Formula E, the FIA's all electric race series returns this weekend with a new car, new teams, new liveries, new drivers, at a new circuit. We preview season 5 ahead of tomorrows race at the Al Diriyah circuit in Saudi Arabia.
Season 5 (the 2018/19 championship) of Formula E is the first for the all new generation 2 car (pictured above) which replaces the original Spark SRT-01E. The battery capacity has been doubled, from 28 kWh to 54 kWh, meaning an end to the mid-race car swaps which have been a feature of the series since it's inception. The new car will also gain a performance boost over the Gen 1 car, with an increase in peak power of 50 kW to 250 kW in qualifying and the race power limit increasing by 20 kW to 200 kW, meaning the new cars will top out at ~280 km/hr.
Rather than being lap limited like many sprint race series, races are time limited to 45 minutes + 1 lap, meaning the teams will have to predict the state of charge use per-lap based on pre-race simulations, all the while reacting to track conditions - teams became very accomplished at reaching the end of the race with close to 0% charge in the battery over the past 4 seasons. As with previous seasons all the sessions will take place on a single day with practice and qualifying happening in the morning before the race. Qualifying retains the 4 group + super-pole format as last year, though the random group assignment is dropped in favour of drivers going out in championship order - the exception being the first race weekend.
The loss of the car swaps means a strategic element has gone from the series - to this end a new element "Attack Mode" is brought in to enable drivers to race and pass more easily. Attack mode will give drivers a 25kW increase in power following activation - the exact duration and minimum number of mandatory uses of attack mode will only be revealed to teams an hour ahead of the race - to prevent simulation work to compute the optimal strategy. To activate attack mode requires drivers to drive off-line at the activation point - driving over three timing gates - and will be indicated by a blue light on the halo LED display strip.
Time will tell if attack mode is a gimmick or will allow for competitive and exciting racing, but in race practice during pre-season drivers found it difficult to accurately drive over the activation gates. Another unique feature of Formula E "fan boost" remains with the number of drivers eligible for fan boost increasing from three to five. Fans of traditional race series were initially resistant to the idea of fan boost, but the implementation has not impacted race and championship results significantly with a number of drivers receiving the power boost over the season. Fan boost will be indicated on the halo LED strip with a pink/purple light.
Along with the new car a number of new teams feature on the entry, though only HWA is truly an all new squad, bringing the total field up to 22 cars. The other new teams are BMW, who officially become a full manufacturer entry with the Andretti team, and Nissan who take over the entry of the e.dams squad from Renault. DS have moved from backing Virgin, their partner since season 1, to last seasons runners up Techeetah, who had been the only customer team in season 4 purchasing their powertrain from Renault. Virgin remain in the sport but will instead purchase their powertrain from Audi; who as last seasons constructors champions will not want to embarrassed in the same way as Renault were in season 4 when comfortably beaten by their customers in the championship. HWA will also be a customer team for their first season, buying a powertrain from Venturi, before becoming the Mercedes factory team in season 6, when Porsche also join the series.
The Formula E driver line up is a strong one, filled with former F1 drivers, champions from the junior categories, and winners of high profile events, such as the Le Mans 24hr. Few of the teams have full continuity in their driver line up from season 4, namely the reigning constructors champions - Audi - last seasons runners up - Techeetah - and Jaguar. Bird, Buemi, Mortara, Turvey, Lopez, and Da Costa all retain their respective drives. Mahindra are sporting an all new driver line-up, with series veteran Jerome d'Ambrosio jumping across from Dragon to be joined by rookie Pascal Wehrlein - the exception being the race in Saudi Arabia where due to a contractual conflict Felix Rosenqvist will deputise. 11 time F1 Grand Prix winner Felipe Massa (37) joins the series as a rookie with the Venturi team, fellow 37 year old Gary Paffett will also be taking part in his first Formula E campaign, and is joined at HWA by F1 exile Stoffel Vandoorne. The final rookies in the field are Sims, Guenther and Rowland (who has raced in Formula E once before, replacing the injured Nick Heidfeld at Mahindra) who stepped in last minute to replace the Toro Rosso bound Albon at Nissan.
|Audi Sport Abt||Di Grassi||Abt|
|BMW i Andretti||Da Costa||Sims|
The Al Diriyah track
The Al Diriyah circuit is a 2.495km track with 21 turns and features a number of interesting elevation changes. The layout has more of a fast, flowing nature than most Formula E tracks. Activation for the attack mode will be on the exit of turn 17.
Who looks strong?
As with previous seasons the competitive order in Formula E is difficult to predict, with 4 different drivers champions in 4 seasons. In pre-season testing BMW looked to be strong ,where Andretti previously could only be described as a mid-grid team, with Da Costa and Sims both topping the timing sheets. It is also difficult to look past Audi, who have season 3 champion and 8 time winner Di Grassi as well as Daniel Abt - who had a breakthrough season in 2017/18, winning 2 races. Season 2 champion Sebastian Buemi has been a consistent winner and podium finisher through all 4 seasons of Formula E and would be expected to continue in a similar fashion - even if Nissan looked to be slightly behind their German rivals on the testing time sheets. Virgin should be strong with the Audi powertrain driven by 7 time race winner Sam Bird and the highly rated Robin Frijns. While last seasons champion Jean-Eric Vergne also looked quick in testing - though the Achilles heel of the DS powertrain in the past few seasons being it's weight and the impact on battery life. Mahindra have been consistently fast, albeit not yet able to sustain a championship challenge, and Jaguar have improved rapidly into podium contenders since their debut in season 3.