Formula E

SEASON REVIEW: 2019-20 FIA Formula E Championship – Dazzling da Costa

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Credit: Formula E

It is hard to believe that FIA Formula E concluded its sixth season in August. Nearly two months after witnessing a crazy six races in nine days, it is a good time to reflect on the madness and take a look back at how the season unfolded.

Only one of an élite eight to have competed in each of these six seasons, Portugal’s António Félix da Costa was crowed the 2019-20 Formula E champion, two races from the season’s conclusion.

He finished his title-winning year seventy-one points clear of closest rival Stoffel Vandoorne, the greatest margin in Formula E’s relatively short history.

To add to this, da Costa’s team, DS Techeetah sailed to their second team’s championship in a row, again shattering the previous highest winning margin.

This is certainly no mean feat. To dominate a, let us not forget, heavily disrupted season, and take both crowns three races before the end is an impressive achievement. But how did it all come together for da Costa and DS Techeetah? Or perhaps the question is, how did it go so wrong for their rivals?

The perfect reunion

Before da Costa’s emotional interview moments after being crowned champion, it was easy to forget that when joining DS Techeetah at the end of last season, he was reuniting with the same Mark Preston-ran team for which he made his Formula E début and raced for two years.

Branded as Amlin Aguri in 2014-15, da Costa impressed the team by taking six points finishes from eight starts, including a surprise victory in Buenos Aires.

Credit: LAT/Formula E

However, for the following season (as Team Aguri), the team opted to keep the same powertrain as Season 1, whereas most teams developed their own. This did not phase da Costa, however, who scored a respectable four points finishes, and nearly won in Putrajaya had it not been for a car issue.

It is safe to say, therefore, that this team was all too aware of da Costa’s talent. It was no surprise that after André Lotterer’s move to TAG Heuer Porsche at the end of Season 5 that DS Techeetah were quick to lure the Portuguese driver back from BMW i Andretti, where he had spent three seasons, the first two of which were with an uncompetitive package.

Paired alongside double series champion Jean-Éric Vergne, few expected da Costa to perform better than the Frenchman in his first season reuniting with the team.

Although leaving the Diriyah double-header at the start of the season with a solitary point, the consistency that ensued between DS Techeetah and da Costa stunned their rivals. He finished second twice in a row in Santiago and Mexico City, having started tenth in both races. Da Costa then qualified on pole for the next three rounds, in Marrakesh and Berlin, winning each of these.

In a championship as volatile as Formula E, such consistency is quite incredible. Three more points finishes out of the last four races to round out the most successful Formula E campaign ever; the scale of this achievement should not be downplayed.

It is true that team-mate Vergne had several instances of bad luck in terms of reliability issues and unfortunate circumstances, but despite this, his consistency in pace never quite matched da Costa’s. For example, although qualifying behind Vergne in Mexico City, da Costa was able to fight his way up to second, to Vergne’s fourth. Similarly, in Marrakesh, da Costa managed to qualify on pole whereas Vergne languished down in eleventh.

Fundamentally, when re-joining DS Techeetah, da Costa hit the ground running, eager to both prove any doubters wrong haviving moved from a competitive factory outfit and to prove to his team that he had grown since his previous stint there. The resulting consistency, and also a sprinkling of fortune relative to his team-mate (and indeed the rest of the grid), led to his title success.

Lack of consistency for title rivals

It is fair to say that the competitive nature of the field behind da Costa meant no other single driver was able to mount a successful title challenge.

For example, Stoffel Vandoorne was able to finish runner-up in the championship with just three podiums (including a win), but four non-points finishes. The same can be said throughout the field; many drivers were able to achieve a series of high points finishes, but were also plagued by a considerable amount of finishes outside the top-ten, or indeed retirements, which ultimately left them unable to challenge a consistent da Costa for the title.

This can be in part attributed to Formula E’s qualifying format, in which drivers who are lower down in the championship order theoretically have a better chance of starting further up the grid, since they have the advantage of setting times on a rubbered-in, warmer track. A particularly bad qualifying lap for the championship protagonists could see them start far down the field, and the competitive nature of the field would make it harder to make up places by the end of the race.

