The first event of 2018 for the AAB FIA Formula E Championship hits the track in Morocco this Saturday (January 13) as the Marrakesh ePrix unfolds.
The streets comprising the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan will host the third race of the season, and December’s double header in Hong Kong suggested that season four of Formula E – and the Marrakesh event – is likely to be closer than ever before.
If past history in Marrakesh is a form guide for this week’s event, then expect the Renault-powered cars to feature. Sébastien Buemi won for Renault e.Dams here last season in the championship’s first trip to Africa, and will be looking to rebound from what was a lacklustre weekend in Hong Kong. Incidents and a general lack of pace from Buemi and teammate Nico Prost see the three-time reigning Teams’ Champions sitting second last in the standings.
Techeetah – a Renault customer team – and specifically driver Jean-Éric Vergne must be considered a strong favourite this week. Last year, Vergne scored the team’s first ever points with an eighth place finish, sparking what became a remarkably strong campaign for the rookie team. They appear to have continued this pace into the 2017/18 season, Vergne currently sitting second in the Drivers’ Championship standings only two points behind leader Sam Bird.
Bird, winner of the first race in Hong Kong, leads the series for the first time, and will be looking to show he is a genuine championship contender with speed at all events this year, rather than the hot and cold performances that have plagued DS Virgin Racing in years gone by. History in Marrakesh is also in Bird’s favour, the Brit having finished second here last season. Teammate Alex Lynn will be looking to continue his growth as a full-time Formula E driver, building upon his twin points finishes in Hong Kong.
The Teams’ Championship leaders – Mahindra Racing – also look like strong contenders again in Marrakesh. Felix Rosenqvist claimed his first Formula E pole position and podium here, and off the back of victory in the second Hong Kong race another strong event in Morocco is a distinct possibility. Mahindra’s other entry for Nick Heidfeld is also a possibility of a long-awaited first victory given the pace shown by the M4 Electro so far this season.
In hot pursuit of the leading teams is a close pack of drivers, all of whom could leave Marrakesh with a podium or even victory. Series rookie Edoardo Mortara spun from the lead after heading the field for the majority of the second race in Hong Kong before eventually recovering to second place, while his Venturi teammate Maro Engel was fourth across the line in the first race before a penalty for excess energy use. It appears that Venturi may have finally moved from several seasons mired in the mid-pack to become genuine outright challengers and the team’s performance in Marrakesh will go a long way to confirming if this is indeed the case.
Both Jaguars of Nelson Piquet Jr and Mitch Evans each completed one solid race and one no-points result in Hong Kong – including the marque’s first Formula E podium with Evans’ third place on the Sunday – but inconsistency may be their downfall.
If not for a technical administration breach in Hong Kong which disqualified him from keeping his maiden victory, Daniel Abt would be leading the Drivers’ Championship. Instead the German sits eighth in the standings heading to Marrakesh but clearly with more speed than the ranking suggests. Much like the DS Virgin team, Abt has a history of inconsistent performances across a season and his ability to bounce back from the Hong Kong disappointment this weekend could be telling in his overall season result.
Conversely, his Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler teammate and reigning champion Lucas di Grassi has so often been a model of consistency in Formula E – in fact the Brazilian’s title charge last season was built upon it. With this in mind, di Grassi’s twin zero-points finishes in Hong Kong were a surprise, and has left him 17th in the championship. With his championship defense starting on the back foot, expect di Grassi to be fighting in Marrakesh to recover the ground he has already lost to the field.
There are two driver changes in the field ahead of the Marrakesh ePrix. Tom Blomqvist takes his place as planned in car 27 for MS & AD Andretti following Kamui Kobayashi’s cameo in Hong Kong, while Dragon Racing have parted ways with Neel Jani following their horrific start to the championship. The Swiss driver will now focus solely on his World Endurance Championship drive with Rebellion and will be replaced in Formula E by former World Touring Car Champion and DS Virgin driver José María López.
López’s addition to Dragon ahead of the Moroccan event could be a good omen for the team as they look to recover from their current position as the only team yet to score a point – he has won at this circuit three times during his WTCC tenure and scored a points finish in last season’s ePrix. The Argentinian is pleased to return to the championship, and build upon his performances from last season, which included two podium results.
“This is an exciting opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to the challenge of Formula E in season four with DRAGON. I have good experience from season three, and I’m confident that we can achieve strong results as the season progresses,” he said.
The program for the 2018 Marrakesh ePrix commences with Practice 1 from 08:00 local time (UTC+00:00), with the second practice session at 10:30. Qualifying begins at 12:00, ahead of Super Pole from 12:45. Race start is then scheduled for 16:00.
|Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan|
|Location||Marrakesh, Morocco||Circuit Length||2.97 km / 1.95 mi|
|Opened||2017||First Formula E Event||2016|
|Direction||Anticlockwise||Race Lap Record||1:22.600 – Loïc Duval (Dragon-Penske), 2016|
|2017-18 ABB FIA Formula E Championship – Marrakesh ePrix|
|Date||13 January 2018||Free Practice Session 1||Sat 08:00-08:45|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 10:30-11:00||Qualifying||Sat 12:00-12:36|
|‘Super Pole’||Sat 12:45-13:00||Race||Sat 16:00-17:00|
Session times quoted in Western European Time (GMT +0:00)
Images via FIA Formula E Championship