Formula E testing: Who’s on top?


FIA Formula E Second Pre-Season Testing Event. Donington Park Racecourse, Derby, United Kingdom. Tuesday 6 September 2016. Photo: Adam Warner / LAT ref: Digital Image _L5R2605

The start of season three of Formula E is nearly upon us, and with official testing ending last week, we’ve had the first glimpse of what the grid might look like when we get to Hong Kong.

While Donington Park might not be representative of most of the tracks on the calendar, it still gave a good idea of what the pecking order should be for the season ahead.

As such, we thought we would delve into the timings and see who looks like they might be in the hunt for the title over the coming months, and who might be struggling to keep up.

The Frontrunners

Credit: Formula E
Credit: Formula E

As with the first two seasons of Formula E, it looks as if Renault e.dams has got it right once again. They were never out of the top four on all six days of testing, and when it came down to the last day they let rip with reigning champion Sebastien Buemi grabbing the fastest time overall by nearly two tenths.

Their gap at the top does seem to be smaller than last year, thanks mainly to the heroics of Jean-Eric Vergne and the new Techeetah team. Despite missing the first day of testing the Frenchman came flying out of the blocks, using their same Renault powertrain to break the lap record twice and for a while looking untouchable. His teammate Ma Qing Hua wasn’t able to get close to him, and although question marks remain over their race pace, we should expect to see Vergne challenging for pole in Hong Kong.

Best of the rest

FIA Formula E Second Pre-Season Testing Event. Donington Park Racecourse, Derby, United Kingdom. Wednesday 7 September 2016. Photo: Adam Warner / LAT ref: Digital Image _14P4294
Credit: Formula E

There are three teams lurking behind the front two in terms of outright pace. Abt Schaeffler Audi did manage to top the timesheets on the last day of the first test, but could only manage the sixth fastest time overall. However the team did say that they weren’t aiming for one lap pace, and it was their race pace that kept them in the title hunt last year.

Having reverted to a single motor following Citroen’s input, DS Virgin Racing are looking to improve their race pace this season. Sam Bird managed the fourth fastest time, indicating that they still have their one lap pace, so they should be a threat again.

Dragon Racing also look to be up at the sharp end of the grid again, consistently getting in the top ten, and as their relationship with Faraday Future matures you can expect to see them improve.

The midfield

Credit: Formula E
Credit: Formula E

The test couldn’t have started much better for Mahindra Racing. The team met all of their targets, and went second fastest on each of the first three days. From there things slipped, and by the final day both Nick Heidfeld and new boy Felix Rosenqvist were outside of the top ten.

While NextEV TCR never threatened the top five, their package looks like a big improvement on their overweight and underperforming powertrain from last year. While not challenging at the top, they should certainly see an improvement on their dire points haul from last season.

Surprisingly, Andretti also look like they are mired in the midfield battle. With rumoured support from BMW, and two of the fastest drivers on the grid in Antonio Felix da Costa and Robin Frijns, the team would have been hoping to challenge for wins. However they never looked like having the pace to match those at the front, and it looks as if they’ll be fighting it out for the lower points positions to start with.

At the back

Credit: Formula E
Credit: Formula E

The Expectation surrounding the new Jaguar Racing team was immense, but considering that the rest of the field have a two-year head start on them it’s perhaps not surprising that they look like they’re towards the back.

The first test saw them trying out potential drivers, but after settling on Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans neither driver was able to trouble the more established teams. They ended up over a second off the fastest time, which still must have been a disappointment given they have the support of Williams Advanced Engineering.

The only team that were worse than them were Venturi, with both Maro Engel and Stephane Sarrazin looking like they will have a tough year ahead of them.

 

Undoubtedly the most encouraging news from the tests was that it seems as if there is once again very little separating the teams.

With development being opened up after season one the fear was that the field would spread apart, but with just 1.4 seconds between the best and worst lap times, they seem as close as ever.

It promises some close battles, and as Lucas di Grassi said, it looks as if fans can look forward to another thrilling season.