The ABB FIA Formula E Championship returns for its biggest-ever season on November 22 in Diriyah. With new major manufacturers, new drivers, new rivals, new race locations and new rules there is plenty of talking points as we enter season six.
The most competitive season of motorsport ever?
Formula E welcomes two iconic motorsport brands to their full 24-car grid in Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. The automotive giants join German rivals Audi and BMW in the battle – the first time in history that the four major German manufacturers have gone head-to-head in motorsport.
With the likes of DS Automobiles, Jaguar, Nissan and Indian powerhouses Mahindra all competing as manufacturers next season – and experienced customer teams Virgin and Venturi also impressing at testing – it promises to be the most competitive line-up ever.
The competition doesn’t stop with the teams with new faces including Mercedes-Benz star signing of Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries – the previous season’s top-three F2 drivers all competing in Formula One – and former Le Mans winning driver Brendon Hartley joining GEOX Dragon.
Can Mercedes mount a championship tilt having dominated Formula One, will we see a four-way German battle or will one of the other brands come to the fore during the season?
The only thing predictable is unpredictability
With nine different races winners last season, Formula E was impossible to predict which made reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne’s second consecutive title even more impressive – living up to this third placing in Autosport’s 2018 rankings of the world’s best motor racing drivers.
Things will be even more fast and furious this season with some small changes to the rules to make things even tougher on the drivers. After the hugely successful introduction of ATTACK MODE last season, overtaking is going to be made even harder to defend against with an extra 10kW of power added so cars will jump up 35kW for a period after going through the zone.
Drivers will no longer be allowed to activate ATTACK MODE during Full Course Yellow and Safety Car period and during these periods they will be deducted 1 kWh from their available energy every minute to ensure that energy management becomes vital to a drivers’ chances.
We saw Pascal Wehrlein run out of energy on the line to lose in Mexico last season – drivers will have to be more aware than ever to avoid a repeat of that.
Who shone in Valencia?
The only chance to have a look at the new grid on track was at Valencia during Formula E testing. With a full off-season of tinkering behind them, every team arrived in Spain raring to go and smashed all previous lap records from the year before.
With many at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit having their attention drawn to reigning champion Vergne, hot young rookie de Vries, or motorsport legend Felipe Massa – it was an unassuming 22-year-old who stole the show.
Max Guenther, entering his second season in the Championship, achieved the fastest lap time of the weekend and the best lap time in two of the six testing sessions – finishing top-7 in every one.
The young German was dropped by his GEOX Dragon team a few races in last season but, after bouncing back with some overachieving performances at the back end of the season, BMW i Andretti decided to roll the dice on his undoubted talent.
Another young German driver with a bright future Pascal Wehrlein set the second fastest lap for Mahindra Racing and rookie Nico Muller raised some eyebrows when he was fastest in a session with the third fastest time of the week for Dragon.
Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird and Robin Frijns tested fastest during sessions two and three respectively to show the customer teams will also have something to say next season.
Old Friends, New Rivals
The major off-season move was the breaking up of the Team and Drivers Championship winning pair Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer as TAG Heuer Porsche came in to pluck Lotterer from the no.2 at DS Techeetah into an undoubted no.1 role.
‘Jeandre’ as they were known formed a close bond and formidable partnership both on and off the track during their two seasons for DS Techeetah as veteran Lotterer played a huge role in protecting his younger teammate on the way to consecutive championships.
Despite mounting a points-based title challenge last season – which played a big role in his team triumph – he is still yet to win a race.
But friendships will be put aside in the season opener at Diriyah when Vergne will be on the end of 37-year-old Lotterer’s famous aggressive driving in the narrow street circuits rather than benefitting from it.
And with former BMW driver Antonio Felix Da Costa picking up the German’s seat at Techeetah and aiming to defend his E-Prix victory from Diriyah last year, could this season see sparks fly from the off?