The second season of the 2015-16 FIA Formula E Championship reaches its climax this weekend in London, as Battersea Park again hosts the double header event to round out the series.
Just as was the case in season one, three drivers enter the event with a chance to secure the title – Lucas di Grassi, Sébastien Buemi and Sam Bird, however this year it is more likely going to be a battle in two.
Bird requires the maximum points available on both days for the race win, fastest lap and pole position, without a single point being scored by di Grassi or Buemi. Bird did win one of the London races last year so the Brit featuring at the front of the field this weekend would not be a surprise, but as far as the championship victory is concerned it is mathematically possible but highly unlikely to happen.
That means the main focus will be on the battle between di Grassi and Buemi, both of whom were in the same position leading into the final event last season but ultimately both fell short to eventual champion Nelson Piquet Jr. Following Buemi’s win in the previous round in Berlin only a single point separates the Swiss driver from di Grassi ahead, meaning whichever driver scores the most points in London is likely to leave as the champion.
It shapes as a battle between the driver with the most speed throughout the year in Buemi against the most consistent driver of the year in di Grassi. At almost all events, Buemi has rolled on to the track with the fastest car, but a string of qualifying errors during the mid-season stretch left the Renault e.DAMS driver playing catch-up during the races.
Conversely, di Grassi has maintained an incredible streak of results during the year, finishing each race in a podium position on the road. If not for being stripped of victory in Mexico, when one of his cars was found to be below the minimum weight, di Grassi would actually have a significant championship lead.
That technical oversight by the team may be critical in determining the championship result come Sunday evening in London. But some may say that if Buemi wins the championship by less than the points di Grassi lost in Mexico, it may be a case of the motorsport gods restoring balance. Two weeks ago at the Le Mans 24 Hours, Buemi was part of the driving team in the Number 5 Toyota LMP1 which stopped while leading with less than five minutes to go in the race. With the demise of Buemi’s Toyota it was di Grassi’s Audi that benefited, with the Brazilian’s team inheriting the final podium position.
Beyond the championship contenders, their teammates are also expected to be challenging this weekend. Nicolas Prost (Renault e.DAMS), Daniel Abt (ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport) and Jean-Éric Vergne (DS Virgin Racing) have all spent time at the front of the field this year. Also likely to feature are the Dragon Racing cars of Loïc Duval and Jérôme d’Ambrosio, who together scored a double podium for the team in London last year.
There only change to the field of drivers ahead of London is the return of António Félix da Costa, after René Rast deputised at Team Aguri for the Portuguese driver in Berlin. It will also mark the final event for Team Aguri, who have announced the sale of their team licence to Techeetah ahead of season three.
The Amlin Andretti cars of Simona de Silvestro and Robin Frijns will also sport updated colours and an updated team name, now known as MS Amlin Andretti in a partnership that will carry into next season.
|2015-16 FIA Formula E Championship – London ePrix|
|Date||02-03 July 2016||Lap Length||2.925km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 08:15-09:00||Free Practice Session 2||Sat 10:30-11:00|
|Qualifying Group 1||Sat 12:00-12:06||Qualifying Group 2||Sat 12:10-12:16|
|Qualifying Group 3||Sat 12:20-12:26||Qualifying Group 4||Sat 12:30-12:36|
|Super Pole||Sat 12:45-13:00||Race 9 (33 laps)||Sat 16:00-16:50|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sun 08:15-09:00||Free Practice Session 2||Sun 10:30-11:00|
|Qualifying Group 1||Sun 12:00-12:06||Qualifying Group 2||Sun 12:10-12:16|
|Qualifying Group 3||Sun 12:20-12:26||Qualifying Group 4||Sun 12:30-12:36|
|Super Pole||Sun 12:45-13:00||Race 10 (33 laps)||Sun 16:00-16:50|
Session times quoted in British Summer Time (GMT +01:00)
After significant legal wrangling between Formula E the local council, the track along the Thames in Battersea Park will again be used this year. Noted for its significant bumps and narrow sections the circuit provides drivers with little margin for error. This is particularly evident at the sweeping left-hand Turn 1 as the road changes through the corner as the cars follow the racing line.
The challenge is one which home-town hero Bird relishes: “London was one of my favourite circuits last year not only because it’s sort of my home city, but also Formula E created a spectacular track with many different corners. It was a great venue, a sublime setting at Battersea Park! The track is quite narrow in areas with some big chicanes and a very fast first corner which is very tricky because of the camber of the road. Obviously we get quite a lot of rain in England and we need a cambered road to drain the water but it makes for interesting handling when negotiating a high-speed left hander, trying to go over the crown of the road and back down the other side. It’s tricky for a single-seater racing car and something that isn’t necessarily normal when you’re negotiating turns on normal tracks.”
At 97 kilometres each, the London races are also the longest distance covered during the year, placing a greater emphasis of energy management across each driver’s two cars.
Another factor that may play a part in the weekend’s racing is the notorious English weather. A partly-wet qualifying session during last year’s event saw the first time Formula E ran competitively on a wet circuit. Rain is forecast in patches again this weekend, and if it strikes mid-way through a qualifying session may hand the advantage to once championship contender over the other.
It’s a frustrating situation, but as Buemi explains not one they can control: “We try to have the best preparation possible. One day we know we’ll have a wet race. It hasn’t happened so far but the important thing to have is the same conditions in qualifying. It would be a shame if one of the two qualified in the wet and the other in the dry. We cannot fight those kind of things so we will focus on what we can change and improve from our side. The rest we leave it.”
The London ePrix begins on Saturday with Practice 1 at 08:15 local time (currently UTC +01:00 with daylight saving in effect). Practice 2 follows at 10:30, ahead of Qualifying at 12:00 and Super Pole at 12:45. The start of the ninth race of the season is scheduled for 16:03. The teams and drivers will then reset and complete the same program again on Sunday for Race 10 – the final of the season – when the champion will be crowned.
Image via XPB Images