After a six-week break, the 2015/16 FIA Formula E Championship season resumes this Saturday with its third round, the Punta del Este ePrix in Uruguay. 

The Circuit

Punta del Este Circuit

2015-16 FIA Formula E Championship – Punta del Este ePrix
Date 19 December 2015 Lap Length 2.785km
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 (33 laps) Sat 16:00-17:00

Session times quoted in Uruguay Daylight Time (GMT -03:00)

The 2.785km circuit has received a few changes compared to the inaugural Formula E Championship season, although the most notable exception is the Turns 1-2 complex which has been reversed and is now a left-right configuration (it was a right-left last year) to improve safety with cars merging from pit exit.

Additionally, the chicanes around the rest of the lap have been tightened slightly to reduce speeds through these corners. Saturday afternoon’s race will run over 33 laps, two more than was completed in 2014.

As was noted by the teams last year, the circuit’s location alongside Playa Brava beach exposes the cars to potentially strong winds, capable of upsetting the aerodynamic balance of the car. Additionally these winds deposit varying levels of sand on to the circuit, changing the available grip level corner-to-corner and even lap-to-lap. The circuit’s kerbs also proved to be a car breaker in 2014, so watch for drivers searching for a fine balance between taking as much kerb as possible to gain lap speed without causing suspension damage from over-use.

Take a look at an onboard lap of the Punta del Este circuit with Stéphane Sarrazin:

Rewind to 2014

Sébastien Buemi won last year’s Punta del Este ePrix, withstanding an intense battle with Jean-Éric Vergne that was only resolved when the Frenchman’s sensational debut race came to an end when he suffered broken suspension with two laps to run.

Vergne had been drafted into the Andretti Autosport line-up at the eleventh hour following the sudden withdrawal of regular driver Franck Montagny (whom it later turned out had been suspended after a failed drugs test). The Frenchman impressively put his car on pole position but lost ground off the line to fellow front-row starter Nelson Piquet Jr.

Piquet brushed the wall at Turn 8 trying to build an early lead, and Vergne capitalised to retake the lead, leaving the Brazilian to fend off Buemi and his teammate Nicolas Prost.

The race saw two Safety Car interruptions before mid-distance – thanks to separate crashed by Sam Bird and Bruno Senna – with Buemi being the key beneficiary as he pitted during the second of these intrusions to vault ahead of Piquet and Vergne in the pit stop cycles. The biggest surprise of all was that Nick Heidfeld jumped ahead of the lot of them in his Venturi, but it was a false dawn as he was handed a drive-through penalty for failing to fulfill his minimum pit stop time.

That returned Buemi and Vergne to do battle for the lead at the front, which threatened to intensify when the Safety Car came out for a third time when Vergne’s teammate Matthew Brabham crashed out. With four laps to go, the stage looked set for an exciting battle to the finish.

Vergne used his FanBoost on the restart, eliminating any gap between himself and Buemi, but was unable to make a pass. The sparring continued until Vergne’s suspension failed, eliminating him from the contest and handing Buemi an easy victory ahead of Piquet Jr and di Grassi.

Sebastien Buemi

Buemi claimed victory after surviving a thrilling battle for the lead with Vergne.

The Form Guide

Sébastien Buemi scored his first Formula E win at Punta del Este last year, and based on the outright pace the Swiss driver has shown so far this season (winner in Beijing and on track for the same in Putrajaya before a technical issue struck) it would be a brave person who does not list him as favourite for this weekend.

His car failure in Malaysia saw him slip to second in the Drivers’ Championship standings, eight points behind eventual Putrajaya victor Lucas di Grassi – who is the only driver to have been on both podiums this year – and will challenge for a third in Uruguay.

Buemi’s Renault e.Dams team mate Nicolas Prost is also likely to be competitive, as the team looks to jump back ahead of di Grassi’s Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport outfit in the Teams’ Championship standings.

With this week’s announcement of the Trulli GP team withdrawing from the championship, 18 drivers will again take to circuit as has been the case for the first two events of the series.

One driver change has occurred, with Mahindra forced to find a substitute for Nick Heidfeld who has undergone ligament surgery following an injury to his wrist at the last round in Putrajaya. The team has selected British GP2 Series driver Oliver Rowland, who has completed a day in the team’s simulator before heading to Uruguay.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity to extend my season further and race the M2Electro. Formula E represents many aspects of the future of motorsport and it gained huge traction in the first season,” Rowland said.

“It has one of the most competitive driver line-ups and I am looking forward to some close racing among them and I hope to show what I can do. It will be a steep learning curve to get to grips with the new electric racing technology but I’m sure that once the visor goes down we will have some fun. I intend to make the most of this opportunity and extract the maximum out of the car.”

At the time of writing, Dragon Racing’s Stéphane Sarrazin leads the FanBoost vote, ahead of the DS Virgin pair of Jean-Éric Vergne (last year’s surprise pole-sitter on his debut) and Sam Bird.

The 2015 Punta del Este ePrix begins with a 45-minute opening practice session from 08:15 local time (UTC -03:00), with Practice 2 running for 30 minutes from 10:30. The first of four qualifying groups is on track from 12:00, while Super Pole follows at 12:45. Race start is scheduled for 16:00.

Images and video via FIA Formula E Championship

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Mitch Timms

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Professional motorsport engineer and all-round tech head.