Friday, December 1, 2017

2017-18 Formula E Season Preview

This weekend marks the start of the 2017–18 Formula E season and all ten teams return for the fourth season in the series history. Five drivers will be making their Formula E debuts at the season opener with two world champions, a combined 77 Formula One starts, a DTM vice-champion and a GP2 vice-champion joining the series. All three prior Formula E champions are back.

For the second consecutive season the Formula E season will begin in Hong Kong but not only does this year's race come two months later than the inaugural edition but this year Hong Kong is a doubleheader with races taking place on December 2nd and 3rd. Like Hong Kong, Marrakesh returns for the second consecutive season but this round occurs 14 months after the first Formula E trip to Morocco and it will be the first round of 2018 on January 13th.

Santiago, Chile marks the first new round on the 2017-18 schedule with Chile's capital hosting the third round of the season on February 3rd. One month later to the day, Mexico City hosts its third Formula E race. There is a possible round to be announced at a later date for March 17th after São Paulo pulled out of hosting a race for this season.

The first race of spring and the first European round of the season will be the second new round. Rome hosts Formula E on April 14th and two weeks later the series will head to Paris. The fourth Berlin ePrix will take place on May 19th and this year's trip to Germany will only feature one race. The final race of the European portion of the season will be a historic race in Zürich, Switzerland on June 10th.

The Formula E season closes with two consecutive doubleheaders in North America. Formula E will return to Brooklyn for the New York ePrix on July 14-15th. Montreal will host the final round of the season on July 28-29th.

Teams:
Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler
Lucas di Grassi: #1 Audi e-tron FE04
What did he do in 2016-17: He won the 2016–17 Formula E championship with victories in Mexico City and Montreal. He picked up seven podium finishes in 12 races with one retirement and his worst finish being seventh.
What to expect in 2017-18: He has been a title contender all three seasons and I don't expect that to change. He will win a few races but di Grassi has been known for having a few races go against him even when he is the fastest one out there.

Daniel Abt: #66 Audi e-tron FE04
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished eighth the Formula E championship last season with his best finish being fourth on two occasions. He picked up a fastest lap in the second Brooklyn race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Abt has been consistent but has struggled to beat his teammate. He will continue to do a solid job but do nothing fancy.

Team Notes: Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler has finished second the last two years in the Teams' championship. With the departure of Stéphane Sarrazin, Daniel Abt is the only driver to have started every Formula E race and he has yet to win a race. A German driver has yet to win a Formula E race. Di Grassi has finished on the podium in 20 of 33 races. Abt could become the first birthday winner in Formula E history if he wins the second race of the Hong Kong doubleheader on December 3rd.

Renault e.Dams
Nicolas Prost: #8 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished sixth in the Formula E championship. Prost finished in the points in the first 11 races until he retired from the season finale at Montreal but Prost scored a point for fastest lap in that race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Like Abt, Prost has been solid but better than the German. Prost will consistently score points but always but on the periphery of the championship picture.

Sébastien Buemi: #9 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished runner-up in the Formula E championship despite winning six races. Buemi was disqualified from two races, finished 11th and 13th and missed the Brooklyn round due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments.
What to expect in 2017-18: Buemi will go head-to-head with di Grassi for the championship because that is what those two do. He has an aggressive side and it will win a handful of races but it might beat him once or twice.

Team Notes: Renault e.Dams has won all three Teams' Championships. The team has won 15 of 33 Formula E races with Buemi responsible for 12 of 15 victories. Prost has scored points in 31 of 33 races, the most all-time and he has scored points in 21 consecutive races one shy of tying the record for most consecutive races scoring points.

Mahindra Racing
Felix Rosenqvist: #19 Mahindra M4Electro
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished third in the Formula E championship in his debut season. Rosenqvist won the first race from Berlin and he finished on the podium five times. He won three pole positions, more than any other driver.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Swede will break up the Buemi-di Grassi party and Rosenqvist will win a few races. He could take the championship lead at some point and if he does it could be game over.

Nick Heidfeld: #23 Mahindra M4Electro
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished seventh in the Formula E championship. Heidfeld finished in third position five times and he finished ahead of Rosenqvist in five races. Heidfeld has seven career podium finishes, most all-time in Formula E for a driver without a victory. He also holds the record for most Formula One podium finishes without a victory with 13.
What to expect in 2017-18: Heidfeld will be slower than his teammate but the German will pick up points and likely end up on the podium at least once. Will it be the top step? He is due.

Team Notes: Mahindra Racing has improved each year in the Teams' Championship with the team finishing eighth in 2014-15, fifth in 2015-16 and third in 2016-17. The team had two podium finishes prior to last season. Rosenqvist and Heidfeld combined for ten podium finishes in 2016-17. Heidfeld has not won a single-seater race since July 24, 1999 in International Formula 3000 at the Österreichring.

