The first ePrix of 2020 is set for this Saturday, as the Santiago ePrix is held for the third time.

The Circuit

Parque O'Higgins Street Circuit - 2020 FIA Formula E Championship Santiago ePrix

Parque O’Higgins Circuit
Location Santiago, Chile Circuit Length 2.348 km / 1.459 mi
Opened 2017 First Formula E Event 2019
Direction Anticlockwise Lap Record 1:11.263 – Daniel Abt (2019)

Having moved from Parque Forestal to Parque O’Higgins for last season’s event, the Parque O’Higgins circuit has been significantly revised for 2020. Three corners have been removed to eliminate some of the more technical sections of the course, which now features eleven turns in the 2.2-kilometre route around Santiago’s Movistar Arena.

The opening of the lap has been made slightly tighter in an effort to promote passing – Turn 1 is now a 90-degree left-hand corner, which feeds immediately into a 180-degree right-hand hairpin at Turn 2, before the left-hand Turn 3 which remains the same as the original circuit configuration.

Turns 4 through to 7 remain as they were last season, before the sweeping Turn 8 around the back of the arena, which has been revised. In 2019 the curve was interrupted by a tight right/left/right chicane midway around its length. For 2020 this complex has been removed, which should increase the ability for drivers to position themselves with a run for a pass into Turn 9.

The end of the Turn 8 sweep arrives earlier in this latest circuit configuration, with the left-handler at Turn 9 leading into a short straight to Turn 10 – the first of two hairpins to end the lap. While the 2019 version of the circuit also featured the double hairpin passing feature end to the lap, they now run in the opposite direction: Turn 10 is a right-hand corner, while Turn 11 follows as a left-hander, leading back on the start/finish straight.

The front straight, first two corners and final three turns of the circuit are situated on concrete, whereas the rest of the circuit is on asphalt. This presents an added challenge for drivers and teams no not only maximise the grip available, but also manage tyre life and performance across not just the race, but the event as a whole. The section of the circuit between Turn 2 and 8 has also been re-sealed with a new asphalt mix for 2020, after the surface began to deteriorate under the loads from the race cars in the heat of the Chilean summer.

The temperature is a key feature of the Santiago ePrix, being held in the Southern Hemisphere during January means the race historically one of the hottest of the year. For the 2019 race, the ambient temperature peaked at 38.3 degrees Celsius, resulting in a track temperature of 45°C during the race. For 2020, an ambient temperature of around 35°C is forecast – so it will once again be an additional challenge for the teams. Beyond the effects on the track surface, available grip and tyre life, higher temperatures also decrease the energy efficiency of each car – placing a premium on energy use and management, along with the fatigue effects on each driver racing in the warm conditions. Driver fitness and focus is key.

Sam Bird, Virgin Racing Audi e-tron FE05 - 2019 Formula E Santiago ePrix

Sam Bird – the only driver to win a race in every Formula E Championship season to-date – is the defending Santiago ePrix winner.

The Form Guide

Following the opening two races of the season held in Saudi Arabia last November, BMW i Andretti’s Alexander Sims leads the Drivers’ Championship standings with 35 points – having taken victory in the second race.

The opening race of the championship was won by Sam Bird, the Envision Virgin Racing driver becoming the first to have won at least a single race in every championship season, dating back to the inaugural series in 2014/15. One other driver has the ability to match this achievement, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler driver – and 2016/17 season champion – Lucas di Grassi has won a race in every season prior to the current campaign.

Di Grassi finished second to Sims in the second race in Diriyah, showing his current car has the pace for the Brazilian to claim a victory and match Bird’s record. Given di Grassi’s teammate Daniel Abt holds the lap record on the 2019 version of the Parque O’Higgins circuit, history suggests Audi Sport will be fast again in Santiago and may even see di Grassi claim the historic victory this weekend.

Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler e-tron FE05 - 2019 Formula E Santiago ePrix

Lucas di Grassi will be relying on Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s historically good Santiago form to challenge for victory.

Much as was the case across the first half of last season, the Saudi event showed that a wide range of the field can be competitive and challenge for victory on any given day – so much so that only four drivers finished in the top ten across both races in Diriyah.

Add to that both new teams – Mercedes-Benz and Porsche – scored at least one podium in their first event suggests that it may be some time before clear championship contenders come to the fore.

One driver predicting (and hoping) this is the case is two-time reigning champion Jean-Éric Vergne, who suffered a slow start to his title defence in Saudi Arabia with a single point-scoring finish of eight place in the second race leaving the Frenchman twelfth in the standings. Speaking ahead of Santiago, Vergne stressed that the deficit he faces to the championship lead after the opening two races is not a major issue at this stage, but he is focussed on moving forward in Chile.

“It’s not a question of making it back up to the top right now. Being the leader now doesn’t mean anything. It will be important now to have a good weekend – that means no mistakes, no problems and doing a clean race. I hope I can have a good Qualifying, stay in front and stay out of trouble.”

Parque O’Higgins set a new record for most retirements in a single ePrix last season, wth eight drivers failing to make the finish. he slightly more open circuit layout may help to reduce this number in 2020, but the high temperatures may still play a factor in causing technical failures. Ultimately, history suggests that in Santiago the plans for Vergne – or any other driver – to have a clean event will be a challenge.

2019-20 ABB FIA Formula E Championship – Antofagasta Minerals Santiago ePrix
Date 18 January 2020 Free Practice Session 1 Sat 08:00-08:45
Free Practice Session 2 Sat 10:15-10:45 Group Qualifying Sessions Sat 12:00-12:36
‘Super Pole’ Sat 12:45-13:05 Race (45 minutes + 1 lap) Sat 16:03-17:00

Session times quoted in Chile Summer Time (GMT -03:00)

Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship

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Mitch Timms

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