With the global COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic still in our midst and bringing with it the postponement of the planned opening round of the first ever FIA Formula E World Championship, the Santiago ePrix, the electric grid makes its long-awaited return next weekend, with a double header at a familiar venue, Diriyah near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia…
As darkness falls on the Diriyah Street Circuit this coming Friday evening, the track will come alive with the return of the world’s premier electric series, the FIA Formula E World Championship. With 24 drivers and their 12 teams all competing to become the series’ seventh drivers’ champion, the winners will be the first to be able to call themselves an FIA World Champion…
Although the upgrades to the Spark Gen2 cars have been delayed until next year, the 2020-21 Formula E season will see one notable change – its name. Formula E has now joined the ranks of Formula 1, the World Endurance Championship, the World Rally Championship and the World Rallycross Championship, by officially becoming a FIA World Championship in its own right. Pretty impressive stuff for a series that only started back in 2014!
But before the lights go green in Saudi Arabia, let’s take a look at some of the biggest changes heading into this new season…
As usual there are driver changes up and down the grid, with 9 of the 12 twelve teams experiencing some sort of switch. Only reigning teams’ champions DS Techeetah, Mercedes-Benz EQ and Nissan e.dams have retained their line-up from the start of last season.
Firstly, 2016-17 Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi returns for another year with Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler. The Brazilian will be partnered by René Rast, who replaced Daniel Abt for the final 6 races in Berlin last season. British driver Jake Dennis will be making his debut in the series after joining BMW i Andretti Motorsport. He is replacing Alexander Sims, who left to join Mahindra Racing. Both he and Maximillian Günther will be looking to push the team on from fifth in the Teams’ Championship last time out.
Perennial back markers GEOX Dragon have undergone a name change and a driver change since last time out. The team, now known as Dragon/Penske Autosport, have signed Sérgio Sette Câmara to race alongside Nico Muller on a permanent basis. Câmara previously replaced Brendon Hartley for the final six races last season.
There is a new, but not unfamiliar face down at Envision Virgin Racing. This is after Sam Bird chose to part ways with the team at the end of Season Six to join Jaguar Racing. Robin Frijns will be lining up alongside New Zealander newcomer Nick Cassidy. Cassidy, who is the 2019 Super Formula champion, drove for the British team in the 2020 Rookie Test in Marrakesh. Meanwhile Jaguar Racing will be hoping that Bird’s experience will help to push the team forward, after a disappointing end to last season. Bird replaces James Calado and will be joining Mitch Evans, who is starting his fifth season with the British-based team.
After leaving BMW i Andretti Motorsport, Alexander Sims has now joined Mahindra Racing, replacing Jérôme d’Ambrosio. Alex Lynn will once more be lining up for Mahindra, following his impressive performance for the team when he replaced Pascal Wehrlein at the Berlin triple-header. And NIO 333 will be fielding an all-British line-up, with Tom Blomqvist starting alongside Oliver Turvey, replacing Ma Qinghua. Blomqvist previously raced for Jaguar during the final two rounds in Berlin last season.
Veteran Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa has left ROKiT Venturi Racing after just two seasons with the team and has been replaced by GP2 race winner Norman Nato. Venturi also have a new face in their leadership team, with Jérôme d’Ambrosio becoming deputy team principal to support Suzi Wolff, after retiring from competitive racing.
And finally, after leaving Mahindra Racing back in June last year, Pascal Wehrlein returns to the Formula E grid, this time lining up alongside André Lotterer for TAG Heuer Porsche. Wehrlein replaces sportscar ace Neel Jani, after one just season with the German team.
At the time of writing, the full 2021 Formula E calendar is still up in the air. Currently, eight races are scheduled to be held from February to June this year, with six more races provisionally on the cards. Initially, the season was supposed to get underway with the Santiago ePrix double-header. Bur due to the increased COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom, the double-header in Chile has been rescheduled to June 5th and 6th.