DS Virgin Racing
Sam Bird: #2 DS Virgin DSV-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished fourth the Formula E championship. He swept the Brooklyn round but had two podium finishes the rest of the season. He ended the season with six consecutive finishes in the points.
What to expect in 2017-18: Bird remains consistently quick but not quick enough to win the championship. He will get a victory or two but he will have days where he can't crack the top five.

Alex Lynn: #36 DS Virgin DSV-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He made his Formula E debut at Brooklyn filling in for José María López and started on pole position on debut in race one that weekend. However, Lynn retired from both races. Outside of Formula E, he won the 12 Hours of Sebring for Wayne Taylor Racing and won in the LMP2 class at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with G-Drive Racing.
What to expect in 2017-18: Lynn will have a few good results but there will be days where DS Virgin Racing won't have the speed and he will be happy just to score points.

Team Notes: DS Virgin Racing finished fourth in the Teams' Championship last season. All five of the team's victories have come from Bird. The team has never had both cars finish on the podium in the same race. Lynn has won at least one race in any competition every year since 2010.

Techeetah
André Lotterer: #18 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: Lotterer contested the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche. He did not win a race but he has seven podium finishes from nine races including six consecutive podium finishes to end the season. He finished sixth in the Super Formula championship with a  victory at Okayama.
What to expect in 2017-18: The German enters a new series and results will be hard to come by at the start but things will get better as the season goes on.

Jean-Éric Vergne: #25 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished fifth in the Formula E championship. Vergne got his first career victory in the season finale at Montreal, his 31st start. He had four runner-up finishes prior to that victory in the 2016-17 season.
What to expect in 2017-18: Vergne has been quick every year he has been in Formula E and with three different teams. Techeetah has the same powertrain as Renault e.Dams but I think the team will be off of its sister team and Vergne will be somewhere in the middle of the top ten in the championship.

Team Notes: Techeetah finished fifth in the Teams' Championship after taking over for Team Aguri on the grid. Dating back to the team's two years as Team Aguri, Vergne became the first driver to contest every race in a season for the team last season. Lotterer's most recent single-seater victory to occur in Europe was April 29, 2001 in British Formula Three at Snetterton.

NIO Formula E Team
Oliver Turvey: #16 NextEV NIO Sport 003
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 12th in the Formula E championship. Turvey won pole position at Mexico City but retired from that race. He had six finishes in the points with his best finish being sixth in the first Brooklyn race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Turvey is the sleeper pick. He was fastest at the Valencia test and perhaps he could create a four-way battle with Buemi, di Grassi and Rosenqvist. He will win a race and set a career-best championship finish but reliability issues could cost him a title opportunity.

Luca Filippi: #68 NextEV NIO Sport 003
What did he do in 2016-17: Filippi contested two rounds in the Blancpain Endurance Series in the 27 Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini.
What to expect in 2017-18: Filippi is one of the rookies and he will be off his teammate for the entire season. He will score points but on a semi-regular basis.

Team Notes: NIO has not finished on the podium since Nelson Piquet, Jr., won at Moscow in 2015. Prior to last season's pole positions at Hong Kong and Mexico City, NIO had not won a pole position in Formula E. Filippi has contested only 29 races since he finished second in the 2011 GP2 Series championship. While Turvey was fastest on day one and day three at Valencia, the Filippi best day on the timesheet was 12th.

MS&AD Andretti Formula E
Kamui Kobayashi: #27 Andretti ATEC-03
What did he do in 2016-17: Kobayashi contested the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship for Toyota. His best finish was second at Spa-Francorchamps and he finished third at the Nürburgring. He finished seventh in the Super Formula championship with his best finish being second at Twin Ring Motegi.
What to expect in 2017-18: Kobayashi is the newest addition to the grid as Tom Blomqvist was announced for this seat before sponsorship-related issues forced the switch to Kobayashi. He has a history of jumping into unfamiliar cars and finding results but Andretti has never produced a highly competitive powertrain.

António Félix da Costa: #28 Andretti ATEC-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 20th in the Formula E championship. Da Costa's only finish in the points was fifth in the Hong Kong season opener. His lone podium finish in Formula E was his victory at Buenos Aires in the fourth race in the series history in 2015.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Portuguese driver will not struggle as much as he did last year but he will miss out on the top ten in the championship.

Team Notes: Andretti Formula E has yet to win a race through the first three seasons and is one of three teams still looking for its first victory in the series. Kobayashi is set to be Andretti's 11th driver in four seasons. His most recent victory in single-seaters was January 23, 2009 at Bahrain in the GP2 Asia Series driving for DAMS. The other two drivers on the podium were Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Edoardo Mortara. The best result for Andretti at the Valencia test was da Costa being 14th on the final day.