Although the final championship standings tell a different story, going into the final races in Berlin, there were several drivers touted as challengers to the Portuguese champion…

Mitch Evans – Final championship position: 7th

Credit: Jaguar Racing

Mitch Evans started the season in Diriyah in much the same way as da Costa, taking a mere solitary point from the double-header. However, following this he scored a third place in Santiago (although starting on pole), winning his second ePrix at the following race in Mexico City from second on the grid. Although qualifying at the very back for the ensuing Marrakesh ePrix, thanks to a miscommunication by the team, a sublime drive saw him make up a colossal eighteen places to finish sixth. Pre-postponement, he sat just eleven points shy of da Costa at the top of the championship.

However, when Formula E returned for the ‘showdown’ in Berlin, it proved disastrous for Evans, and indeed the entire Panasonic Jaguar Racing team, yielding just fourteen points across the six rounds. It appeared that the car had lost its early-season pace, with the Kiwi failing to qualify higher than eighth and finish above seventh. Neither team-mate of Evans across the rounds James Calado or Tom Blomqvist were able to finish in the points, leaving Jaguar disappointed with a seventh in the team’s championship.

Lucas di Grassi – Final championship position: 6th

Credit: Formula E

A podium in the second Diriyah race ended up being di Grassi’s best result of the season, as Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler seemingly underperformed all season. A poor qualifying at the first Diriyah ePrix meant he finished on the fringes of the points during the race, but managed to make up one spot on his grid position the day after for the podium. The following three races were testament to di Grassi’s experience and dependability as a driver. A fantastic drive in Santiago from twenty-second gained the Brazilian six points in seventh; in Mexico City, another poor qualifying was converted into a solid points finish, with the same happening in Marrakesh.

Although the first four rounds of Berlin were typified by the same consistency, including a third place at the second reversed race, di Grassi was comprehensively outperformed by new team-mate René Rast at the final two rounds, from which he scored just eight points to Rast’s twenty-eight. Fundamentally, though frequently scoring points, di Grassi was not able to challenge for the wins and consistent big points finishes that would have put da Costa under pressure for the title.

Maximillian Günther – Final championship position: 9th

Credit: BMW

Formula E’s craziness in the current Gen 2 era is epitomised by Maximillian Günther’s season. He scored just three points finishes across the twelve rounds, two of which were wins and one a second place. With no points from the initial rounds in Diriyah, Günther put on a class display in Santiago to claim his first-ever Formula E win, having started on the front row in second. Although improving seven places on his grid slot at the following round in Mexico City, the German would finish just out of the points in eleventh. However, he bounced back in Marrakesh, consolidating a second place finish, behind just championship leader da Costa.

After the coronavirus induced break, things did not begin well for Günther. He was disqualified from the first race thanks to a power over-usage and retired from the second after crashing. By the time he won the third Berlin race, having qualified in second, the BMW i Andretti driver was out of championship contention. Two more retirements and a twelfth place rounded out Günther’s strange season.

Berlin shake-up

The lowly championship positions of the above trio of da Costa’s ‘rivals’ emphasise the importance of the final half of the season in Berlin. Due to the compressed nature of the events in this time, what would normally have evolved over many weeks and months ocurred in just nine days. Thus, drivers such as Mercedes EQ Formula E Team‘s Stoffel Vandoorne, da Costa’s team-mate Vergne and Sebastien Buemi from Nissan e.Dams, who proved more consistent across these final rounds, were able to jump ahead of those traditionally seen as title challengers. Equally, Alexander Sims and Sam Bird, who also won races early-on in the season can be included in such a list, as they equally failed to make an impression in Berlin.

In this sense, the Berlin finale served its purpose in turning the championship on its head. Yet, the consistency of António Félix da Costa and DS Techeetah despite the long break and ensuing cramped format, in comparison to their competitors, deservedly took them to their respective championships

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