This means that the Diriyah ePrix will become the new season opener, with the double header planned to get underway this coming Friday evening, February 26th. It will be the third time Formula E has visited the street circuit in Diriyah near Riyadh and the historic desert surroundings of the UNESCO World Heritage site. But this time around the Saudi Arabian circuit will pose a new challenge for the drivers, with both races taking place at night. This will not only be Formula E’s first night race, but also the first race under lights for any all-electric series.
Diriyah EPrix 1
Diriyah EPrix 2
Rome EPrix 1
Rome EPrix 2
Valencia EPrix 1
Valencia EPrix 2
The teams will then head to Rome on April 10th, before the Valencia ePrix makes its debut later that month on April 24th. The Circuit Ricard Tormo in Spain previously hosted pre-season testing for Formula E. Then it will be on the French Riviera and to Monaco for May 8th, with the race returning on its two year rotation. But for the first time the full grand prix circuit will be used, not the shorter one that Formula E has utilised in previous races.
The sixth round of the series will see the series return to Morocco with the Marrakesh ePrix on May 22nd, before the rescheduled Santiago ePrix double-header slots in at the beginning of June should everything go to plan…
Several races are also due to return to the calendar after being cancelled last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Sanya ePrix in China and the Seoul ePrix in South Korea are both scheduled to return, but dates for these races have yet to be released. The ever popular Paris ePrix was also due to return, but it too has cancelled once more due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After hosting the final six races of last year’s championship, the Berlin ePrix is also planned to return for a single round this season and the New York City ePrix will also become a single race event for the first time, after being cancelled last season. 2021 will also see a return of the London ePrix after a 5-year absence. The race, which will be held around the ExCeL arena in London and the Royal Docks, was originally planned for the 2019-20 season, but as with many races last year, it too became a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020-21 season was supposed to see an upgraded version of the Spark Gen2 cars (to be known as the Gen2 EVO), make their debut. But due to the Coronavirus pandemic forcing all series to cut costs, the Gen2 EVOs are now planned to be brought into competition for the 2022-23 season instead.
On the technical side, the only main change to the regulations is that manufacturers are that team may now only be able to modify their powertrain components once over the next two seasons. This means teams can chose to introduce a new powertrain for this season to use over 2 years or continue with their current powertrains until a change next year.
Nissan e.dams and DS Techeetah have both opted to continue with their current powertrains and are planning on introducing new versions later into the season. Porsche, on the other hand, has instead opted to start the season with a new powertrain but it will be carrying on the name from their previous model. Yes, and you thought it was going to be easy to spot the changes..?
What to Watch Out For
With the dawn of a new era for Formula E as a fully-fledged FIA World Championship, this season is lining up to be one of the best so far. If pre-season testing is any indication, then all the teams look to be incredibly close. During the final day of testing, all 24 drivers were within 0.761 seconds of each other and 23 of those drivers were covered by a little over half-a-second. Refreshingly, each session in Valencia saw a different driver and team top the timing sheets!
Reigning drivers’ champion António Félix da Costa will most certainly be one to watch after his stellar performance last season. He will be hoping to match his teammate Jean-Éric Vergne and become the second driver to achieve back-to-back titles. Stoffel Vandoorne is another driver to keep an eye on this season. After a disappointing mid-season, the Belgian driver was able to pull it back and snatch second in the drivers’ standings for rookie Mercedes-Benz EQ squad. It was all the more special with his stunning display during the season finale. This was despite tough competition from Vergne and both the Nissan e.dams drivers Sebastián Buemi and Oliver Rowland.
Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans and Sam Bird should also be on everyone’s radar. Before the three rounds in Berlin, Evans looked to be one of the main title contenders, especially after his victory in Mexico. However, difficulties with the Jaguar in Berlin saw him drop to seventh in the standings. He will definitely have a point to prove this season.
Formula E has always shown to expect the unexpected and with the quality of drivers and circuits this season, I for one cannot wait for it to finally get underway. The 2020-21 FIA Formula E World Championship begins this Friday evening, February 26th at the Diriyah Street Circuit in Saudi Arabia.