memories [at Spa] but I’m driven to make some more.”

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.

Palmer or the Pole? Analysing Renault’s 2018 driver dilemma

At last count, the Renault Formula One team had more drivers on its 2018 shopping list than it knew what to do with. Nico Hülkenberg is contracted to stay and was initially set to partner Fernando Alonso, if the team didn’t promote Sergey Sirotkin or Oliver Rowland instead; then there was talk of poaching Esteban Ocon or Carlos Sainz from their respective junior programmes, though that chatter has cooled now that Robert Kubica is firmly back in the frame. And just where does that leave Sergio Pérez?

Renault Sport F1 Team

Of course, that number has thinned considerably since the rumours started flying at the beginning of the season. Alonso at the very least has seemingly dropped off the shortlist, and whilst Sainz may be available for the right price, the likelihood of Mercedes setting free their prized Ocon is far, far lower.

As for Sirotkin, Rowland and Nicholas Latifi, Renault’s test and development trio would have been hoping for much better results in GP2 and Formula Two in recent years to prove themselves an improvement on Jolyon Palmer.

As of now, Renault’s options seem much less cluttered than they were a few months ago. Kubica’s Hungaroring running in the RS17 suggests quite clearly that Renault is pitting his capacity to drive next year up against Palmer’s ability to deliver now. But as simple as a straight Palmer vs. Kubica shootout would appear from the surface, the decision becomes much more complicated when considering the prospect of Kubica not being capable of driving next year’s Renault.

Renault Sport F1 Team

This is, of course, no criticism of Kubica’s abilities as a driver—only a very real possibility, given the extent of his injuries and the physical demands of F1’s new generation of cars.

The blotted debuts of Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne this season have been proof enough of the great leap a move to F1 now represents; and although many will argue that Kubica is no rookie, that doesn’t change the fact that the Pole has now been out of F1 for more years than he has competed in it. With his most recent Grand Prix experience coming from the days of low-downforce cars, Bridgestone tyres and straightforward V8 engines, Kubica’s five years and 76 starts in F1 will be as alien to what he is about to face as was Stroll’s time in Formula 3 or Giovinazzi’s in GP2.

Whether or not Kubica is ready for a full F1 season next year, it will be impossible to make a conclusive call based on just the one Hungary test—that kind of proof will only come after Kubica’s actually had a chance to race again. But if for some reason he or the team feel more time to prepare is needed, that will leave Renault looking for a tricky stopgap solution until Kubica is fit for a full-time drive.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The easiest solution would be to simply renew Jolyon Palmer’s contract for another year. The Briton might find such a brazen offer hard to accept, but unless the driver market undergoes any seismic changes over the summer it may well be his only option to stay in F1 for a third season: better a stay of execution and a last chance to impress next year, than rejecting an extension now with nowhere else to go.

However, that scenario hinges very much on whether or not Renault want to keep Palmer on for yet another season. As much as the focus would be on Kubica’s eventual return, the team will still have one eye on the present and must have a second driver capable of scoring points next year, which at present is simply not something Palmer has to offer. With just the one point to his name after thirty Grand Prix starts, it’s hard to see Renault wanting the Briton back even as a short-term option.

But if not Palmer, then who? Renault has long been keen on signing Sergio Pérez up for their second seat, but with the Mexican on the cusp of breaking into the top ranks of F1 he is unlikely to be tempted by a risky one-year deal at Enstone. Sirotkin or Rowland might prove more persuadable, but down that road lies the risk that Renault will simply be replacing Palmer with a rookie no more likely to score than he was.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alternatively, Renault might just find the best of both worlds by looking across the grid to Toro Rosso—and specifically, to Carlos Sainz.

With three years of midfield F1 experience and almost a hundred career championship points under his belt, Sainz would represent a much safer bet for Renault than their academy drivers, and alongside Hülkenberg would form a lineup more than capable of challenging the likes of Williams and Force India in the top half of the championship.

But more importantly, Sainz would also be much less wary of a one-year deal than Pérez: provided he moves on a loaned basis from Red Bull (which would be cheaper for Renault than hiring him outright), Sainz would still have the security at the end of 2018 of a return to Toro Rosso at least, or at most a shot at replacing Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull when the Australian’s contract conveniently expires.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

What’s more, Red Bull will likely find the idea of loaning out Sainz quite appealing, given events this year. The striking of cheaper engine deals aside, allowing Sainz to spend a term at Renault would go a long way to bringing back on side a driver who’s been highly critical of the Red Bull brand this season, as well as alleviating the tension that has built up at Toro Rosso between Sainz and Daniil Kvyat.

