The FIA Formula E Championship’s sole pre-season test at Donington has given fans and paddock insiders a preview of how the third FIA Formula E Championship season could pan out.
With just five weeks until the 2016-17 championship season kicks off, Mitch Timms takes a preliminary look at what’s been happening in the all-electric series’ off-season…
New teams and faces
Two new teams join the fray to return the grid to twenty drivers for 2016/17, with Jaguar becoming the fifth mainstream automotive manufacturer to join the series. Steeped in racing history, including Le Mans 24 Hour victories and more recently a five-year stint in Formula 1, Jaguar takes the place of the Trulli team, which collapsed after just two events in season two. The team has signed Adam Carroll on to pilot one of its cars, while the identity of the Northern Irishman’s teammate is a likely shortlist of either Williams F1 reserve driver Alex Lynn, 2013 GP3 champion Mitch Evans and former Nissan factory driver Harry Tincknell. All three have completed a full day’s testing at Donington last week.
The second new team is Techeetah. The Chinese group purchased the licences used by Team Aguri during Formula E’s first two seasons, and have kept former Aguri driver Ma Qing Hua on board for 2016-17. Joining the team in the second car is Jean-Éric Vergne, who has moved from DS Virgin Racing.
Both the new teams are the unknown factor ahead of Season 3. Jaguar in particular have undertaken an extensive private testing program following the announcement of the program early last season, so Donington’s pre-season hit outs were the first indicator of where both sit compared to the established runners.
At the other end of the spectrum four teams have aimed for consistency, keeping the same driver pairings from last season. These include Teams’ Championship winners Renault e.dams, who once again with field reigning champion Sébastien Buemi alongside Nicolas Prost.
Their closest rivals throughout 2015-16, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, have also retained their pairing of Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt. This consistency – in drivers, team and technology – from last season’s two leading teams is likely to again place then at the front of the field.
Also maintaining their driver pairings for the new season are Dragon Racing (now named Faraday Future Dragon Racing), where Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Loïc Duval will again suit up.
Also returning with the same driver pairing is NEXTEV NIO (formerly NEXTEV TCR), retaining Season 1 champion Nelson Piquet Jr and Oliver Turvey. This pairing comes as somewhat of a surprise, as there were suggestions during their incredibly difficult second season that Piquet was looking to move elsewhere, possibly even focusing on his World Endurance Championship drive.
For the remaining four teams, there is a mixture of old and new faces behind the wheel. Robin Frijns has remained at Amlin Andretti, with Aguri refugee António Félix da Costa replacing Simona de Silvestro as his teammate. Andretti has also experienced a significant technical change, running its own powertrain in the car. This was the team’s initial plan last season, but significant reliability problems during pre-season testing forced the team to revert to the season one control-specification McLaren powertrain. With their own unit developed in the background during Season 2, the team will now press forward with it in their race cars.
Having been a championship contender up to the final weekend last season, Sam Bird has been retained by DS Virgin Racing, while the seat vacated by Vergne has been claimed by Citroën’s World Touring Car Champion José María López. This is a move clearly orchestrated by PSA, the parent company of both DS Automobiles and Citroën, to keep López on the fold as it scales back its WTCC efforts. Whilst he hasn’t raced single-seaters in several years, López is clearly a driver in form and will provide a worthy teammate to Bird.
Venturi has made what could be considered a slightly left-field driver choice to replace Mike Conway, with former Mercedes DTM, GT and V8 Supercars driver Maro Engel selected to pair with the retuning Stéphane Sarrazin. Given both Engel and the team are based in Monaco, it could provide the close driver-team relationship that is required to bring Venturi to the front week in and week out.
Mahindra Racing completes the field, and while Nick Heidfeld returns for a second season with the squad, Bruno Senna has departed and in his place will be European Formula 3 champion Felix Rosenqvist. Clearly fast in open wheeled cars, Rosenqvist will hope that the signs of pace which Mahindra showed late last season can provide a platform for a successful debut season.
New tyres and a new look for the cars
While the technical regulations have remained relatively stable, the constant development of the powertrain technology by the teams and manufacturers will no doubt further improve the speed and energy efficiency of the cars.
The series’ official tyre supplier, Michelin, is also providing a new all-weather race tyre to the category for Season 3, with an aim to provide more grip and enable the tyre to reach operating temperature faster.
The most obvious technical change to the championship’s control chassis is its few front wing, which now features a sweeping upper ‘bridge’ from the top of the front wheel pods back to the nose. This update has dramatically changed to front-on look of the cars, but as the aero pack is a controlled item and the same for all teams it is unlikely to have a major affect on car performance.
The 2016-17 season calendar
The 2016/17 season calendar has grown from previous years, with fourteen individual ePrix comprising the championship. Despite this growth, however, only four events have remained from last season, while Monaco – a highlight of the inaugural 2015-16 season – has returned to the series in its customary bi-annual slot.
The championship opens at an all-new location in Hong Kong on October 9, followed by a trip to another new venue in Morocco for the Marrakech ePrix on November 12.
Following a break for the Christmas and New Year, the series returns to Buenos Aires on February 18 to start a run of existing events: Mexico City, Monaco, Paris and Berlin.
The Brussels ePrix is, so far, the only new European event of the season on July 12, followed by two double header events in North America to finish the season: Montreal over the weekend of July 15-16, before the finale on the streets of New York on July 29-30.
|09 October 2016||Hong Kong ePrix||Hong Kong street circuit, Hong Kong|
|12 November 2016||Marrakesh ePrix||TBA, Marrakech, Morocco|
|18 February 2017||Buenos Aires ePrix||Puerto Madero street circuit, Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|01 April 2017||Mexico City ePrix||Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City, Mexico|
|22 April 2017||TBA|
|13 May 2017||Monaco ePrix||Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo, Monaco|
|20 May 2017||Paris ePrix||Les Invalides street circuit, Paris, France|
|10 June 2017||Berlin ePrix||Berlin street circuit, Berlin, Germany|
|24 June 2017||TBA|
|01 July 2017||Brussels ePrix||TBA, Brussels, Belgium|
|15-16 July 2017||Montreal ePrix||TBA, Montreal, Canada|
|29-30 July 2017||New York ePrix||TBA, New York City, United States|
Images via FIA Formula E Championship