For the fourth time in four years, the Formula E championship battle has come down to the final weekend of the season and will be contested between Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird.
Ten races have already been and gone in the quest to find a season four champion, with multiple drivers and teams touted early on as being in contention.
The favourite was reigning champion Lucas di Grassi, whose Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler shone in pre-season testing and led to the early prediction that we may have our first repeat champion at the season’s end, while Renault e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi was expected to mount a challenge and retake the crown, but the Swiss is currently without a victory and only three podiums to his name in season four.
Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist took an early season title advantage with victories in Hong Kong and Marrakesh, but his championship assault was halted after losing the lead due to a technical gremlin in Mexico City, again losing the lead with a broken suspension in Rome and a trip into the barrier in Zürich after challenging for points.
The Swede could be still a factor in the title hunt had it not been for these issues, but the two drivers who have stood out the most across the course of the season are the ones fighting it out at the sharp end and the only drivers who are mathematically capable of taking the crown.
Consistency has been a key part of the Frenchman’s season, with Zürich the first E-Prix of the season that he has finished outside of the top five. Victories in Santiago, Punta del Este and his home race in Paris, as well as his incredible consistency, give Vergne a 23-point lead with only the double-header New York City E-Prix left to go.
If Vergne is to take the title in the first race of the weekend, he needs to end the day with at least a 29-point gap. Assuming neither Vergne or Bird take pole or fastest lap, victory for Vergne would seal the title for the Frenchman.
If Vergne finishes eighth or lower in the first race, the title fight will go into the final day regardless of where Bird finishes.
In the eventuality that the first race ends with exactly a 29-point gap following a victory for Vergne, which could be achieved with Bird finishing second from pole position, Vergne would seal the championship by virtue of having four victories to Bird’s two, meaning even countback won’t help the Englishman.
Bird is a driver who many consider to be fully deserving of a Formula E title. He is only one of two drivers to have taken at least one victory in every season so far (the other being di Grassi), and is capable of putting together dominant victories.
Despite a 23-point deficit with two rounds remaining, this title fight is by no means over and you only need to look at last season to see that. The Englishman ruled the streets of Brooklyn in season three and took home both victories in the double-header, which no doubt will fill him with confidence going into the title decider.
It is possible for Bird to lose the title in the first race of the weekend, but on the flip side it is also possible for him to take the championship lead and enter the final race of the season as favourite.
If title rival Vergne wins on Saturday, Bird will have to finish at least second with pole position. Second place with fastest lap but not pole will not be enough for the Englishman.
If Bird is to take the championship lead with one race to go, he will need to win race one with Vergne finishing tenth or lower. However, given the Frenchman’s stellar consistency this season it is not unreasonable to think that Bird’s main aim is to reduce the deficit as much as possible.
Team’s title still up for grabs
Two wins, two second places, two pole positions and two fastest laps equate to a total of 94 points still available in the team’s championship, meaning that three teams can still take the season four title.
Techeetah lead the way with 219 points, 33 ahead of Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler and 62 ahead of DS Virgin Racing. Techeetah has to be the favourite with Vergne’s title-aspiring season so far while Andre Lotterer is continuing to learn at every event and has enjoyed a fine run of points finishes in the last four races. The Chinese team will be difficult to beat.
Putting a miserable first half of the season behind them, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler has been the team on form in the last few rounds, winning the last two races at the hands of Daniel Abt in Berlin and di Grassi in Zürich. 33 points is a big deficit to overcome, but with the form the German marque has shown in recent weeks it’s entirely plausible that they could pip Techeetah to the title.
DS Virgin Racing will have a hard time of it and realistically should be aiming for second. Turning around a 62 point deficit will require a poor weekend for both Techeetah and Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler but with the consistency of both teams paying dividends in the championship, aiming for the top spot might be just that little bit out of reach.
This is such a difficult one to predict. Vergne has been mighty all season and showed all the trademarks of a champion as he coupled speed and consistency into a title assault and is now the firm favourite to take the season four crown.
Having said that, the big thorn in Vergne’s side is Bird’s double victory in Brooklyn last season. There is nothing to say that Bird couldn’t do it again and I believe he will be in contention all weekend.
Despite the odds being in Vergne’s favour going into the weekend, I can see the title fight going into the final race of the season with Bird doing everything in his power to reduce the points gap on the Saturday.
My safe bet is that Vergne will become our fourth champion in four seasons, but Bird is one driver in the field who you should not bet against. In any case, all that I hope for is as exciting a championship finale as we’ve seen for the past three years and at the end of it a worthy champion be crowned.
As for the team’s title, if Vergne and Lotterer both bring their A-game then Techeetah will leave America as champions. However, a poor weekend for the Chinese squad could be what Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler need if they are going to go the distance and usurp Techeetah of the top spot.