Formula E season preview: Runners and riders

by Scott Douglas

The 2018-19 season of ABB Formula E marks a new chapter for the series with a step change in the technology on offer, and the first major development in the promised ongoing development of the series.

Gone are the need for clumsy car swaps mid-race, with the second generation cars being more powerful and with batteries that can last the new forty-five minutes plus one lap race distance.

Also new for this season is an attack-mode, already criticised by some a a gimmick, but it aims to aid overtaking with drivers allowed to pass through an activation zone that will allow them a 25kW boost.

We also have new drivers, and new teams with big budgets coming into the sport, so to help guide you through this change and how each team stands, look no further than the TCF guide.

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler

Credit: Formula E

#11, Lucas di Grassi
#66, Daniel Abt

Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt return for another season with what was undoubtedly the form team from last year. Despite a torrid start with several reliability problems, Audi stormed back with eight successive podium finishes, including four wins, to dramatically take the team’s title from underneath the nose of Techeetah. Expect them to be strong again this season, although team boss Allan McNish believes BMW are currently faster, and watch out for the rivalry between Di Grassi and Abt, which threatened to boil over on more than one occasion last season.

DS Techeetah

Credit: Formula E

#25, Jean-Eric Vergne
#36, Andre Lotterer

Season four champion Jean-Eric Vergne reportedly turned down a return to Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso in order to stay with Techeetah, showing his commitment to the series and the team which he helped set-up. This will be the first season they’ll operate as a manufacturer rather than a customer after forming a partnership with DS Motorsport, yet despite this huge change the team looked on pace in testing, and with Lotterer now up to speed following a rocky start last year, expect both drivers to be in the title hunt.

Envision Virgin Racing

Credit: Formula E

#2, Sam Bird
#4, Robin Frijns

Sam Bird gamely kept in the title hunt last season despite the Virgin car clearly not being competitive towards the end of the season. The disappointing finish to 2017-18 has led to the team splitting from DS Motorsports and they have taken on last year’s title winning Audi powertrain instead. Being a customer didn’t hinder Vergne taking the title last season, and Bird will hope that he will finally be given the car that his driving talents undoubtedly deserve. Their pace in testing looked distinctly average however, but with the highly rated Robin Frijns joining the team after a year hiatus from the series, don’t be surprised if Virgin end up with some surprising results.

Mahindra Racing

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#64, Jerome d’Ambrosio
#94, Pascal Wehrlein

Mahindra Racing were dealt a big blow when their hugely talented driver Felix Rosenqvist chose a move to IndyCar for next year rather than staying with the team. The team’s only ever race winner will return for the first race in Ad Diriyah this weekend, but will then depart for former DTM champion and F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein to take his place. It’s change in the other car as well with Nick Heidfeld moving to an ambassadorial role with the team and former Dragon Racing driver Jerome d’Ambrosio taking his place. The team won two races early on last year and look competitive again, but whether they can keep up with their well-resourced rivals remains to be seen.

Nissan e.dams

Credit: Formula E

#22, Oliver Rowland
#23, Sebastien Buemi

The 2017-18 season was an odd one for e.dams as they lost the team’s championship for the first time in the history of the series. It meant that Renault weren’t given a victorious send off as they hand the team over to Nissan, and the Japanese manufacturer has a challenge on their hands to recover from what was a dreadful season last year. To get no wins with one of the most talented drivers on the grid in Sebastien Buemi was simply not good enough, and testing showed they might still be lacking the pace of the top teams. They will also have to cope with a last minute driver change as well after original pick Alexander Albon was poached by Scuderia Toro Rosso, with Oliver Rowland now stepping in.

Panasonic Jaguar Racing

Credit: Formula E

#3, Nelson Piquet Jr
#20, Mitch Evans

Panasonic Jaguar Racing return for their third season with an unchanged driver line-up. Season one champion Nelson Piquet Jr and Mitch Evans enjoyed a far better season last year and will be looking to build on their upturn in form. Team boss James Barclay says the team are aiming for points and podiums to add to their single podium last year, but times from testing show that might be a struggle for them. With the team now bedded in and with the Gen2 car providing a clean slate for all teams, they have no excuses for not being competitive.

Venturi Formula E

Credit: Formula E

#19, Felipe Massa
#48, Edorado Mortara

Perhaps the biggest Formula E driver move of the year has been Venturi’s signing of Felipe Massa’s, as he finally makes his move to the series having had it postponed first time when he unexpectedly had his Williams Martini Racing contract extended in 2017. The former Formula 1 race winner looked immediately on the pace in testing, setting a faster time than team-mate Edorado Mortara and sitting comfortably inside the top ten. Mortara meanwhile is entering his second season in the sport after the team chose to retain him over Maro Engel, and the Swiss driver will be looking to repay that faith by repeating his performance in Hong Kong last season where he should have secured a maiden win.

NIO

Credit: Formula E

#8, Tom Dillmann
#16, Oliver Turvey

NIO’s biggest asset is still their driver, Oliver Turvey. The Brit showed former champ Piquet Jr a set of clean heels when they were team-mates and last season Turvey stepped-up again to lead the team and score forty-six out of the forty-seven points they secured. Part of the reason for this was Luca Filippi’s poor driving, which has led to Tom Dillmann securing his first full-time drive after two brief stints with Venturi in the past couple of years. The pace Dillmann has shown in the past means he should be more of a match for Turvey, but with the NIO lacking raw pace in testing then it might take more heroics for them to return to the podium this time around.

Geox Dragon Racing

Credit: Formula E

#6, Maximillian Gunther
#7, Jose Maria Lopez

Last season marked another steady decline for Dragon. Having impressively finished as runners-up in Formula E’s inaugural season the American team have gone backwards since then, with last year’s ninth place being a new low. A link up with EV developer Faraday Future has been and gone and now they’re on their own questions are being asked about their ability to keep up with the big car manufacturers. In Jose Maria Lopez though they have a driver with a stellar CV, and young gun Maximillian Gunther will make his debut in the series after making the switch from Formula 2.

BMW i Andretti Motorsport

Credit: Formula E

#27, Alexander Sims
#28, Antonio Felix da Costa

This season could mark one of the most impressive turnarounds in motorsport for some time. BMW supported Andretti finished bottom of the standings last season, but with the German manufacturer taking more of a role and investing a lot of time in the new Gen2 car they left pre-season testing as the favourites for this season in many people’s eyes. They topped the time sheets on every single day of the test, and their race pace looked to be right up there with the best. More encouragingly, new driver Alexander Sims took no time to get to grips with the series, and with the highly rated Antonio Felix da Costa alongside him this should be a title challenging season for BMW.

HWA Racelab

Credit: Formula E

#5, Stoffel Vandoorne
#17, Gary Paffett

HWA become the latest entrant to Formula E, setting themselves up as a precursor to when Mercedes enter the series in the coming years. Their extensive history in motorsport should put them in good stead, but no one doubts the huge task they have ahead of them in trying to match the pace of the established teams. They’ll be helped however by what seems a strong driver line-up. Stoffel Vandoorne makes the move to Formula E after two crushingly disappointing years in Formula 1, and he’ll be hoping to recover his form from before his stint at McLaren that saw him become one of the most highly rated drivers in the world. Alongside him is the steady hand of Gary Paffett, who is fresh off the back of winning his second DTM title and at age 37 will bring some much needed experience to the team, even if this will be his first taste of Formula E.

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