Furthermore, it would give Red Bull the opportunity to evaluate Sainz’ composure in a full factory outfit to ensure he is ready for a senior Red Bull drive in the future, and by extension would allow Toro Rosso to give Pierre Gasly his long-awaited F1 debut in Sainz’ place.

And even if Renault cannot convince Red Bull to part with Sainz even for a single season, they might still benefit from taking on Gasly himself in the same capacity.

The Frenchman has had a long connection with Renault, with the French marque reportedly introducing him to the Red Bull fold during his Formula Renault days, and earlier this year Gasly helped Renault’s Formula E team to a third teams’ title by deputising for Sébastien Buemi at the New York ePrix. With Gasly alongside Hülkenberg, Renault would have not only a second driver it knows is capable of scoring points finishes, but also one it can keep for as long as Kubica needs to get up to full F1 fitness—whether that’s partway through next year or in 2019.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Formula E: 2016–17 Season Review

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)

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

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)

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

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)

Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E

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)

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

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 (7): Jean-Éric Vergne (7), Stéphane Sarrazin (6)

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

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)

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

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)

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

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.

Faraday Future Dragon Racing (4): Jérôme d’Ambrosio (5), Loïc Duval (4)

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

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)

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

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)

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

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.

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

Formula E: 2017 Montreal ePrix Preview

The end of the 2016–17 Formula E season is upon us. In a few days time, the chequered flag will fall at the second round of the Montréal ePrix, and the champion of season three will be crowned.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers in contention for the title going into Montréal—Sébastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi, Felix Rosenqvist, and Sam Bird. But as anyone who has followed this season will know, it would take something truly special to see three of those four drivers come out on top come Sunday.

Bird, who was propelled into the top four by his double victory in New York, would need to score every available point this weekend—both wins, both poles and both fastest laps—with Buemi scoring none at all if he has any hopes of taking the season three title. Nor does Rosenqvist have much more margin for error, sitting just four points ahead of Bird and 53 behind Buemi; in fact, this pair will be more concerned by Nico Prost, who at twenty points behind them will be a major threat for third overall.

Di Grassi has the best chance of sneaking through to the title, having both arguably the second-fastest car on the grid and only a ten-point deficit to overcome. However, that gap will likely feel more like a gulf psychologically, considering the opportunity he missed in Buemi’s absence to take the lead of the championship in New York. There is still time for di Grassi to turn things around, but it would take a level of performance the Brazilian has frankly yet to show this season.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

In the teams’ championship, the top spot is unsurprisingly safe in the hands of Renault e.Dams. ABT Schaeffler Audi, however, will have their hands full fending off Mahindra for second place in what has been by far the Indian team’s best season yet; with just twelve points separating the two squads, another podium for Rosenqvist or Nick Heidfeld could be enough to lift Mahindra to an outstanding best-of-the-rest come Sunday evening.

DS Virgin could move up to take third, providing Bird or José María López can build on the team’s dominant New York performance and recover the 29 points by which they trail Mahindra. The series’ two Chinese teams, Techeetah and NextEV, look set to finish fifth and sixth respectively—an impressive result considering the former is in its debut season and the latter finished last year in last place.

Behind them, the US outfits Andretti and Dragon Racing are locked on thirty points apiece and will both be desperate to break that tie. António Félix da Costa will be especially hungry for points, having yet to score since the season opener in Hong Kong whilst his teammate Robin Frijns sits in twelfth with double the Portuguese driver’s points total.

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

But as well as each other, Andretti and Dragon will need to keep their eyes on Venturi and Jaguar, who lurk just two and nine points behind respectively. For Jaguar, the opportunity to finish their first season in Formula E as high as seventh will be a major inspiration for the team, and in particular for Mitch Evans, who has acclimatised to the series quickly in his rookie season and scored the lion’s share of his team’s points.

Jaguar will no doubt need Evans, and Adam Carroll too, to have a strong weekend in Canada if they are to finish above Venturi at the very least. Like Jaguar, the Monegasque team enjoys its own pairing of points-capable rookies in Maro Engel and Tom Dillmann, and Engel especially will be someone of whom the lower midfield teams will be very wary: pumped up from his maiden DTM win in Moscow last weekend, the German should have all the necessary momentum to hunt down those few points his team needs to beat Andretti and Dragon.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Although the sharp end of the two championships looks to be a foregone conclusion in Buemi’s and Renault’s favour, 2017’s inaugural Montréal ePrix still has plenty of room to spring a few surprises. Stay tuned to ThePitCrewOnline for all the action and updates across the weekend.

