If you read much of the press surrounding the 2017-18 season you would be forgiven for thinking that it is merely a stopgap season.
A lot of the hype has centred on next year’s championship, with new batteries, new cars, no car swaps, and a host of big names joining the series.
As a result this year has been slightly under the radar, but it promises to be no less exciting.
We have four new races on the calendar, including Santiago, Sau Paulo, Rome and the first race in Switzerland in 60 years.
We also have a host of world class drivers joining the series, including WEC champions, a GP3 champion and Le Mans winners.
Most excitingly – testing showed that we could have a restructuring of the order at the top of the tree, with Renault e.dams’ dominance over the first three years finally looking like it might end.
So ahead of the season opener in Hong Kong this weekend, let us take you through those who will be challenging for the titles, who will be fighting for wins, and who will be fighting to keep up.
Fighting for the title..
Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler
Drivers: Lucas di Grassi #1 6 wins, 20 podiums | Daniel Abt #66 0 wins, 4 podiums
It’s been an eventful off season for the former Abt team – with Audi completing their take over. With more manufacturers entering the sport Lucas di Grassi called for Audi to up their involvement in the team, and they’ve done just that meaning that a team that was already one of the strongest on the grid should be even more competitive. Pre-season testing showed that their car has formidable pace, and as such it’s no surprise that di Grassi is the bookies’ favourite to make it two driver’s titles in a row. This season also offers a final chance of redemption for Daniel Abt, who has been adopted into the Audi driver programme. With so many brilliant drivers in the Audi stable waiting in the wings however, if he doesn’t chalk up a win this season it should be his last.
Drivers: Sebastien Buemi #9 12 wins, 17 podiums | Nico Prost #8 3 wins, 5 podiums
Renault’s all-conquering run in Formula E looks to end this year as Audi seem to have developed a drive train that can finally match the French team’s design. Despite showing strong one-lap pace in testing Sebastien Buemi said he didn’t think his team had a clear advantage, and their race pace seemed to prove this. That being said Buemi will be keen to make amends for his spectacular collapse at the end of last season, when he threw away the chance of a second title to a resurgent di Grassi. Prost meanwhile once again looked like he was unable to match his team-mate in testing, and with Renault handing the reigns of the team over to Nissan at the end of the year, he’ll be fighting to keep his drive.
Fighting for wins
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld #23 0 wins, 7 podiums | Felix Rosenqvist #19 1 win, 5 podiums
Mahindra had a remarkable season last year, with the team managing two pole positions, ten podiums and their first win in the series. If they continue this progress they could be title contenders, but their pace in testing showed that they weren’t quite on the pace of Audi or Renault. Holding on to the mightily impressive Felix Rosenqvist is an important step for the team however, and he is well complemented by being alongside the experienced Nick Heidfeld. While they can’t boast the resources of some of their rivals, their experience is vital – and a recent investment in a new simulator should eventually yield positive results.
Drivers: Jean-Eric Vergne #25 1 wins, 9 podiums | Andre Lotterer #18 Debutant
After finishing last season strongly with their first win, Techeetah look like a team on the up – and with Andre Lotterer alongside Jean-Eric Vergne they now have one of the most competitive driver line-ups on the grid. Despite Lotterer’s inexperience in the series (and having previously criticised it), the former WEC champion has a superb racing pedigree and he should prove to be far more of a match for Vergne than any of the Frenchman’s previous team-mates. The team looked fast in testing with their Renault manufactured powertrain, and with manufacturer support on the way next season you can expect to see more investment coming in as the season continues.
DS Virgin Racing
Drivers: Sam Bird #2 5 wins, 9 podiums | Alex Lynn #36 0 wins, 0 podiums
DS Virgin Racing’s season was looking pretty mediocre until the New York ePrix last year, when Sam Bird stormed to two impressive wins and Alex Lynn secured pole position in his first ever race. If they could keep that sort of form up Bird could finally have the title chance that his driving deserves, but their pace in testing was more solid than spectacular. And at a time when most teams are looking to secure manufacturer backing, DS Virgin seem to be going the opposite way, with rumours swirling that they are due to cancel their partnership with DS at the end of this year. If that is the case the team might struggle to keep up with their better financed competitors.
Fighting for points
Drivers: Oliver Turvey #16 0 wins, 0 podiums | Luca Filippi #68 Debutant
The loss of season one champion Nelson Piquet Jr has been a huge blow for the newly named NIO team. Not only have they lost a talented driver, it was a damning indictment of where they are in terms of competitiveness that Piquet was willing to go to a team that finished last in the championship rather than stay at NIO. In to Piquet’s shoes steps Luca Filippi – a surprise choice for many given his lack of experience in the series. Thankfully Oliver Turvey looks as fast as ever, and having beaten Piquet in the same car last year he topped the timesheets on two out of three days of the official test. The only question mark that remains is over NIO’s race pace – too often last year they qualified at the front only to fall back as the race progressed – they’ll need to overcome that if they’re to do more than just score solid points.
Panasonic Jaguar Racing
Drivers: Nelson Piquet Jr #3 2 wins, 5 podiums | Mitch Evans #20 0 wins, 0 podiums
There’s no hiding from the fact that Jaguar’s return to motorsport last year was a huge disappointment. Despite their resources and working in partnership with the battery manufacturer, Williams Advanced Engineering, their car was way off the pace and they finished last. This year has to be better, and it promises to be. Their I-TYPE 2 challenger features a new powertrain and over 200 new parts in an attempt to change their fortunes around, and testing seemed to show an improvement. With a former champion in their car in Piquet Jr and the highly rated Mitch Evans you should expect to see Jaguar in the points more often this year.
Drivers: Antonio Felix da Costa #28 1 win, 1 podium | Kamui Kobayashi #27 Debutant
Another team that should have been better last season and are looking to bounce back. Andretti went four races without scoring a point last year, and when they did score they were nowhere near threatening the podium places. However things are set to get better with the increased involvement of BMW ensuring that the team are better resourced and have more expertise to develop their package. While the German car giant aren’t yet helping with the team’s powertrain, da Costa has already said they have helped solve the braking issue he was suffering from for most of last year. Question marks remain over the team’s second driver, with Andretti choosing Tom Blomqvist only to have their main sponsors demand that Kobayashi be put in the car for Hong Kong.
Fighting for respectability
Drivers: Jerome d’Ambrosio #7 2 wins, 6 podiums | Neel Jani #6 Debutant
Dragon Racing seem to have been determined to shoot themselves in the foot over the past year. Firstly their relationship with electric vehicle technology company Faraday Future broke down after just one season. Then with talented Porsche WEC and Le Mans champion Neel Jani coming on board it looked as if a tie-up with Porsche was on the cards. This too was ditched by team owner Jay Penske, much to the rumoured surprise of those at Porsche and within the Dragon team. If they are to keep up with the rest of the field, and turn around their dreadful performance from last year, then they clearly need more support – but there’s no sign of where that might now be coming from.
Drivers: Maro Engel #5 0 wins, 0 podiums | Edorado Mortara #4 Debutant
With a host of manufacturers joining the sport in the coming years, Venturi sent the rumour mill into overdrive when they announced that they would be running two Mercedes DTM drivers this season. Their Chief Technical Officer Frank Baldet insisted it was just a coincidence and there would be no forthcoming support from Mercedes, but until there is a change-up it’s hard to see Venturi making any progress. They struggled last year and testing showed that things haven’t improved. The only bright spot for this year is Maro Engel, who showed a brilliant turn of pace last year.