Formula E completes its most challenging season yet
Formula E has completed its sixth season with six races in Berlin. The champion was the Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa in the DS Techeetah. It was not only the almost five-month Covid 19 break that made this season like no other.
It wasn’t surprising that Antonio Felix da Costa took the title. A driver who had already won races in Formula E for two teams (Aguri and BMW i Andretti) switched to DS Techeetah the team with the best record over the last few years, so it is no surprise that its a combination with potential. But what was surprising, was how clearly da Costa was ahead of all other drivers: The Portuguese driver finished this unique season on 158 points – second place was taken by Stoffel Vandoorne in the Mercedes with only 87 points.
But this season was not only marked by the champion in the golden-black race car but of course also by the Corona pandemic. After five races, the season had to be interrupted because major events were banned and travel restrictions prevented travel to, for example, the ePrix in Sanya, China. Or like in London, where a temporary hospital for Covid-19 patients was built on the planned area of the race track.
Da Costa was not impressed by the interruption of the season until the newly planned six final races on three track variants in Berlin. For the first two races, he continued where he had stopped in Morocco: with victories. In eleven races, Costa only failed to score points twice but it didn’t matter at the second nil lap, because he was already crowned champion there. This is the kind of consistency that has eluded him until now. And this despite what has been an at times fierce team-internal duel with Jean-Eric Vergne, the champion of the past two seasons.
Vice-champion Stoffel Vandoorne is also a surprise. After ten of the eleven races, the former Formula 1 driver was only in ninth place in the drivers’ championship. But on Thursday everything changed because the Belgian won his first Formula E race at the season finale. With a flawless performance – 25 points for victory and 3 points for pole position – the Belgian still managed to push past seven rivals, including last year’s champion Vergne. At the same time, it was the first victory for the Mercedes works team in its first season. Immediately a double victory: Nick de Vries in the second Mercedes came second on Thursday, ahead of Sebastian Buemi in the Nissan e.dams. Positive for Nissan: Thanks to Buemi’s podium finish and the surprising victory of his teammate Oliver Rowland on Wednesday, the Japanese driver secured second place in the team standings.
Mercedes season looked like it would not work out
The first year as a factory team (before that, HWA was in action) started positively, though, with two placings for Stoffe Vandoorne. But especially in qualifying, ex-Formula 1 driver Vandoorne and his teammate Nick de Vries had problems with their Mercedes on many tracks to match the pace of the competition on one lap. In the race, the Mercedes’ were often fast and above all, efficient. But with the often bad grid positions in the narrow and very competitive midfield, the Mercedes often lost too much time to the top to be able to fight for the front places. Those who start from 15th place probably only have a chance for a place on the podium on the city circuits with the tricky energy management in chaotic racecourses.
In addition, the risk of a collision in the starting phase is higher in midfield – as both Vandoorne and de Vries had to realise at other races in Berlin. When both Mercedes drivers started from the first two rows of the grid at the last race of the season, they were able to make full use of their speed and efficiency – shortly before the end, de Vries was able to pass Buemi thanks to his more economical driving style with more residual energy, thus taking the decisive points away from the Nissan driver, so that Vandoorne could get second place. If Buemi had finished second behind Vandoorne, the Swiss would have finished ahead of the Belgian in the overall standings. So for Mercedes a good end of the premiere season.
Porsche is fast but energy-hungry
Porsche’s first season in Formula E was also positive overall. André Lotterer was able to prove the speed of the Porsche 99X electric with two podium finishes (at the first race of the season in Saudi Arabia and the first Berlin race) and a pole position at the fourth race of the season in Mexico. Lotterer was also able to score points in five of the six final races and had chances for the vice title until the last race. In the decisive last race, however, Lotterer went away empty-handed, falling from 5th to 8th place in the overall standings.