Dragon Racing
Neel Jani: #6 Penske EV-2
What did he do in 2016-17: Jani was co-driver with Lotterer in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He also contested the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring for Rebellion Racing. He finished eighth at Daytona and started on pole position at Sebring but finished ninth.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Swiss driver enters having last raced single-seaters in 2011 in Superleague Formula and I think he will score some points but will have more races where he does not score points than he does.

Jérôme d'Ambrosio: #7 Penske EV-2
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 18th in the Formula E championship. The Belgian's best finish was seventh in the season opener at Hong Kong. He scored points at Buenos Aires, Brooklyn and Montreal.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Belgian does better than his teammate on a consistent basis but he does not make it back into the top ten of the championship.

Team Notes: Dragon Racing had its worst finish in the Teams' Championship by finishing eighth last season. It was also the first season Dragon Racing did not win a race. Jani has never won a race on a street circuit. D'Ambrosio was at least six positions ahead of Jani each day at the Valencia test.

Venturi Formula E
Edoardo Mortara: #4 Venturi VM200-FE-03
What did he do in 2016-17: Mortara finished 14th in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in his first season with Mercedes-Benz. His best finish was third in the second race at the Norisring. Mortara won the FIA GT World Cup at Macau for Mercedes-AMG.
What to expect in 2017-18: Mortara will challenge to be the best of the two Venturi drivers but he will not finish in the top half of the championship.

Maro Engel: #5 Venturi VM200-FE-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 17th in the Formula E championship. His best finish was fifth at Monaco. His only other points-paying finishes were ninth at Hong Kong and ninth in the first Berlin race. Engel was not classified in four races.
What to expect in 2017-18: Engel will be have a difficult second season and struggle to break a double-digit points total.

Team Notes: Venturi is one of three teams yet to win in Formula E. The team has only two podium finishes in 33 races. Mortara and Engel both drove for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM last season with Mortara finishing 14th, one position and ten points ahead of Engel but Engel won a race at Moscow Raceway while Mortara's best finish was third at the Norisring. The best Venturi did at the Valencia test was 17th on day one and day three and James Rossiter set the team's best time at the test.

Panasonic Jaguar Racing
Nelson Piquet, Jr.: #3 Jaguar I-Type II
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 11th in the Formula E championship driving for NextEV NIO. His best finish was fourth at Monaco and he won pole position for the Hong Kong season opener. He did not finish in the points in the final six races.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Brazilian will get solid results and be in the back half of the top ten in the championship with Piquet, Jr., challenging for podium finishes every now and then.

Mitch Evans: #20 Jaguar I-Type II
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 14th in the Formula E championship. Evans' best finish was fourth at Mexico City. The New Zealander picked up fastest lap in the first Berlin race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Evans will be close to equal to his teammate and he too will have a few races where he ends up in contention for podium finishes.

Team Notes: Jaguar scored 27 points in its debut season with Evans and Adam Carroll. Piquet, Jr., has not won a race since Moscow in the inaugural season. Evans was in the top ten all three days at the Valencia test and he was faster than Piquet, Jr., on all three days.

Final Takeaways:
I don't expect much to be different in year four of Formula E. While there has been the introduction of independent powertrains the cars have remained unchanged from year one and the teams that have gotten the powertrains right since year two have not fallen off.

It will be di Grassi vs. Buemi vs. Rosenqvist with possibly Turvey, Bird, Prost and Vergne sneaking into the fight. What appears to be a slightly predictable season on paper is the price that will be paid before the introduction of a new chassis, increased power output and new battery system that will have to last the entire race and eliminate the car swap the series has become known for.

If there is one team that could be classified as a sleeper it is Jaguar. Evans had a very good first season and was strong in testing and Piquet, Jr., is a former champion and Formula E veteran. Tee chetah uses the same powertrain as Renault and Vergne had his fair share of results last year but it is a customer team and Lotterer will be learning how to drive a new car. Andretti, Dragon and Venturi are all playing catch up from last year and that will not change this season. If anything those three teams will struggle to score points most of the season.

Buemi dominated the early part of last year's championship and I do not expect a repeat of that this season. I think it is going to be a proper fight each weekend. I think we could see a season similar to the inaugural Formula E season where six different drivers won the first six races. The Formula E grid has the depth of drivers that it would not be out of the realm of possibility that eight different drivers won the first eight races.

The Formula E season opener will take place at 2:00 a.m. ET on December 2nd from Hong Kong. Race two of the season will take place at 2:00 a.m. ET. on December 3rd.