Kubica confirmed to test for Renault in Hungary

After much speculation, today Renault Sport F1 team confirmed that Robert Kubica will be driving the R.S. 17 in Hungary on August 2nd as part of the two days of mid-season testing for the teams. After a series of private tests in older Renault machinery, this announcement marks the next step in what many hope will be the Pole’s full comeback to Formula 1.

Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director at Renault, previously labelled Kubica as an “option” for Renault in 2018, and claimed that he saw no “obvious roadblocks” to the return of the Polish driver, who was a race winner back in 2008. Kubica himself claimed that he believed he could drive again at the level he did before his career stalling rally crash in 2011, and was quoted as estimating his chances of a return to F1 as “80%-90%”.

This test will mark the first time Kubica completes laps in up-to-date Formula 1 machinery, and will give both Renault, and the general public, a chance to see how he fares in the newer, more physical cars. It will also be the first time he will drive in a public testing session, where his competitiveness will be displayed to the world for the first time.

While rumours are abound that this is Renault’s way of gauging whether or not Kubica is fit to replace current driver Jolyon Palmer, with some placing the switch happening as soon as Spa. This seems unlikely however, as Abiteboul claims the test is merely to see whether it would be possible for Kubica to return in “the upcoming years”. But nevertheless, the announcement marks a huge step forward in the Pole’s quest to return to racing in Formula 1 full time.

Still, fans will be watching very closely to see how his times compare to those of Palmer, and whether or not he manages to last a full race distance.  And regardless of whether it leads to a race seat or not, few will not enjoy seeing Robert Kubica back driving a Formula 1 car again. It looks more and more likely that what people once thought was impossible, might become a reality.

Renault also announced that Canadian Formula 2 driver, Nicholas Latifi, will test the Renault R.S. 17 on the other day of the two day test at the Hungaroring.

Preview: 2017 New York ePrix

July is now upon us, and with it the penultimate and most hotly-anticipated stop on the 2017–18 Formula E calendar—New York City.

It’s a shame, really, that given New York’s billing as this season’s headline event (sorry, Montréal), the championship leader Sébastien Buemi will not be present at either race this weekend. His Toyota WEC priorities have hardly come as a surprise, and in his place Formula E will get to welcome another exciting young talent in the form of Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly, but for one of the sport’s box office stars to miss an event like New York is still regrettable.

But on a more positive note, the impact of Formula E’s clash with the WEC’s 6 Hours of the Nürburgring has proven to be much less than first expected. Of the half-dozen drivers previously at risk of skipping the New York round, only Buemi and his Toyota LMP1 teammate José María López will in fact leave vacant seats—meaning Gasly and DS Virgin reserve Alex Lynn will be the only new faces on the grid this weekend. Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet, Nico Prost and Jean-Éric Vergne have all opted to forego the fourth round of the WEC and contest New York instead.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

The other upside to Buemi’s absence is that it naturally opens the way for a fresh change to the podium predictions. Lucas di Grassi will obviously be among the favourites to capitalise on his title rival’s double booking, and a pair of strong top three results would even see him assume the lead of the championship before the final round in Canada.

But if the previous round in Berlin is anything to go by, di Grassi will more than have his hands full keeping back the rapid Mahindra pair of Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld, the former of whom scored his and the team’s first victory last time out and will surely be eager for more of the same. Vergne also ought to pose a major threat at the front in New York with his Renault-powered Techeetah, as will his former DS Virgin teammate Bird, and nor can Prost be discounted; although the Renault driver has yet to finish on the podium this season, Prost is the only man to have scored in every round so far and is a proven ePrix winner.

Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

The presence of two rookies at Renault and DS Virgin may also present an opportunity for some of the midfield teams to take a larger bite at the top ten than usual this weekend.

Such an opening will be especially attractive to Dragon Racing, currently languishing at the bottom of the standings and looking for a first points finish since Buenos Aires. But with only a handful of points splitting Dragon from Jaguar, Venturi and Andretti ahead of them, it will be a close fight between their respective drivers to see who comes out on top.

Jaguar and Venturi would seem to have the current edge in that regard, with Mitch Evans and Maro Engel contributing heavily to their teams’ rising points totals of late. But Andretti’s pairing of da Costa and Frijns is capable of brilliance on the right day, such as their fifth- and sixth-placed finishes in Hong Kong, and Dragon’s two-time ePrix winner Jérôme d’Ambrosio is no slouch either.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Previewing the 2017–18 driver market

When summer comes and F1 takes to its European heartlands, that can only mean one thing—the time for silly season is here. At time of writing, only six drivers on the current grid have contracts in place for the 2018 season, and while many can be expected to renew their existing deals, there is still plenty of scope for changes over the course of the next few months.

Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Starting at the very front of the grid, it looks unlikely that Mercedes will feature much in the contractual rumour mill this season. Lewis Hamilton is one of those half-dozen drivers with a 2018 deal already in place, and although many speculated early in the year that Valtteri Bottas’ one-year deal was just a placeholder until a superstar name became available, the Finn seems to have established himself as an asset to the team and is likely to be retained.

The same cannot be said of Ferrari, however. With the Scuderia now locked in a close title fight with Mercedes, it’s hard to imagine much desire among the bosses to retain Kimi Räikkönen for yet another season when there is much younger blood to be found elsewhere. The obvious candidate for his seat is Sergio Pérez, who carries that blend of proven talent and North American sponsorship so desired at Ferrari, although Carlos Sainz is also well-known to join him on their shopping list.

An alternative name to throw into the Ferrari pot is that of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian has been visibly disheartened by Red Bull’s lack of a title bid this season, and although he already has a supposedly ironclad contract in place for next year, his departure may actually suit Red Bull in the long run—especially when one considers the alternative is losing Max Verstappen to Ferrari instead.

Judging by frustration alone, the Dutchman looks far more likely than Ricciardo to want out of Red Bull this year. But allowing him to become the team’s new and undisputed leader would appease Verstappen no end, and promoting one of the Toro Rosso juniors to be his teammate would prevent them from leaving the programme to strengthen the hand of a rival like Renault or Williams. With all five of its drivers (including understudy Pierre Gasly) under interest from all ends of the F1 grid, Red Bull could well be forced this year into losing a finger to save the hand.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

If Red Bull decides to stick with (or rather, refuses to let go of) its current senior lineup, then the likely price will be to lose one of its junior drivers instead. It’s obvious that Sainz, with at least some interest from all four works teams, will face the most attractive offers, but considering Daniil Kvyat’s difficult relationship with both the Red Bull and Toro Rosso management, it’s he who in all probability will find it easier to leave.

Should Kvyat be released from the Red Bull stable he will no doubt carry some considerable weight among the midfield teams. Questions of consistency aside, with a proven points and podium record the Russian will make an appealing option to replace Pérez at Force India, or the ageing Felipe Massa at Williams.

Another potential home for Kvyat would be alongside Nico Hülkenberg at Renault. The French marque is known to like its Russian drivers (not to mention their sponsors), and if Sergey Sirotkin doesn’t prove up to an F1 seat in 2018, the team could do worse than signing Kvyat in place of Jolyon Palmer—particularly as the former’s history of Renault engines at Red Bull and Toro Rosso will help him slot quickly into their development programme.

As for Palmer himself, even with his underwhelming performances so far it would be surprising not to see him somewhere on the grid in 2018. The Briton’s GP2 title and substantial personal backing was known to have put him on Force India’s radar when it sought a replacement for Hülkenberg last season, and could do so again this year; if not, he may well find a welcome home at Sauber-Honda.

Renault Sport F1 Team

If Palmer were to pitch himself to Sauber, it’s almost a given that his drive would come at Pascal Wehrlein’s expense. The German is understood to have developed a difficult relationship with both Marcus Ericsson and the team’s new owners for starters; and with Sauber taking on a new engine deal with Honda for next year, Mercedes may feel it’s best to place Wehrlein elsewhere.

Had Lance Stroll not found his F1 feet in Baku, it would not have been much of a shock to see Williams switch him with Wehrlein to allow the Canadian time to mature outside of the spotlight. And whilst Williams could still opt to take on Wehrlein to partner Stroll instead, the team would probably prefer to find a more experienced driver should it decide against resigning Felipe Massa for a fifth season—a driver like Romain Grosjean, for example, whose vexation with Haas’ continued brake issues has been made all too public this year, and who might be on the hunt for fresh inspiration now that his Ferrari hopes seem to have vanished.

Alternatively, at 31 and with no clear shot at a front-running seat, Grosjean might be tempted to chance one last throw of the dice at McLaren. It’s hard to see who else the former champions would be able to attract if Fernando Alonso walks away and leaves them with an empty seat, unless they take a substantial risk and promote F2 protege Nyck de Vries. Nevertheless, the matter of any driver replacing Alonso remains dependant on the Spaniard actually leaving McLaren—something that still seems a long way from happening with no obvious top-tier cockpit for him to assume.

Charles Coates / McLaren