Column: The Formula E half-time show
It’s time: We have now hit the halfway mark in season four of the ABB Formula E Championship following the conclusion of the Punta del Este E-Prix, won by Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne.
We have had a highly competitive season so far, with multiple drivers finding success – while others have (surprisingly) struggled. Four different drivers have tasted victory while 11 have stood on the podium and all 20 current drivers have points to their name.
Our editor Topher Smith takes you through the entire grid and evaluates how each driver performed thus far.
It’s been a somewhat underwhelming season so far for Luca Filippi. The versatile Italian came into Formula E with a vast range of experience from GP2, IndyCar, Auto GP and as a Formula 1 test driver. His debut season of Formula E started very strongly with a tenth place finish in Hong Kong, but the 32-year-old has since struggled for outright pace and has been put in the shade by his much more experienced NIO team-mate Oliver Turvey.
There is no doubting Filippi’s talent behind the wheel and with a few more races to further acclimatise to the demands of Formula E, I have no doubt that the Italian will be fighting more regularly for points finishes before the end of the season.
Jerome d’Ambrosio has shown consistent progression in season four so far but a poor opening to the championship has already hampered any chance of fighting for the title, something which he did in season one. While the excuse of a below-par car maybe have been acceptable in the opening rounds, his Dragon Racing team-mate Jose Maria Lopez came into the squad mid-season and showed straight away that the car has potential as he reached Super Pole in Santiago.
The Belgian clearly knows how to handle a Formula E car with two career wins to his name, but needs to do more to extract the full potential of his machinery. If he can do that, there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t start challenging for podiums again.
As I write this, I am amazed at the fact that Nico Prost is 17th in the championship. The Frenchman was a title contender in season one and has a total of three career victories under his belt, but for some reason just hasn’t been a factor in season four and one wonders why this is the case, especially with his team-mate Sebastien Buemi fourth in the championship.
Whether through a lack of speed, bad luck or whatever, Prost most definitely has the potential to at least be in the top ten in the standings. It’s a wonder how he hasn’t produced the results and we know he is more than capable of doing so. If he can put together a weekend where everything comes together and he finds the speed of his Renault, you can bet your bottom dollar that Prost will be right up there in contention.
A late starter in season four following Kamui Kobayashi’s take-over of his seat for Hong Kong, but Tom Blomqvist made an immediate impression in Marrakesh as he brought home eighth place and four points on his debut. The Brit hasn’t finished in the points since, but did come close in Santiago as he crossed the line in 11th. However, he hasn’t looked close to troubling the points in recent events.
With not a lot of testing time to his name before making his debut, his lack of experience may be a significant disadvantage but much like Filippi more track time will be nothing but beneficial as he looks to make the most of his machinery and challenge for points on a regular basis. Marrakesh showed he has the speed, Blomqvist just needs to put everything together on race day and prove his worth to MS&AD Andretti.
It’s been a pretty anonymous season so far for Maro Engel. The German showed flashes of brilliant in his debut season and hoped to be a more prominent feature at the sharp end in season four. While team-mate Edoardo Mortara secured a podium finish for the team in Hong Kong, Venturi since hasn’t looked like challenging for the top positions and has only brought home a handful of points finishes since.
We all know the talent and versatility of Engel, but not having a top car has hampered his progress in the championship and leaves the German 16th in the championship. With a car capable of fighting at the front, there is no doubt that Engel would become a regular contender for podiums.
ANTONIO FELIX DA COSTA
There have been signs of Antonio Felix da Costa’s raw talent this season, more notably his Super Pole appearance in Mexico City which led to him qualifying a superb second in what has been a so far below-par season for MS&AD Andretti. While he was demoted to fourth for a technical infringement, the Portuguese did well to come home seventh and add to his point-scoring finishes in Hong Kong and Santiago, but has a blot in his copybook following his unforced crash in Marrakesh.
While da Costa won’t be fighting for the title this season, he is one of those drivers you can count on to produce brilliance when under pressure and on his day expect him to challenge the established order and fight in the higher reaches of the field.
Having originally berated Formula E, Andre Lotterer changed his tune and made his debut with Techeetah. He failed to make an impression in the opening rounds, but one of the performances of the season came in Santiago where out of nowhere the German topped the group stages of qualifying and went on to start third on the grid. Lotterer did everything in his power to challenge for the victory, albeit against his experienced team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, but after multiple passing attempts and even mounting the Frenchman at one point he came home in second place for his first podium and the first ever 1-2 finish for a team.
