Formula E Season 2 Guidebook
Formula E begins it’s second season this Saturday: Here’s all the developments to look forwards to once it gets going in Beijing.
More powerful cars with 8 different motors
In the first season, the powertrains were all manufactured by McLaren, and their output was 150KW during the races. (200 KW in Qualifying) Now the race limit has been raised to 170KW, although the battery created by Williams advanced engineering remains the same. Two teams have reverted to last season’s McLaren motors: Team Aguri and Amlin Andretti. The eight other teams have either modified or completely overhauled their powertrains. (With Dragon Racing using a customer Venturi powertrain) Each sounds very different; have a listen for yourself in the video below.
A strong field of new and returning drivers
Jacques Villeneuve, Robin Frijns and Nathaniel Berthon make their debuts in the category. The 1997 Formula One world champion needs little introduction and the Canadian’s signing with Venturi will undoubtably attract the most headlines, but young Dutchman Robin Frijns is an extremely well respected talent who has proven himself by winning Formula Renault 2.0 and 3.5 in his rookie seasons consecutively; overlooked by F1, now Frijns has a perfect opportunity to return to single seaters with Amlin Andretti. Berthon has a wealth of experience through his years in the F1 feeder series GP2; the Frenchman impressed during pre-season testing by setting the fastest lap of the five drivers that Team Aguri used in Donnington Park, and as a result got his berth with them.
Partnering Frijns at Amlin Andretti will be female Swiss racer Simona Di Silvestro, an aggressive driver from the Indycar series who earned a fearsome reputation as “The Iron Maiden” after racing in the Indianapolis 500 only days after withstanding second degree burns from a fiery crash in qualifying; Simona made her FE debut with Andretti in the two London ePrix in June, where she finished just outside the points in 11th and 12th. Another driver taking part in his debut at Battersea Park was Englishman Oliver Turvey, who took 4 points with two 9th place finishes. A test driver for McLaren and an experienced endurance and LMP2 class Le Mans winner, Turvey is an intelligent and adaptable driver capable of securing shock results. He’ll be driving again for NextEV Team China.
German F1 Veteran Nick Heidfeld moves from Venturi to Mahindra, in the hope that he’ll find better fortunes with the Indian team. Jean Eric Vergne moves from Andretti to DS Virgin, because a French manufacturer wants a French driver, and with 3 pole positions and an F1 reserve driver role with Ferrari under his belt, JEV is the best man for the job. Mexican Salvador Duran daringly moves from Team Aguri to Trulli, in a risky gamble that Trulli can sort out the powertrain woes that hobbled them to the point that they did almost no laps in testing.
Lucas Di Grassi retains his seat at Abt Schaeffler Audi once again alongside team owner’s son Daniel Abt. Sam Bird keeps his place with DS Virgin ahead of a potential championship challenge. Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Prost as the race winning and constructors championship winning duo are wisely kept on by e.dams. Antonio Felix Da Costa is re-signed by Team Aguri, but not for the full season following his commitments to the DTM touring car series. Nelson Piquet Jnr. as the reigning champion has unsurprisingly secured his future with NextEV Team China. Belgian Jerome D’Ambrosio will be hoping to utilise his consistency to secure more big results with constructors runners up Dragon Racing, alongside his impressive season one partner Loic Duval. Bruno Senna’s aim is to get on the podium for the first time with Mahindra this season. Stephane Sarrazin will be praying for better luck after losing a win on a technicality in London. Finally, Vitantonio Liuzzi will be anticipating another trying season with Trulli.
Two new races, and adjustments to existing venues
An ePrix in Paris has been confirmed, but the strong rumour still circulates that we will see Mexico as the currently unannounced 5th round. In the meantime the season one venues receive a facelift, (I.E. Beijing will cut out the first chicane from last year entirely, with Berlin and London also expected to undergo changes) whilst we no longer visit Miami or Monaco, Hong Kong was confirmed to be the opener to the 3rd season. Here is the current season 2 calendar:
Round 1: Beijing ePrix, China, 24th of October 2015
Round 2: Putrajaya ePrix, Malaysia, 7th of November 2015
Round 3: Punta Del Este ePrix, Uruguay, 19th of December 2015
Round 4: Buenos Aires ePrix, Argentina, 6th of February 2016
Round 5: Mexico City ePrix, Mexico*, 12th of March 2016
Round 6: Long Beach ePrix, United States, 2nd of April 2016
Round 7: Paris ePrix, France, 23rd/24th of April 2016
Round 8: Berlin ePrix, Germany, 21st of May 2016
Round 9: Moscow ePrix, Russia, 4th of June 2016
Round 10: London ePrix 1, United Kingdom, 2nd of July 2016
Round 11: London ePrix 2, United Kingdom, 3rd of July 2016
*Subject to confirmation
New Qualifying format, including unique ‘Superpole’ finale
Qualifying has been tweaked: As with last season, the field will still be drawn into 4 randomly selected groups, but now the group stages will all be shortened to 6 minutes make way for a climactic 15 minute ‘Superpole’ shootout between the 5 overall fastest drivers from all groups, with each car going out in reverse order (slowest first) and getting only one lap to achieve pole position. Sebastien Buemi is the only driver who has voiced concerns about the format, feeling that unanticipated factors such as a yellow flag could unfairly spoil a driver’s only shot at pole.
