As Formula E gears up to finish its season with a hectic run of six races in nine days, the coveted goal of securing the 2019-20 drivers’ title is edging that little bit closer for a few drivers on the grid.
With no less than 180 points still up for grabs,*technically* no driver’s mathematically out of contention yet, and after a five month break, all will be desperate to get back out there and make up for lost time.
To whet your appetite for the madness yet to come, we’ve picked seven drivers on the grid who we think will play a big part in deciding the destination of the drivers’ title in Berlin.
Antonio Felix da Costa’s start to life at Techeetah has, so far, been a roaring success. Settling into a team part-owned by your two-time champion team-mate can’t be easy, but so far da Costa has made it look so. A lights-to-flag victory in Marrakesh is the obvious highlight, but equally as impressive were his back-to-back second place finishes in Santiago and Mexico City; both secured from 10th on the grid. With Jean-Eric Vergne experiencing a stuttering start to his title defence, da Costa’s been able to finish ahead in four of the five races so far, and he’s edged the Frenchman in qualifying too.
Both drivers endured a tough start in Diriyah with qualifying and technical issues limiting their chance to score big points, but in the three races that followed, it’s fair to argue that da Costa has held the edge and deserves to be leading the standings. He already looks at home in the Techeetah team and despite there being the potential for a little bit of needle to develop between him and Vergne, the Portuguese has arguably been the standout surprise of opening five races.
It’s possible that Vergne will return fresh from this (enforced) break and ready to fight for his title defence, but so far, he’s fallen a little short of the extremely high standards he’s set over the past two years. Statistically, da Costa is good value for the advantage he holds over Vergne having spent more laps racing in both the top 10 and top three this season, and his total of 33 laps led is the third-highest on the grid; Vergne, in comparison, has surprisingly not led a single lap.
Having won titles in each of the past two seasons, Techeetah’s experience make them a strong bet going into this intense final run of races, and while it will take a huge swing for Vergne to come out on top in the intra-team battle, it will be fascinating to watch it unfold if he grabs a win early on.
Mitch Evans (2nd)
Once again, Mitch Evans has reinforced his credentials as one of the true stars of the grid with a series of stunning drives this season, and the 26-year-old now has a realistic chance of claiming a first Formula E drivers’ title in Berlin. Unsurprisingly, he’s made light work of rookie team-mate James Calado, and despite the Brit’s success in sportscar racing, Evans performances have been so good that he may have ended Calado’s short-lived Formula E career as a result.
In qualifying, Evans has been comfortably quicker; averaging 10th on the grid compared to Calado’s 18th place, while the Kiwi also secured a pole position in Santiago. In races, Evans’ dominance is even greater with 78% of racing laps spent ahead of his team-mate and the lion’s share of Jaguar’s points too. In Mexico City, Evans’ win was one of the most impressive in recent memory, and with da Costa just 11 points ahead, he has as good a chance as ever to mount a championship challenge in the final six races.
His only weakness, if there is one, is that fact that Calado looks unlikely to have the pace to play the part of an effective rear gunner. While da Costa and both and both the BMW drivers are likely to be in contention for the podium places, Evans is likely to have it all to do if he’s to take points off those around him.
It’s been tricky to rate one of the two BMW Andretti drivers over the other this season, as they’ve been one of the more evenly matched pairings on the grid. Just two points separate Alexander Sims and Max Günther in the championship standings – although you could argue that would have likely been more had Günther not been stripped of second place in Diriyah.
Sims began the season in fine form with back-to-back poles on the opening weekend and added a maiden Formula E victory to boot. His superb recovery drive from 19th to fifth in Mexico City also marked him out as a genuine title contender this season and demonstrated his tremendous progress as a driver in Formula E.
Günther, meanwhile, has had his own extremely impressive highlights, including a stunningly executed victory (his first in Formula E) in the heat of Santiago with a last-lap overtake on points leader da Costa. Another last-lap pass , this time on reigning champion Vergne, secured him an impressive second place finish in Marrakesh and at 23 he looks every bit a future champion in waiting.
Statistically, Sims has been the most consistent of the two, leading his team-mate in 73% of racing laps, but Günther spent more time racing in the top three – totalling 87 to his team-mate’s 53. In Sims’ defense, however, all but one of his were spent in the lead, and that’s what makes this pairing quite fascinating. They’re very different drivers, but the end result by season’s end could be very close. Either way, BMW have a superbly balanced driver pairing and either one could find themselves in the thick of the title fight in Berlin.
Lucas di Grassi (5th)
Audi have fallen a little off the level they’ve performed at in recent years, and that’s reflected in Lucas di Grassi’s results this season. He comfortably has had the measure of his (now former) team-mate Daniel Abt, finishing ahead in all five races and securing the team’s sole podium this season, but that alone has not been enough and he’s firmly an outsider for the title heading to Berlin.
Di Grassi is a shrewd operator and his tremendous racecraft coupled with the nous that comes with being the series’ joint-most experienced driver have kept him in striking distance, but if he is to win a second drivers’ title at his team’s home circuit, performances will need to improve. It’s worth remembering that, as yet, no driver has won the Formula E title without winning a race, but Audi’s qualifying pace this season have made it difficult for di Grassi to do that this season.
Remarkably, Audi have the third-worst average starting position of all 12 teams on the grid, and finding a qualifying breakthrough could make or break the Brazilian’s chances. If they do, di Grassi could still yet play a part in this title fight.
Stoffel Vandoorne (6th)
After a storming start to the season, Stoffel Vandoorne suffered the frustration of back-to-back non-scores in Mexico City and Marrakesh, falling almost 30 points off the championship lead having previously led the standings after three races. With his Mercedes team still learning how best to maximise their package, Vandoorne will likely be an outsider for the title in Berlin but he’ll be optimistic of troubling the leaders if he can hit the ground running early on.
His form this season has been much more akin to the Vandoorne we saw prior to his gloomy final year with McLaren, and he could have easily won the opening race in Diriyah but for the combination of an Attack Mode mishap and frustratingly timed safety car shortly afterwards. Compared to his rookie team-mate Nyck de Vries, who himself has shown fantastic pace at times this season, Vandoorne holds the edge in almost every area statistically. He’s been the lead Mercedes driver on track 61% of the time, and has spent more racing laps than de Vries in both the top 10 and top three.
Last year in Berlin he put in one of his best performances of the season to finish fifth in the HWA car, and this time with a car quick enough to compete for superpole, Vandoorne could be well placed to take advantage if the likes of Evans or da Costa hit trouble.