The 36-year-old has failed to score in any of the other rounds so far, but Santiago was an indication of the potential of a man who has won multiple championships and 24 Hours of Le Mans’ in his career. We all know how good Lotterer is behind the wheel of a racing car and with the championship-challenging capabilities of the Techeetah it may not be long before we see the German back on the podium.
It was a very strong start to the season for Nick Heidfeld, who began his campaign with a podium in Hong Kong, a race he arguably could have won had he found a way past Jean-Eric Vergne before Sam Bird took his drive through penalty. Results have been more difficult to come by for the German since then, but through no fault of his own. He added to his points tally in Marrakesh but has failed to score since due to three consecutive retirements through mechanical and technical issues.
Heidfeld is more than capable of taking big results but still holds the unwanted record for the most podiums without standing on the top step. The speed of the Mahindra is proven, and once Heidfeld enjoys a clean weekend with his top form it may only be a matter of time before he breaks his duck.
Jose-Maria Lopez has made an immediate impact on Formula E since his return to the series. The popular Argentine re-entered the sport with Dragon Racing to fill the void left by Neel Jani’s departure and steered himself into Super Pole at his first attempt in Marrakesh. Having a season of experience under his belt no doubt will have paid dividends in reacclimatising to the demands of Formula E, but Lopez showed that his time out of the car and lack of testing hasn’t scuppered his speed.
His next points finish didn’t come until the most recent E-Prix in Punta del Este, where he also set the fastest lap, but the three-time WTCC champion has already proved his worth to the series and if he can utilise the potential of his Dragon then he should be regularly finishing in the top ten.
Alex Lynn’s debut season in Formula E has so far been unspectacular, but exceptional consistency has seen the Englishman score points in every race with the exception of Santiago following a gearbox issue, no fault of Lynn’s. Much was expected of the 24-year-old following his stellar debut pole in New York last season, and while he so far hasn’t enjoyed the same level of results we saw signs of Lynn’s potential in Punta del Este where he surged into Super Pole and started the E-Prix third, before keeping pace with the leaders of Jean-Eric Vergne and Lucas di Grassi in the opening stages of the race.
He dropped down to sixth before the conclusion of the E-Prix, but showed what he is capable of and will only continue to improve as he furthers his experience in the all-electric series. Once Lynn puts everything together, expect him to make his first visit to the rostrum.
LUCAS DI GRASSI
What can you say about Lucas di Grassi’s season so far? The reigning champion endured a miserable first half of the season due to a variety of technical gremlins and stood on the podium for the first time this year at the last race in Punta del Este.
There is no doubting his ability behind the wheel and Punta del Este served as a timely reminder as to why he is regarded as one of the best drivers in the field. His championship defence looks to be over already, but that should not be seen as any fault of his own. With the team seeming to be on top of the issues that have blighted his season, the Brazilian will most likely be more regularly at the sharp end of the field and challenging for further victories.
It’s been expected since his debut in Formula E that Oliver Turvey would become a podium finisher sooner rather than later, and it finally happened after a stellar performance in Mexico City. A year after taking his maiden pole position at the same circuit and having victory ripped away by a mechanical issue, Turvey came good on his potential after qualifying third and crossing the line second. A brace of points finishes elsewhere gives the Englishman eighth in the standings at the midpoint of the season.
Not always a regular contender at the sharp end, but when Turvey performs at his best he can never be discounted for a strong result. With the form he has showed already, I will not be surprised to see him achieve another podium by the end of the season.
A veteran in rookie’s clothing? Edoardo Mortara is already regarded a street circuit specialist from his time in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and five consecutive victories around the streets of Macau, two in the Grand Prix and three in the GT World Cup, before adding a sixth triumph in 2017.
His first weekend in Formula E was memorable for all sorts of reasons. Scoring a highly respectable seventh in his first race was noteworthy enough, but the second race announced Mortara to the world of electric racing. Making the most of Felix Rosenqvist’s spin to lead the race by a considerable margin, the Swiss Italian looked set to score his debut victory in only his second race, but a spin towards the end of the race while going for the fastest lap gave the win to the recovering Rosenqvist.
