Get Ready to be Electrified: Who and What to Watch in Formula E This Season

With Season 8 of Formula E starting this Friday in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, two of our authors came together to point out some things you might want to keep an eye on. ATRL’s Eline-Luna and Chiara Schanno delve a little deeper into what pre-season testing may indicate and what we’ve learned from past seasons.

Chiara Schanno

Eline Luna

January 24, 2022

Repeat champions? Or new blood?

Reigning team champions Mercedes EQ will undoubtedly be the team to look out for this season. Despite winning the championship by only a tiny margin, it was clear the Mercedes was undeniably quick. 

Mercedes EQ Teammates de Vries and Vandoorne celebrate winning the team’s and driver’s championship © Alastair Staley/FIA Formula E

Pre-Season testing at Valencia was not wholly representative of the field, yet it still clearly showed Mercedes and their customer team, Venturi, were quick. Last year’s Vice-Champion, Edoardo Mortara, set the fastest lap during testing. He was followed by a top 8 separated by only 2 tenths of a second, and nearly the whole field was within a second of each other.

 

Mercedes and Venturi will be undoubtedly quick; both have an all-star line-up with champions Lucas di Grassi (Venturi) and Nyck de Vries (Mercedes) alongside race winners Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes) and Mortara (Venturi). But they haven’t won just yet. Teams like Jaguar, Techeetah, and Envision will undoubtedly put up a fight. 

 

While both are consistently in contention, neither Jaguar nor Envision has won a championship yet, and this is something they’ll be looking to change.

As seen last year, Jake Dennis and Andretti took two victories across the season. He was in contention till the last round but ultimately lost out after a mechanical failure. If Andretti can keep up their form, even now BMW has left the team, they will surely be a team to look out for as well.

Will new formats make a difference?

The altered qualifying format will be important in this season’s championship fight. After heavy criticism from drivers and teams on the previous format, which affected drivers high up in the championship, Formula E finally decided to change it.

 

The old qualifying format would put drivers near the top of the championship at a disadvantage. The first qualifying group would consist of the top drivers in the standings. Because they were the first out, often, they would qualify at the back as they were clearing the track for the following groups. This ended up being one of the reasons why there were so many drivers left in the championship going into the last round in Berlin; no one was able to build a steady gap at the top.

 

After a practice session of 30 minutes, shortened from 45 minutes, the new ‘knockout’ qualifying format is expected to be fairer and won’t punish top runners as much. Qualifying starts with two group sessions, both twelve minutes long. Group A is occupied by the drivers in the odd positions of the championship (1, 3, 5,…, 21), and Group B is occupied by the drivers in the even positions of the championship (2, 4, 6,…, 22). The first race in Diriyah will be an exception, and groups will be divided by teams there. 

 

During this group stage, all cars are at 220KW; each driver is required to set at least one timed lap within the first five minutes of their session. After twelve minutes, the top four of each group go through to the quarter-finals. The eventual pole sitter’s group will fill the uneven positions of the grid.

In the quarter-finals, 1st from Group A will battle 4th from Group B. 2nd Group A vs. 3rd Group B, etc. The winner of every quarter goes to the semi, and the two winners of the semi-finals progress to the final.

The winning driver of the final duel takes Julius Baer Pole Position, while the runner-up lines up 2nd. The semi-finalists will line up 3rd and 4th, the quarter-finalists between 5th and 8th – according to their lap times.

The new qualifying format was trialed during pre-season testing and has been met with praise from drivers and other team members.

Action can’t only be found at the front…

Formula E is considered quite a close field; however, both Nio 333 FE Team and Dragon Penske Autosport have struggled to match the remaining teams for the last few seasons. Ever since the introduction of the Gen2 cars in 2018/2019, they have consistently finished last and second to last, respectively. But that does not mean they don’t provide good racing and close battles.

 

With Oliver Turvey, Nio has one of the most experienced drivers on the Formula E grid, as Turvey has competed in 74 of the 84 Formula E races to date. The Chinese team has signed rookie Dan Ticktum alongside Turvey. Dragon has kept Brazilian driver Sérgio Sette Câmara, who achieved consistent results in Season 7 for them, for a second season, and have managed to sign ex-F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi for their second car. While neither team is likely to fight for points regularly, they definitely will be capitalizing on the chaos throughout the rest of the grid, plus they always have each other to battle it out with.

 

Predictability is so old school!

The midfield may not be as evident as in other series, but as the pre-season test at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain showed, not every team seems to be able to keep up with those at the top. However, the results from testing are not very representative of the rest of the season as most of the calendar is made up of street circuits, compared to the purpose-built track where they tested. It’s possible Nissan e.dams, Mahindra Racing, and TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team will be fighting for podiums and wins, more often than testing and the previous season indicated. And even when the fight is only for points, this group undoubtedly is entertaining to watch. Unlike Porsche, who have kept their lineup, Mahindra and Nissan both have one new driver in their team who will probably need a few races to get used to everything. Nissan will compete with Sébastien Buemi and Maximilian Günther, who will replace Oliver Rowland, who will drive alongside Alexander Sims at Mahindra. Not only is the fight between these teams something to watch, but the internal battles are stellar as well.

© Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E

New (and young) faces

This season will see three rookies start, none of which had driven a Formula E car before the November-December pre-season test.

The first new driver to join this year is Oliver Askew for Andretti. He comes from an IndyCar background, having won the Indy Lights championship in 2019 and then driving for various teams on several occasions in Indycar in both 2020 and 2021. Despite being an Indy Lights champion, he was not a full-time driver in 2021 after his 2020 season was cut short due to an injury he obtained in a race. Born in Florida, Askew races under the American flag but holds American and Swedish citizenship.

 

Antonio Giovinazzi will enter the competition for Dragon. The Italian has competed in Formula 1 for the last three years and has earned 21 points since his first F1 start in 2017, where he replaced the injured Pascal Wehrlein for two race weekends. In 2016, Giovinazzi became the GP2 Series vice-champion. He will be the oldest rookie this season.

 

The third and final rookie of Season 8 of Formula E is British driver Daniel Ticktum for Nio. Born in 1999, he will be the youngest driver on the grid. Ticktum has raced in Formula 2 the previous two years, appearing on the podium 11 times while in the series. He is unarguably a driver ridden with controversy, so perhaps being a “blank sheet” in Formula E is exactly what he needs at this point of his career.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Chiara Schanno was introduced to Motorsport through their family at a young age. Getting really into F1 in late 2016, they soon started to watch more series and is now particularly interested in electric racing like Formula E and feeder series racing like Formula 2. A non-motorsport related (fun) fact about Chiara is that they have stage experience in both acting and singing. They are based in Germany.

Eline follows a variety of motorsports from Formula E to IMSA to Nascar to WEC. They hope to study Mechanical Engineering to work in motorsports one day.

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