His teammate Neel Jani had more problems, however, and could only score points in the penultimate race of the season. Porsche had obviously made good use of the Corona break since the 99X electric was fast from the beginning, but often lost a lot of places towards the end of the race, because the drivers had to save too much energy. The energy management, which is so important in Formula E, was increasingly successful for the team, whether due to lower consumption or better race strategies. Lotterer lost another podium finish in the penultimate race of the season only two corners before the end because René Rast in the Audi had even more energy available at the end of the race. Jani, too, was unable to attack Alex Lynn from Mahindra in the fight for fifth place. But the tendency at Porsche was upwards over the course of the season.
Extreme Season for BMW
This cannot be said about BMW i Andretti. The team cannot be satisfied with the final. The de facto factory team of the Munich team that starts with a US license because of partner Andretti, had still been hoping for the team ranking before the six final races, Maximilian Günther for the vice title among the drivers. The Bavarian could also win one of the six final races. But in the other five races, Günther did not score a single point.
In general, Günther’s season, the first with BMW, was marked by extremes. Günther only scored points in three races. But when he did, he won a place on the podium: He won the third race of the season in Chile, as well as the third race in Berlin. In Marrakech, he finished second behind the later champion da Costa. Otherwise, there were only zero laps – too inconsistent to be among the absolute top drivers in Formula E. This also applies to his team-mate Alexander Sims, who had won the second race in Saudi Arabia. The British driver scored points several times, but also came away empty-handed five times. After two victories in the first three races, BMW certainly hoped for more from the further course of the season than the 9th and 10th places among the drivers and in the end 5th place among the teams.
The situation was similar with Jaguar: Until the Corona break, New Zealander Mitch Evans was considered a serious candidate for the championship. In Berlin, however, Jaguar was never able to compete for the top positions – accordingly, Evans slipped from his promising position in the championship with every further race on the Tempelhofer Feld.
First completely unsuccessful season for Audi
It was also a very mixed season for Audi. The first season without a win for Audi and its predecessor team Abt, a total of just three podium finishes by Lucas di Grassi and René Rast. Di Grassi had never finished worse than third overall in any season so far, in 2019/2020 he only finished sixth. Daniel Abt, who drove for Audi up to the incident in the “Race at Home Challenge”, had previously scored only eight points. This – and the familiarisation phase of the first four Berlin races for René Rast – ensured that Audi customer team Virgin is ahead of the factory team in the team classification. In sixth place, Audi even finishes behind BMW.
However, di Grassi in the drivers’ championship in the aforementioned sixth place was still the best driver with Audi power. Too little for the demands in Ingolstadt, also measured by the fact that di Grassi only managed to pass Porsche driver Lotterer in the overall standings with his sixth place in the final race – Porsche is the newcomer, Audi the team with Formula E experience in the VW group. Especially the performance of Robin Frijns at the season finale (3 times on the podium) put Virgin ahead of the works team in the team classification. But with two Superpole entries in the last two races of the season and third place in race 10 and fourth place in race 11, Rast has shown a steep learning curve – and makes you want to do more in 2021.
Just how much the car is important in Formula E, despite the same look, can be seen not only in the driver and team champion DS Techeetah. Daniel Abt has never missed any of the Formula E races held in total and has won some of them. After being sacked by Audi he docked with the Chinese Nio 333 team for the six final races in Berlin. In the slowest car in the field, even Abt was unable to make an impact on his favourite track in Berlin. Like his team-mate, Oliver Turvey, Abt remained without points. Despite the ongoing support of his fans, who continued to give Abt the fan boost.
After the unique 20219/2020 season is before the once again unique 2021 season – due to the Corona pandemic the Formula E season will not be held across the year for the first time. A total of 14 races are planned between 14 January in Chile and 25 July in London. So far, Berlin is scheduled for 19 June, and Formula E is also scheduled to race in Monaco again on 8 May 2021.
One thing is already certain: No matter who is at the top of the standings after the two races in London, Antonio Felix da Costa will not be directly followed by the drivers. While the Portuguese driver is “only” allowed to call himself the champion of Formula E Season 6, the best driver of the 2021 season will receive a completely different honour: and will then be allowed to call themselves a World Champion.
With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany.
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