Mortara still took his first podium, but also took away a valuable lesson in managing his machinery and will be looking to carry that through the rest of his Formula E career. If he can find that same giant-killing form in the remainder of the season, expect Mortara to add to his podium tally.
Season four has seen the coming of age for Daniel Abt. The popular German shrugged off suggestions that he was only in Formula E due to his family connections and didn’t deserve his spot on the grid by progressing enough to convince Audi to take him on as a full time factory driver.
With a new contract in his back pocket, Abt has found a new lease of life as one of the drivers of the season, taking two on-the-road victories, the first of which was taken away from him for a controversial, but correctly identified technical infringement. The second one in Mexico City was perfectly legal and meant the 25-year-old joined the exclusive club of Formula E race winners.
His DSQ in Hong Kong may have derailed a title challenge, but Abt’s new-found form coupled with the speed of his Audi are proving to be a potent combination and may soon challenge for further victories.
It was a below-par start to the season for Sebastien Buemi, but three consecutive podiums in Marrakesh, Santiago and Mexico City kickstarted his campaign and elevated him up to fourth in the standings. A collision with the barrier in Punta del Este was a low point of the season after competing for a podium, but he has already proven that the speed of his Renault e.dams is there and he has the machinery to fight at the top.
A first win of the season remains elusive for the season two champion, but with his series record of 12 wins still standing he is one of the last drivers you would bet against to challenge for victory.
Going into the season as one of the title favourites, Felix Rosenqvist has lived up to this billing and taken two victories and led the championship for a couple of rounds. He has since lost the title advantage to Jean-Eric Vergne due to some below average results in qualifying, but has been putting in what could turn out to be championship winning drives with some mega recoveries, more notably after spinning out of the lead in Hong Kong and going on to win the race after slicing through the field.
Those sort of performances are keeping Rosenqvist in the title hunt, and if he can return to the sharp end in qualifying it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could reduce the 30 point deficit to Vergne and maybe even retake the lead in the championship.
NELSON PIQUET JR
An off-season move to Jaguar seems to have paid off handsomely for Nelson Piquet Jr. With his former team NIO languishing in eighth place in the standings, an upturn in form for his new employers sees them fighting for the top among the already-established teams of Techeetah, Mahindra and DS Virgin.
While he still awaits his first podium of the season, Piquet Jr has finished fourth on three occasions and as a result sits fifth in the championship, serving as a timely reminder as to why he is a worthy first ever Formula E champion. His speed has never been doubted, and it may only be a matter of time before the season one champion returns to the rostrum, maybe even the top step.
Always a prominent challenger in Formula E, Sam Bird is once again enjoying a strong campaign as he continues his record of taking at least one victory in each season he has competed in, with a dominant drive in the first Hong Kong race leading to him standing on the top step.
Two further podiums have kept him at the sharp end of the standings and within a shout of taking the title, but a sub-standard performance in Mexico City, which included contact with Nico Prost, has caused him to fall 33 points behind championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne. With three podiums in the six races so far, Bird is right there on form and more than able to challenge for victories. I will not be surprised if the Englishman is still in title contention by the time we reach New York.
Despite the championship standings not showing it, Mitch Evans has been one of my drivers of the season. The Kiwi made an immediate impression in Hong Kong with the much-improved Jaguar package and looked set to take a surprise pole position in the opening race before an issue on his flying lap led to him starting last. The second race saw him reach Super Pole and his efforts were rewarded with his and the team’s first podium in the series.
With the exception of a non-scoring round in Marrakesh, Evans has made a habit of putting together incredible recovery drives following issues in qualifying, the most recent race in Punta del Este seeing him start 16th after his qualifying times were deleted and going on to finish less than 1.5s away from a podium.
With the speed that the 23-year-old has shown already, I have no doubt that if he can have a clean qualifying and race then Evans and Jaguar will be race winners by the end of the season.
After taking his maiden victory in Montreal last season, it was expected that Jean-Eric Vergne would challenge for the title and he is doing everything right in his pursuit of his first championship since 2010. Consistency has been key for the Frenchman, who is the only driver in the field to have scored points in every round so far and hasn’t yet finished outside of the top five. It shows in the standings as he sits 30 points clear of Felix Rosenqvist with two wins under his belt.
JEV heads into the second half of the season with a new-found confidence, which together with his natural ability and a supremely fast Techeetah underneath him will make him exceptionally difficult to beat. However, one DNF could change the complexion of the title fight…