Controversial FanBoost system integrated more heavily
Fanboost voting now takes place starting 12 days prior to the race and ending 6 minutes after the start, Voting now takes place on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (using hashtags) as well as the official Formula E app, and the 3 drivers that win Fanboost get a total of 100KJ extra energy to deploy at any point during the race with their second car. (Compared to last year’s 5 second limit of full power that could only be used once in each car) You can access the FanBoost website and current standings here.
The Virtual Safety Car has been introduced under the moniker of Full Course Yellow, a tweaked version of the VSC which means that everyone must keep to the same low speed around the track. Daniel Abt made it clear that he was not in favour of the system, but the benefit is that the the race does not have to be slowed down by the safety car if FCY is deployed. In addition to this, a larger variety of in-race penalties have been instated for use as and when the stewards see fit, namely minor time penalties that can be added to a drivers pitstop time. (As we have seen used in F1 fairly and effectively since last year).
Summary and verdict
On the whole the new rules are positive steps for the championship; the electric technology the series started with was a good base package but it needed to be developed, so opening up just the powertrains is a good way to do this whilst keeping costs low enough for teams to compete. The improvement in the amount of power available to the cars, on top of a few other tweaks to the Spark Renault SRT, means that the performance should increase which is good for the drivers as they have more underneath them, whilst the fans experience is improved by the different sounding (and in most cases, louder) cars threading the needle through the barriers at greater speeds than before.
The field has gone from strength to strength; the signing of an F1 world champion in Villeneuve should improve the profile of the series, but more importantly Jacques has performed solidly in testing and is committed to the championship in the long term. Simona Di Silvestro's full-season contract is very important for women in motorsport; last season two female drivers abandoned the championship early on after disappointing performances, but Di Silvestro has made it clear she is far more committed and has the full backing of Michael Andretti behind her. Performance-wise, expect the top three from last season (Piquet Jnr., Buemi and Di Grassi) to be at the front, however their teammates (Turvey, Prost and Abt) could spring surprises as they have all shown potential to outshine the more established side of the garage. DS Virgin is another team with two highly rated drivers in the form of Bird and Vergne, whilst Dragon's D'Ambrosio and Duval appear once again to be the dark horses waiting to surprise everyone as they did last season. Antonio Felix Da Costa is a race winner and a rising star but there will be questions over the competitiveness of the Team Aguri car in relation to the frontrunners, especially later on in the season.
The calendar is quite similar to last year with 11 races, however they are spaced out more evenly (For the most part) which means the gaps between the races should not be so prolonged. The new venue at Paris seems an ideal replacement for Monaco, whilst Mexico would be an interesting choice as it is not a traditional street circuit. The controversial inclusion of London and it's dates seem premature though at this stage, as the use of the venue at Battersea Park in theory is subject to the results of a Wandsworth Council meeting in November, particularly considering that the local action group has been increasingly critical of the way Formula E setup the event using 800 HGV's and failed to consult them, leading to mistrust, anger and bad press. All the other returning venues are great showcases for the championship and improvements to track layouts will be most welcome.
It is too early to judge the Superpole format: In theory it is sound but the proof is in the pudding served at Beijing, which will hopefully have a lot of emphasis on the driver's performance under pressure than solely the speed of the package they are driving.
Whatever your opinion on FanBoost, it can't be denied that it has been an effective way of engaging fans with the sport. In the first season it felt like a bit of a weighted system sometimes as a winning driver got a Fanboost for each car; with the new system you are effectively voting for who gets to use it in just their second car, and instead of only being a few seconds of 200KW it can be used more gradually to catch up or defend, so the strategic element for the three winning drivers should be interesting. Is it unfair though? Well, that depends very much on how legitimate all the votes are, and with one person getting up to five votes per day across various platforms there is potential for loopholes (I.E. Rerouted IP's, fake/vote-only emails, etc.) which hopefully Formula E's social media partner Telescope has taken into account. Again, in theory every driver and team has the same chance to persuade fans to boost their driver.
Lastly the Full Course Yellow is a good move as far as safety is concerned: Keeping in mind recent open wheel fatalities and the spectacular barrel roll for Nick Heidfeld at the first race's final corner last year, safety should be of paramount concern and if it is deemed necessary by the FIA to use it over a safety car in certain situations then fans have to respect that decision, even if it affects the racing adversely.
Formula E Addicts podcast
For the latest Formula E Addicts podcast, we caught up with Team Aguri Principle Mark Preston who took time out to answer questions from fans: (This was recorded prior to Team Aguri’s driver announcements)
Formula E Editor
In Association With Formula E Addicts