ANALYSIS – FE's qualifying format and its impact on the championship fight
Formula E’s four group qualifying format has been a hot topic lately, with several drivers suggesting it’s having too much influence on the championship fight this season by disadvantaging the title contenders. Rob Watts took a closer look at the numbers to see why.
THE INFAMOUS ‘GROUP ONE’ EFFECT
Excluding Ad Diriyah, a surprising 50% of front row starters this season have come from group three, while Jean-Eric Vergne’s second place start in Marrakesh makes him the only front starter to have through group one. The difference in performance from group two onwards has been so significant that 75% of all front row starters have come from either group two or three this season, and not one single driver from group one has yet been able to secure a pole position.
Surprisingly, Ad Diriyah aside, none of the pole-sitters since have gone on to win the race, however, five of the seven winners so far have come from the frontrow highlighting how crucial qualifying is this season.
The stats do appear to backup the drivers’ opinion that qualifying in group one is having a negative impact on the championship contenders ability to qualify well. Only 17% of superpole qualifiers have come from group one this season, with group three being statistically the best place to be. A third of all drivers to have qualified in group three this season have gone on to reach superpole.
Only five times has a driver reached the podium this season having not qualified inside the top six. With several of the championship contenders having an average starting position of P9 or lower this season, it’s easy to see why we’ve ended up with seven different winners in as many races.
2015/16 champion Sebastien Buemi has the best superpole record this season, having reached the final session in five out of seven races. That’s comfortable the best of anyone on the grid this season while team-mate Oliver Rowland shares the next best record (three appearances) with Antonio Felix da Costa and 2016/17 champion Lucas di Grassi.
Remarkably, despite leading the drivers’ standings, Mahindra’s Jerome d’Ambrosio is yet to appear in a single superpole session this season.
Despite languishing down in 13th place in the drivers’ championship, Nissan e.dams driver Buemi has comfortably the best average grid position of all drivers this season, starting on average from P5 on the grid. Unfortunately for his team, he’s yet to convert any of his five superpole appearances into a podium finish.
The Swiss driver started the first two rounds from third on the grid and was then promoted to pole position in Santiago following Lucas di Grassi’s disqualification. Intriguingly, his team-mate Rowland has the second-best average on the grid (P8) but has only finished three races so far in his rookie season. Despite not appearing to be in championship content, Nissan is the only team on the grid as yet to have secured pole position at two separate races this season.
Perhaps the most bizarre qualifying statistic of all though features championship leader d’Ambrosio who has the lowest average starting position (P15) of all drivers to have competed in every round this season, aside for the NIO pair of Oliver Turvey and Tom Dillmann.
Despite qualifying 18th or lower on four separate occasions, the Belgian has made the most places of all drivers in the races so far and has scored points in all but one round.
TEAM-MATES HEAD TO HEAD
The most evenly matched team-mates on the grid are the Techeetah pair of Vergne and Andre Lotterer, who have identical average starting grid positions (P9) this season. The largest gap can be found at Mahindra where rookie Pascal Wehrlein’s average starting position of P9 significantly eclipses that of his team-mate d’Ambrosio’s lowly P15.
Stoffel Vandoorne’s pole position in Hong Kong gives him the edge on average (P10) compared to HWA team-mate Gary Paffett (P14), while Rome E-Prix winner Mitch Evans’s average P11 starting spot is considerably better than his recently departed team-mate Nelson Piquet (P15).
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAY
Jerome d’Ambrosio – Mahindra
“It’s not easy. I’m the guy that has been in the group one since the beginning of the year, so it’s more difficult [for me] than for others.
“If you send the leaders of the championship always in group one, it’s going to make their life more difficult. If you do an average qualifying [in group one] you start 20th, if you do an average qualifying in group three or four, you start 10th and that’s the biggest difference.
“I think [Formula E have] looked at and they’ve found a solution to keep things quite interesting until the end of the season. I think they’ve achieved what they were trying to achieve.”
Lucas di Grassi – Audi
“Just to be clear, of course for me personally it’s bad because I’m in the top five in the championship, but for the championship, it’s a great system. It’s the opposite of F1. Instead of giving an advantage to the faster guys, you give the advantage to the guys who are behind in the championship, which makes the championship more compact.
“From a driver’s perspective, of course, you want to be dominating every race but with this current format, you can’t. It’s very interesting and I think they should keep it.”
Antonio Felix da Costa – BMW Andretti
“I’ve been [quickest] in group one five out of seven races, so it shows we’re one the quickest guys but in the end, you can only do so much.
“We go to the simulator, spend weeks and weeks there, and then you’re good in free practice, the quickest guy, but then you have to qualify in group one and you’re out of the top 10.”
Jean-Eric Vergne – DS Techeetah
“I have mixed feelings. As a driver, I find it completely unfair. You work hard, you try to give yourself the best chance but you get penalised for being at the front of the championship, therefore doing a good job. To me, I absolutely hate it.
“Then if I take a bigger perspective. Even I had to vote [on it], I wouldn’t be against it. At the end of the day, we’re here because of the fans, because of the manufacturers, and it’s a good thing. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for us, but I get it.
“I’m ok with the group [qualifying]. I started last in New York and finished fifth, which was good for the show.
Mitch Evans – Jaguar Racing
“It’s a very mixed view from the drivers but I think [the format] is fair. I know some of the other guys will disagree with that. Unless we do a lottery or something like that, it’s never going to be perfect. We’ve got four groups, so for sure there’s going to be differences. I’m going to be in group one this weekend so I’m not going to whinge if I’m last.
“What else can you do? You can’t let the guys who are last in the championship go first. It’s just going to give them a big disadvantage. That’s just my opinion. Unless we change the format, have two groups and split the field in half, but I think at the moment it’s the fairest it can be.
* Unless otherwise stated, stats are based on Rounds 2-7 with Ad Diriyah excluded as it was an unusually qualifying format used that weekend with two groups and no superpole session.
Image Credit: Formula E
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