The FIA Formula E Championship celebrates its 50th race this Sunday, with the third running of the Hong Kong ePrix.
The first of two Asian rounds in the 2018/19 season, Hong Kong has previously been the opening event of the past two Formula E seasons, with the 2017 event being run as a double-header. In 2019, the Hong King Harbourfront Circuit is the venue for the fifth event of the championship, this time just a single race.
|Hong Kong Central Harbourfront Circuit|
|Location||Hong Kong||Circuit Length||1.860 km / 1.155 mi|
|Opened||2016||First Formula E Event||2016|
After one of the fastest circuits on the calendar last time out in Mexico, the 1.86km, ten-corner Hong Kong circuit is much tighter and slower. Speaking at the re-event press conference, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler Team Principal Allan McNish suggested these properties of the Hong Kong circuit will likely have an effect on the results: “This is the lowest average speed circuit of the calendar, it’s also going to be the shortest race on the calendar in terms of kilometres, you’ve got the slowest speed corner of the calendar, and so it is very much a different type of place than Mexico. That’s something that I think we all have to adapt to with our cars. I think it will suit some people more than others, I think it suits some drivers more than others, so you’ll probably see a bit of a shakeup of the grid just because of that.”
The slowest corner of the circuit McNish referred to is the 180-degree right hand hairpin at turn one, the scene of Felix Rosenqvist spinning in front of the entire field on the opening lap last season. Being such a tight corner at the end of the start-finish straight, and followed by the longest straight on the circuit to turn two, the first corner is an ideal passing opportunity. Similarly, a strong exit from turn one will give a driver the opportunity to set up a pass down the straight to the 90-degree right hander at turn two. From here, the rest of the lap is much more technical – and the reason for Hong Kong’s low average lap speed.
Turns three and four effectively comprise a left-right chicane, while turn five is a extended 90-degree right hand corner around the outside of a roundabout. Turn six is also a 180-degree, right hand hairpin (although not as tight as turn one), and a short straight follows to turn seven – a 90-degree left-hand corner comprised of the section of the same roundabout not included in turn five. Turn eight is a more conventional 90-degree left hand corner after a short straight, also a possible passing location, while turn nine is another near-90-degree right hand corner around the outside of another roundabout. Turn ten is the most open and fastest corner on the circuit, a 90-degree left hand sweep back onto the start finish straight.
There is the possibility that inclement weather may have an impact on the race. Surprisingly, across the 49 Formula E races completed to date, there has never been a fully-wet race (although rain has affected qualifying on occasion). At the time of writing, there is a 100% chance of rain forecast for Hong Kong on Sunday, with a maximum temperature of just 17 degrees Celsius. While the rain will put a great deal of focus on the Michelin all-weather tyre employed by the category and make accurate driving to avoid the panted lines critical, championship leader Jerome d’Ambrosio expects the usual need for energy management to be negated: “I guess that theoretically there would be less energy management, as it’s a race by time we would be slower, we would do less laps. Exactly how much we don’t know, but the probability of a low management race is quite high if it rains. Especially because the probability of a safety car or a full course yellow increases, it could easily turn into a flat-out race.”
The Form Guide
Across the three races previously completed in Hong Kong, there have been three different winners, and three different pole sitters. Sébastien Buemi won the inaugural race for Renault e.Dams in 2016, where Nelson Piquet Jr started from pole position. The first race in 2017 was won by Sam Bird for DS Virgin Racing with Jean-Eric Vergne having taken pole for Techeetah, while Felix Rosenqvist claimed pole and the race victory for Mahindra in the second race that year. It wasn’t smooth sailing for Rosenqvist, though – having spun on lap one the Swede fought back to finish second on the road, only to be handed victory when Daniel Abt’s Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler car failed post-race scrutineering.
While four different drivers from four different teams have won each race so far this season, recent form suggests that Mahindra and Audi Sport are likely to be battling at the front again in Hong Kong. d’Ambrosio leads the standings for Mahindra coming in to the event, while team mate Pascal Wehrlein has starred since making his Formula E debut at round two – the German leading the entire race in Mexico City until running out of energy on the exit of the final corner, although an additional penalty for blocking on the last lap dropped him further down the order. Given the pace shown by the team in previous Hong Kong events (beyond Rosenqvist’s achievements in 2017, the Swede also set the fastest lap in 2016) and so far this season, both Mahindra drivers will head into the event confident of another strong performance.
For the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team, results have improved throughout the season so far, culminating with Lucas di Grassi’s victory in Mexico. Abt has also shown speed, and the ghosts of last season’s exclusion will no doubt be driving the team to make amends in 2019.
Having won in Santiago and leading the championship prior to Mexico City, Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird will also be looking to bounce back in Hong Kong and will be aiming to repeat his opening race victory from last season. The Nissan e.Dams team have quietly been improving their pace through the first four events of the season, and Sebastien Buemi has past form in Hong Kong. The 2016 race winner also currently holds the lap record at this circuit (1:02.002, set in 2017), although if any dry running occurs this is likely to be bettered with the second generation Formula E car.
The BMW i Andretti team of Antonio Felix da Costa and Alexander Sims are also likely to challenge this week. da Costa won the opening race of the season in Riyadh, but a clash between the pair stopped a near-certain 1-2 finish in Marrakesh. da Costa put his season back on track with a podium in Mexico City, ending a series of what the Portuguese driver as referred to as “win it or bin it” races. The BMWs clearly have pace in their first season as a full-factory effort, no doubt a second victory is the target in Hong Kong.
|2018-19 FIA Formula E Championship – HKT Hong Kong ePrix|
|Date||10 March 2019||Free Practice Session 1||Sun 07:30-08:15|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 10:00-10:30||Preliminary Qualifying||Sat 11:45-12:21|
|‘Super Pole’||Sat 12:30-12:50||Race (45 min + 1 lap)||Sat 16:00-16:50|
Session times quoted in Hong Kong Time (GMT +08:00)
The 2019 Hong Kong ePrix commences this Sunday, March 10, with opening practice from 07:30 local time (UTC +08:00), with Practice 2 starting at 10:00. Qualifying is on circuit at 11:45, with first runner in Super Pole to be released from pit lane at 12:30. The 50th FIA Formula E Championship race is scheduled to start at 16:03, for a 45 minutes-plus-one-lap duration.
Five drivers on the grid in Hong Kong have completed all 49 Formula E races to date, and will be joining the championship in celebrating their 50th on Sunday – d’Ambrosio, Bird, Piquet Jr and the Audi Sport pairing of di Grassi and Abt, who are also the only driver pairing to have remained unchanged since the first race held in Beijing during September 2014. A total of 65 drivers have raced to date across the 20 cities to have hosted an ePrix, with four different Drivers’ Champions (Piquet Jr, di Grassi, Buemi and Vergne) in the four seasons completed so far. Buemi is the most successful driver with 12 victories ahead of di Grassi with 9. The former Renault e.Dams team (now Nissan e.Dams) won the first three Teams’ Championships while Season 4’s title was claimed by Techeetah – who were a Renault customer team at the time, making the French manufacturer the most successful prior to being replaced by sister-brand Nissan ahead of this season.
Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship