Stuart Garlick takes a look at the teams, drivers, and venues featuring in the new season of Formula E, which kicks off this weekend in Saudi Arabia.
The 2019-20 Formula E season carries an electric truckload of intrigue, thanks to the presence of several new teams, and a host of emerging and established talents behind the wheel. After a Season 5 that was decided in the final race, it might well be that Season 6 is just as close. For people interested in the destinations themselves, Formula E has always been known as the series that races on city street circuits, and this time around it has added major population centres that have not previously hosted a form of global motorsport to an already strong calendar.
Who will challenge, who will struggle?
While there has been considerable movement in teams’ driver line-ups, the more that changes, the more that remains the same. Jean-Eric Vergne, champion for the past two seasons of Formula E, must be considered the favourite to take the crown once again. This is due to outstanding racecraft, new-found onfidence that may not have always been present throughout his career, and a team, DS Techeetah, that he has been part of right from its inception. It can often be hard to defend a championship, and Vergne’s team have arguably stepped up the internal competition with the signing of Antonio Felix da Costa, a winner last season with BMW with Andretti, who knows he is in a tried-and-tested package capable of challenging for the title.
The driver who was Vergne’s team-mate last season, Andre Lotterer, has taken the opportunity to move back to familiar surroundings at Porsche, where the Belgian-German enjoyed considerable success in the World Endurance Championship. Porsche decided to make a virtue – and a marketing campaign – out of the chance to “Start from Zero”, and so, rather than run a satellite team as rivals Mercedes-Benz did last season, Porsche spent this year testing its powertrain and building up experience away from prying eyes. Marque loyalist Neel Jani brings his consistency and speed to the team alongside Lotterer. By contrast, Mercedes have had a year’s worth of racing under the banner of related team HWA Racelab – albeit with a customer Venturi powertrain – and it remains to be seen whether the approach from Porsche or Mercedes bears fruit more quickly. Both teams had teething troubles to contend with in testing, but their pockets are too deep for them not to get on the pace eventually. Fan favourite Stoffel Vandoorne is joined by Formula Two champion Nyck de Vries at Mercedes.
It may be that a surprise champion emerges from the BMW / Andretti partnership, which has had a year to bed in, and which retains Alexander Sims as a reliably quick driver. He is joined, in place of the departed da Costa, by Maximilian Günther, who displayed frequent excellence behind the wheel of the Dragon car last season. Günther racked up the fastest overall time in testing, and while his team is one which has previously specialised in preseason pace before falling behind on development, he will definitely be one to watch. Elsewhere, Audi’s usual pairing of Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt won’t steal the headlines, but might steal the title.
Where will Formula E Visit in 2020?
The first races take place this weekend (November 22-23) in Diriyah, just outside Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is attempting to open up to international tourism, and sees Formula E as the perfect way to advertise its sights and sounds. For a majority of fans, though, there are more easily accessible destinations. The much-loved street race in Marrakesh retains its place on the calendar but moves to a February date, while Seoul and Jakarta extend Formula E further into Asian markets, and bring the chance for travelling fans to sample the delights of new locations.
The European season features a clutch of old favourites, with the Paris E-Prix still, in spite of noises from local politicians, racing within eyeshot, if not earshot (the cars are quiet) of the Louvre, while the Rome E-Prix brings with it an array of local delights. Berlin’s race, taking place on the Cold War landing site of Tempelhof Airfield, is a wonderful location in the summer, with tourists and locals basking in the sun on the vast expanses of grass, while less than a kilometre away cars battle it out on the concrete. Buy yourself a currywürst from one of the many neighbouring cafes, and soak up the atmosphere – tickets are so cheap, relative to many international sporting events, that you’ll likely have money left over.
After a detour at erstwhile season-closer New York, whose E-Prix takes place in Brooklyn and brought heart-stopping thrills last season, the Formula E circus takes its tent to a new location for the final event of the 2019-20 season. ExCeL London hosts the first competitive international motorsport event to take place indoors – the final complex and main straight is planned to run through the enormous exhibition hall. Docklands may not be as picturesque as, say, Paris, but this is a bold experiment in bringing street racing to a new audience, in a new way, and it should be commended.