As the dust settles on the majority of motorsport championships around the world, Formula E is gearing up for its fourth season with a double-header event in Hong Kong this weekend.
After a tense and dramatic third season came to a close in July, ABT Schaeffler Audi’s Lucas Di Grassi finally clinched his first drivers’ championship after finishing third and second in the previous two seasons.
For the 2017/18 season, there are lots of changes up and down the grid to keep an eye out for, but after clinching the teams’ championship three seasons in a row, can Renault e.dams make it four in a row, or will the new works Audi team be untouchable in its debut year?
Let’s look at each team’s chances in a bit more detail…
Despite securing three straight teams’ championship titles, Renault e.dams is not currently the favourite to repeat that success this season. It has made no significant changes to its car from season three and is entering somewhat of an interim year before it hands the keys over to sister-brand Nissan for the 2018/19 season.
With Renault increasing its investment in Formula 1, it’s possible that the Formula E team may suffer from a reduced investment and focus this season, with co-team principal Alain Prost becoming more and more involved in the F1 side of the business.
The reduced pressure may also play into the team’s hands as it made some costly errors last year as Sebastien Buemi fought for the drivers’ title. With the new Audi works squad expected to be the team to beat, Renault may for once enjoy being the chaser, rather than the chased.
After the disappointment of missing out on last year’s drivers’ title to Di Grassi, the team has re-signed Buemi for another two years to partner Nico Prost; one of only two teams to retain stable driver lineup each season.
Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler
If Valencia pre-season testing was anything to go by, the team expected to be favourite for the championship this season is Audi. In pre-season testing, it was anywhere between 0.5s to 0.9s clear of the field on long run pace, and with the team moving away from its previous three-speed gearbox to a new one-speed direct drive approach, it’s new car is not only quicker but also lighter than its predecessor.
After running under the ABT banner for the past three seasons, this is the first full works Audi effort, and with several members of its now-defunct LMP1 team making the switch to Formula E, it’s likely to be the team to beat.
One of the most notable team changes for 2017/18, is the appointment of three-time Le Mans winner, and ex Audi LMP1 driver Allan McNish as team principal. McNish is a strong appointment and has a lot of experience of working with major manufacturers from his time in both F1 and the WEC.
Unfortunately for the team, it is also losing a key member of its lineup for this season. Former technical director, and Di Grassi’s long-time race engineer, Franco Chiocchetti is leaving the team. He announced his resignation recently and is expected to depart early in 2018. The team are yet to announce his replacement, but it will no doubt be a loss to a lose a key member of the team with his level of experience.
With a number of ex-LMP1 data engineers now working with the team, its technical expertise puts it on par with any on the grid, and with Audi providing the budget and the infrastructure, it means ABT can return to doing what it does best; running the race team.
After finally clinching his first Formula E drivers’ championship, Di Grassi will once again partner Daniel Abt for a fourth straight season and has every chance of becoming the first driver in Formula E’s short history to become a two-time champion.
Last season was Mahindra’s most successful to date in Formula E, finally scoring its maiden win in Berlin, with a final championship position of third.
The team begins the 2017/18 season with a new one gear setup and continued support from Magnetti Marelli on the powertrain side.
Team boss Dilbagh Gill has spoken of his desire to challenge for the championship in future seasons, and while that may be out of reach for the time being, it has every chance of repeating its third-place finish of last season and adding to its win tally along the way as well.
Felix Rosenqvist, who was arguably one of the stars of last season, returns to partner the experienced Nick Heidfeld in what is one of the strongest and more balanced driver pairings on the grid.
DS Virgin Racing
Despite finishing the season strongly with a brace of wins in New York, the DS Virgin Racing was a disappointment last year, as its inconsistency meant it finished well behind the leading teams.
An all British driver pairing for the 2017/18 season brings some fresh motivation, with ex-GP2 driver and Williams F1 tester joining the team full-time after his cameo in New York last season. He partners three-time ePrix winner Sam Bird, replacing the outgoing Jose Maria Lopez.
Despite performing well for most of last season, Lopez apparently left the team on bad terms amid a falling out with team boss Alex Tai.
It’s rumoured that this season will be the team’s last as the DS brand’s official works team. The French manufacturer is rumoured to be partnering with the Techeetah team for the 2018/19 season onwards, which could leave Virgin with the difficult decision of either reverting to being a customer team or partnering with a new manufacturer if it wants to retain its ‘factory’ status.
