The second season of the FIA Formula E Championship begins today in Beijing, as the series takes the next step towards becoming a fully-fledged world championship.
A new technical challenge
While still using the same Dallara chassis and aero package, the series is no longer a one-make championship as seven powertrain manufacturers are now used across the field of ten teams.
These powertrains – comprising the e-motor, inverter and transmission – have seen a number of different solutions produced by the manufacturers, and it has excited FIA Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag: “This is going to be the first time we will see seven different powertrains competing against each other. It’s going to be fascinating; some teams have gone for two motors, one motor, four gears, two gears, no gears – there is a really wide approach in terms of technology to this competition and we are going to see who’s got it right.”
The power limits on the powertrains have also been increased, with ‘Race Mode’ now set at 170kW, and ‘Qualifying Mode’ at 200kw.
New Rules introduced
Several sporting changes have also been made ahead of the new season. A Superpole Shoot-out has been introduced into qualifying. The field will once again be split into four qualifying groups of five cars, however each group will now only be on track for six minutes – only enough time for an out lap, one warm-up lap at 170kW, and one flying lap at 200kW for each car.
At the conclusion of these four groups, positions 6 to 20 on the grid will be set, and the top five drivers will compete in the shoot-out, getting one lap each to set a time for pole position. The result of the shoot-out will set the first five starting positions for the race.
Changes have also been made to FanBoost, with the recipients only being permitted to use the boost in their second car – after their pit stop. This change has allowed FanBoost voting to be extended live into the first six minutes of the race, with the recipients being announced soon after. This change will add some uncertainty to the team and driver strategies, as they will not know in advance of race start if FanBoost is available to them.
A total of 30 different drivers were used over the course of the inaugural season, and in an effort to reduce confusion for season two, a limit of two driver changes per car over the course of the season has been introduced. Furthermore, teams are not permitted to swap drivers across the final three events of the year, as to avoid any potential conflict in the championship fight. In exceptional circumstances (for example injury or illness) more than two changes may be permitted by series organisers, however approval needs to be given to teams for this to occur.
A greater focus has also been placed on the quality of the field for season two. Drivers are now required to have gained a minimum of 20 FIA Super Licence points over the previous three seasons and have undertaken electric-specific safety training before qualifying for an e-Licence.
The 2015-16 season calendar
|2015/6 FIA Formula E World Championship Season Calendar|
|24 October 2015||Beijing ePrix||Beijing Olympic Green Circuit, China|
|07 November 2015||Putrajaya ePrix||Putrajaya street circuit, Malaysia|
|19 December 2015||Punta del Este ePrix||Punta del Este street circuit, Uruguay|
|06 February 2016||Buenos Aires ePrix||Puerto Madero street circuit, Argentina|
|12 March 2016||TBA|
|02 April 2016||Long Beach ePrix||Long Beach street circuit, United States|
|23/24 April 2016||Paris ePrix||Les Invalides street circuit, Paris, France|
|21 May 2016||Berlin ePrix||Tempelhof Airport circuit, Germany|
|04 June 2016||Moscow ePrix||Moscow street circuit, Russia|
|02-03 Jul 2016||London ePrix||Battersea Park street circuit, London, United Kingdom|
The 2015/16 season will comprise 11 races across 10 events, with eight of the host cities returning for season two. The two changes are Monaco, which has been replaced by a race in Paris, and a replacement for the Miami event – the location is yet to be finalised, however the event is scheduled for Saturday March 12. A double-header race weekend in London will again end the season, this year on July 2/3.
Race distances have also been extended slightly for the second season, with the Beijing event to run 26 laps, compared to 25 laps in 2014.
Series organisers have announced that some changes may be made to circuits, based on reviews of season one. These changes include the removal of the tight & technical final section of the Berlin Tempelhof course, and for this weekend in Beijing the old first chicane has been removed completely, while the complex that was formerly the second chicane has been tightened slightly.
Beijing Form Guide
This change, combined with the increase in car performance for season two, has already seen the lap record shattered during the pre-event test session. Renault eDams driver Nicolas Prost set a 1:37.291 lap time, over four seconds faster than the best lap of the inaugural race meeting.
Prost’s teammate Sébastien Buemi ended the session in second, signalling that both Renault drivers will be contenders this week in China, and almost certainly among the favourites for the Drivers’ Championship title, along with defending its Teams’ Championship title.
The Beijing test results reflected a similar order to what was seen in the pre-season test days. Renault eDams were second fastest over the pre-season, with only Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport drivers Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi ahead. The lead group in testing also included the DS Virgin paring of Sam Bird and Jean-Éric Vergne, Mahindra’s Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna, and Dragon Racing’s Loïc Duval and Jérôme d’Ambrosio. Expect all of these teams, along with the Venturi pairing of Stéphane Sarrazin and former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve to challenge for the podium regularly throughout 2015-16.
Pre-season testing was a battle for the NEXTEV TCR team of reigning champion Nelson Piquet Jr and team mate Oliver Turvey, only completing decent mileage in the final test. If these initial powertrain issues are behind them, expect the team to again be a challenger in this season: Turvey ended the Beijing shake-down in sixth place, showing the car does indeed have pace, if it remains reliable.
Further back in the field, Amlin Andretti struggled to complete a lap using their new for seaon two powertrain, reverting to the McLaren unit from season one for the final day of the test. It was a successful switch, with Simona de Silvestro and new teammate Robin Frijns completing 68 laps. The team later announced that it would remain with the McLaren unit for the start of the season and continue to develop its own powertrain in the background with a view to introducing the unit later in the season.
Fresh from an impressive performance at the Bathurst 1000, de Silvestro showed in the season one London ePrix that she can run competitively in Formula E, so if the Andretti car remains reliable the Swiss driver just might be a surprise podium contender.
At the back of the field was Trulli, who after failing to complete a flying lap in pre-season testing also did not partake in the Beijing shakedown. The team initially requested a delayed scruitineering of their cars as they waited for upgraded components from powertrain supplier Multimatic; however these parts failed to arrive in time. This resulted in the team missing their revised scrutineering deadline, and as such announced late on Friday night that they have been forced to withdraw the cars of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Salvador Durán from the Beijing event.
For the remaining nine teams, Practice for the second Beijing ePrix begins at 08:15 local time (UTC +08:00), with the second session at 10:30. Qualifying begins at 12:00, with Formula E’s first Superpole session starting at 12:45. The Beijing ePrix race will go green at 16:00.
Images via FIA Formula E Championship