The anticipation around a new set of rules cannot be beaten. It’s been fun for the last few seasons, going into each year knowing how tight it’s going to be in the battle for the title with a stable rule set, the same car and consistent driver line ups, but as we begin the ninth season of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, it is almost all up in the air and impossible to predict.
Potential pecking order
Feeling clueless is something I am used to, but that feeling is amplified in years like this. I remember Season 1 and Season 5, when the Gen1 and Gen2 cars were introduced, and going into the first races without much indication of the pecking order, and the same is true here.
Having said that, I was in Valencia for pre-season testing, so it only seems fair that I try and give you some idea of what we may see in the opening race of the season this weekend in Mexico City.
Firstly, I’ll have a go at the competitive order. I think something that was pretty evident is that the DS Automobiles powertrain is fast. It’s the same equipment powering both the DS PENSKE and Maserati MSG Racing teams, and both looked really strong - with the top three times overall, and Maximilian Guenther flying to the top of the times in five of the seven timed sessions at Circuit Ricardo Tormo. Although it’s the same physical equipment, it seems that each team is developing the software element of the powertrain themselves, so it is not a traditional Factory/Customer setup.
Add into this DS PENSKE's driver lineup, for which you would be hard pressed to find an argument to suggest it isn’t the strongest on the grid, and they have to come in to the season as favourites. Stoffel Vandoorne is the first driver in Formula E history to defend his title with a new team, so how quickly he can get settled will be key in his intra team fight with Jean-Eric Vergne, which is a mouth watering duel.
Jaguar TCS Racing maybe didn’t set headline times, but they appear to be in the mix. After the final day of testing Sam Bird was pretty upbeat, which was lovely to see after a tough Season 8 for the Formula E stalwart. Mitch Evans naturally has to be a title favourite too, having been in the hunt for the last few years.
Behind those three teams, I’m a bit unsure who else will be fighting at the front. Mahindra Racing showed pace at times, but is behind the curve a little on development. Nissan looked strong on occasion, as they enter as a full Japanese team under one roof for the first time following the acquisition of e.dams, and some of their good lap times came from the new NEOM McLaren team, with most of last season’s Mercedes-EQ team running that customer operation.
That leaves TAG Heuer Porsche; a big hitter who got on track really early with their Gen3 project, but it was difficult to get a gauge on them in Valencia. They have the might, infrastructure and know-how to rock up to Mexico City and win the race – they did it last year – but equally there’s a chance they might be stuck in the midfield. This is their first time starting a rule set on a level playing field with the rest of the pack, having joined Gen2 late, and they’ll want to be taking advantage of that.
The leap to Gen3
The cars are going to be totally different on track this year, and what the drivers have to do to get the best out of them is vastly different. The car itself has way more power than last season, but perhaps the biggest things for the drivers to get their heads around will be the brakes and tyres. The brakes are almost exclusively brake by wire, meaning the pedal feel is quite different to not only a traditional racing car but even a Gen2 Formula E car.
Hankook has developed a brand new tyre for their first season as the Formula E supplier, and they behave very differently to the Michelins of the past. They are a harder, more sustainable compound, and behave very differently as a result. Utilising the Gen3’s immense power will be tricky out of the corners, especially as in Gen2 the teams had developed ‘systems’ to help with wheel spin that won't be present in Gen3. They will also behave differently in qualifying, and we are anticipating the group stages to be run on one set of tyres, but again, it’s all hypotheses at this time!
Finally, new ATTACK MODE strategy! This season the drivers get to choose their own strategy. They have four minutes to use in two stints, so whether they run three minutes of extra power in the first activation, then one in the second, or two and two, or one then three, is entirely up to them. It should lead to some fascinating strategic battles.
With so many unanswered questions, you know what you’ve got to do! Join us on Saturday for the start of a new era in Formula E in Mexico City, and see if we find any answers…