With little in the way of major development on the powertrain, this does not appear to be the season in which DS Virgin finally challenges for the teams’ title, and the best it realistically hope for is to pick up a win or two when the teams ahead falter.
With the impending breakup of its DS works deal, a growing rivalry with Techeetah could be one of the stories to watch out for this season.
Despite winning its first ePrix at the season-ending Montreal round, Techeetah are not yet ready to challenge Audi and Renault for the teams’ championship this season.
As mentioned above, it’s main fight this season will again be with Mahindra and DS Virgin, and it’s likely Techeetah will want to beat the latter at least before it potentially becomes DS’s new official works team for the 2018/19 season.
Retaining its Renault powertrain for this season, the team should at least be able to consolidate fifth-place in the championship, and on his day, Jean-Eric Vergne is more than capable of producing an eye-catching result.
Joining Vergne at the team this season is former Le Mans winner, and Porsche LMP1 driver, Andre Lotterer who makes his Formula E debut. Despite being linked to Porsche’s Formula E impending entry in 2019, team boss Mark Preston insists that Lotterer is on a long-term deal, and not a ‘gap year’ before linking up with his former employers.
Panasonic Jaguar Racing
After a disappointing debut season, Jaguar will face pressure to improve this time around, but it’s already shown its intent to do so by signing season one champion Nelson Piquet.
Piquet seemed relaxed and motivated during pre-season testing and should bring an added source of motivation to the team. He’s also joined on the engineering side by two people he knows well from his GP2 and F1 days; Phil Charles and Paul Davison.
Piquet will be partnered by Kiwi Mitch Evans, who in spite of the team’s struggles last season, performed admirably and scored 22 of the team’s 27 points.
After an impressive showing in pre-season testing, the newly rebranded NIO team could be one of the dark horses to break out of the Formula E midfield this season.
Brit Oliver Turvey steps up to become the de facto team leader after the departure of Nelson Piquet, and he’ll be partnered by Formula E debutant Luca Filippi, who joins the team after spells in GP2 and IndyCar.
Team principal Gerry Hughes appears to have had a positive impact on the team since his appointment partway through last season, introducing some much-needed structure and stability from his experience of F1 with Caterham and Jordan.
Overall, the team appear to be a more organised outfit since his arrival, and a little more consistency appears to be all that’s needed to make NIO regular points scorers this season.
After a difficult 2017/18 season, the team has now officially split from its technical partner Faraday Future, and it’s understood to be considering other options as it looks for a new partner going forwards.
An engineering relationship with Porsche seemed to be on the cards after some of its engineers were seen working with the team in Valencia. Despite Porsche LMP1 star Neel Jani joining the team (replacing Loic Duval), the relationship with Porsche appears to have come to an abrupt halt.
Two-time ePrix winner Jérôme d’Ambrosio remains with the team for a fourth straight season.
Andretti suffered a frustrating 2017/18 season, with its drivers, Antonio Felix Da Costa and Robin Frijns, struggling to score points on a regular basis. Its tally of 34 points was the lowest since joining Formula E, and despite an increased technical involvement from BMW, all does not appear well within the team.
Despite outscoring his teammate, Frijns was not retained for season four – largely due to contractual complications brought about by his involvement with Audi in sportscar racing – a significant rival to BMW who provide technical support to the Andretti team.
After BMW factory drivers Tom Blomqvist and Alex Sims tested for the team in Valencia, Andretti was keen to point out that it had the final say on driver lineup. BMW then proceeded to announce Blomqvist would get the seat, but since Andretti is bizarrely yet to acknowledge his appointment on its own social media channels.
To add yet further intrigue to the story, ex-F1 and WEC driver Kamui Kobayashi was recently announced to be racing for the team in Hong Kong; a decision thought to have been influenced by the team’s Japanese sponsor wanting an Asian driver in the car for the Hong Kong season opener.
There may be as much happening off track with Andretti this season as on it, and once again, it appears likely to be occupying a lower midfield spot at best.
DTM ace Edoardo Mortara joins to partner Maro Engel, in what is arguably the team’s strongest driver lineup since its debut in Formula E.
Some reliability issues, mainly with the gearbox, hampered Venturi’s progress last year, and despite having a new supplier, these appeared to continue in Valencia where the team appeared off the pace and failed to complete any consistent long runs.
With a new partnership announced with Mercedes specialist HWA – who run Mercedes’ DTM team – the team can expect to benefit from increased technical support throughout the season, but for the time being, another year of battling the likes of Dragon and Andretti appear to be on the cards.
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