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Permutations: How Vergne can win the title in Zürich

A podium finish in Berlin has granted Jean-Eric Vergne a first chance to secure the ABB Formula E world title next time out in Zürich, but what would have to occur for the Frenchman to claim the crown?

Vergne’s third place in Berlin, and below par performances for closest rivals Sam Bird and Felix Rosenqvist, gives him a 40 point buffer with three rounds remaining and a maximum of 87 points on offer.

Who is still in contention?

While the likelihood of taking the season four title is higher for some, there are six drivers who are mathematically in contention but the fact of the matter is that we are on the verge of crowning our fourth champion in four season.

Lucas di Grassi

Reigning champion Lucas di Grassi is sixth in the standings having endured a miserable opening to the season, brought down by a barrage or technical issues. The Brazilian has since turned it around and as of Berlin has scored four consecutive second place finishes, but lies 86 points behind Vergne out of a possible 87 left. For di Grassi to retain his title, he would miraculously have to win every remaining race, take every remaining pole position and score the fastest lap in each of them, all without any of the current top five scoring a single point.

He could hypothetically allow Vergne a single point to win the championship on countback, but nonetheless this is a miracle that is highly unlikely to happen and one wonders how his season could be panning out without his early season struggles…

Sebastien Buemi

The season two champion has not had a bad season by any means, with only two non-scores in a very consistent campaign so far, but the Swiss lies fifth in the standings and is still without a victory in season four.

An 80 point deficit is nigh-on impossible to overturn in a series as competitive as Formula E and, much like di Grassi, will take a miracle if he is to become a two time world champion. Buemi would have to outscore Vergne by 22 points in Zürich to stay in contention, which means that if fails to win his home E-Prix, regardless of what Vergne does, the season two champion will be out of the running for a second title. If Buemi does win, with pole and fastest lap, Vergne would have to finish seventh or lower for the Swiss to still be in with a mathematical chance.

While Buemi is a driver considered to be among the elite of the sport, it still remains a huge task to claw back a gap of 80 points with three rounds remaining.

Daniel Abt

This season has seen the coming-of-age for Abt, who joined the elite group of E-Prix winners this season after triumphing in Mexico. This wasn’t his first on-the-road win, however, following disqualification from the second race in Hong Kong after initially taking the chequered flag. His second victory came at the most recent E-Prix in Berlin, which proved to be one of the most dominant displays seen in Formula E and proved that Abt is now a force to be reckoned with.

The German is currently 77 points behind Vergne with 87 remaining, a deficit that Abt is unlikely to overturn despite his new-found form. A 19 point advantage is what the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler driver requires, which would mean victory with Vergne finishing seventh or lower, or second place with pole and/or fastest lap with Vergne ninth or lower.

Even though Abt looks unlikely to take the title this season, the German has undoubtedly been one of the stars of the season and could be placed much higher without his prior issues, and the one thing that Abt should take away from this season is preparation for a championship assault in season five.

Felix Rosenqvist

An early season title favourite, Rosenqvist looked to be living up to that billing in the opening rounds following an incredible recovery drive to victory in Hong Kong and a late challenge to steal the win from Buemi in Marrakesh. The Swede has since fallen by the wayside and failed to stand on the podium since, despite two pole positions in Mexico City and Rome, both of which seeing him retiring from the lead.

The Mahindra Racing driver is 76 points behind Vergne and is in a very similar position to Abt, who is one point behind Rosenqvist in the championship. He needs to outscore Vergne by 18 points to maintain his chance of taking the crown, which will be achieved by taking second place with a no-score for Vergne. If Rosenqvist wins in Zürich, Vergne would have to finish sixth or lower. Pole position and/or fastest lap for Rosenqvist would increase the needed finish for Vergne to fourth.

Technical issues haven’t exactly helped Rosenqvist’s cause and the speed has clearly been there, but raw pace alone might not be enough for the Swede to reduce the gap. Season five could be third time lucky…

Sam Bird

Bird lies 40 points behind Vergne as the Frenchman’s closest challenger. No matter what happens in Zürich he will still be behind his former team-mate heading to the double-header season finale in New York, the scene of Bird’s greatest triumph yet.

It is still possible to Bird to drop out of contention in Zürich, but will only happen if Vergne outscores him by 18 points. For this to happen, Vergne would have to finish second with Bird not scoring. In this eventuality, Bird would be required to collect every point available in New York with Vergne not scoring to win on countback. If Vergne is victorious in Switzerland, Bird would have to finish in the top six to stay in contention.

If Vergne does indeed take the title, whether it be in Zürich or not, Bird will be the most successful driver in Formula E to have not won the championship, having taken the second most victories in series history at the time of writing.

Jean-Eric Vergne

And finally the man who has the target on his back. From making an immediate impression with pole on debut, Vergne is now in a position to take his first championship title since 2010, where he triumphed in the British Formula 3 Championship.

Sixth place in Switzerland would automatically knock di Grassi and Buemi out of contention, while fifth place would eliminate Abt and Rosenqvist.

Bird is his closest rival, and for Vergne to knock him out of contention and take the crown he would need to outscore him by 18 points. First or second place would give Vergne the title if Bird fails to score, while third or lower would take the championship battle to the final two races in New York.

Who is realistically in contention?

Realistically it is now a two horse race for the championship. Vergne is the clear favourite with a 40 point advantage over Bird, while Rosenqvist is 76 points behind the title lead and fighting the odds in his pursuit of the crown.

Zürich is a huge unknown as a new addition to the calendar and it is anyone’s guess as who will triumph there, but if we are still in search of our fourth champion by the time we head to New York City, then we potentially could have a titanic battle on our hands.

Last year saw Bird take a tremendous double victory, so the Englishman clearly knows how to extract the maximum around the streets of Brooklyn and is already considered to be among the favourites for victory. If Bird can replicate his performance, Vergne will have a hard time of it. However, the Frenchman has been the man in form in season four and if he fails to wrap up the title in Switzerland, the first race in New York will most likely seal the deal.

Author’s opinion

It’s very hard to look past Vergne for this year’s title, given that he hasn’t finished outside of the top five all season and is making consistency, as well as speed, count. The only man that I can see catching him is Bird and his record in New York is not to be taken lightly, as the double header is the only place where Bird can actually catch and pass Vergne in the standings.

It’s not going to happen for di Grassi, Buemi, Abt and Rosenqvist. It will take nothing short of a miracle for those three, but they all have still had tremendous seasons and can be proud of what they’ve achieved.

However, while others have suffered DNFs from a variety of issues, Vergne still has a clean slate and probability dictates that his turn may be coming up. That’s not to say that it definitely will happen, but just one non-finish in the final three races could change the entire complexion of the championship.

My official prediction: If Vergne keeps up his outstanding consistency then I have no doubt that he will be taking home the championship trophy in July. Whether it happens in Zürich will be entirely circumstantial and dependent on how others fare, but I think we will have to wait until we are in the Big Apple to see it happen.

About Topher Smith
Topher is an experienced and passionate Motorsport journalist with Formula E, Formula 1, GP2/F2, GP3 and IndyCar all on his resume. When he isn't at the trackside you can find him furthering his own capabilities and knowledge through his endless search for original ideas and material. Also plays league pool.