Formula E/Spacesuit Media

Formula E recap: Hong Kong

Race 1 is in the books for the third season of the all-electric racing series, let’s take a look at who had the best/worst day to start the year.

Best day (teams):

Andretti — One year ago this team had to start the season with the old, slow, season one powertrain because its own bespoke solution was, well, awful. So turning things around to finish 5th/6th with a new package in this season’s first race would have been an unbelievable performance on its own. But that gets eclipsed by Robin Frijns blowing his car to pieces in qualifying and the team rebuilding it in time for him to not just compete, but finish 6th — right behind new teammate Antonio Felix da Costa. I wonder if newer, less-experienced teams could have pulled off what Andretti did here. It’s a competitive advantage that doesn’t always come into play, but it’s important to have.

NextEV — A GREAT start for team that had such an awful season last year, and it would have been even better if Nelson Piquet Jr. (who was leading at the time) hadn’t gotten caught heading straight towards a wrecked car when exiting one of the chicanes. Both NextEV cars started on the front row and looked sharp throughout. The team heads to Marrakesh in 5th with 7 points — they finished last season with just 19.

Renault —*Yawn…* The Renault team did exactly what it needed to do to start both title defenses. Sebastien Buemi played it cool early in the race while the madness happened around him, and was rewarded with the lead after Piquet crashed and Sam Bird’s car didn’t start in the pits. A patient Buemi is Buemi at his best. Teammate Nico Prost ran the solid race he needed to run carry the momentum forward from his wins in the final two races of last season.

Mahindra — Both cars were strong and the team grabbed a podium thanks to a great drive from Nick Heidfeld. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist looked superb early on, and he nabbed the fast lap in his second car. If he doesn’t smack the wall in the first half of the race the team could be second in the points right now. Instead, Mahindra heads to Marrakesh in fourth.

Worst day (teams):

Techeetah — The Techeetah team looked strong in preseason testing and strong in pre-race practice, but both cars apparently ran into technical trouble. That’s bad, especially considering they purchased the top-flight powertrain package from Renualt. Jean-Eric Vergne was neck and neck with Sebastein Buemi at testing and has a chance to win races this season, but not if the team struggles to manage the technical side of the car.

Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport — Sure, they stand second in the points, but if the Abt team is going to take the drivers’ and/or team trophy from Renault this season, they need to be better. Lucas di Grassi fought like crazy to finish second, but Daniel Abt had another erratic race. As we saw last year, you need to be perfect to beat Renault/Buemi.

DS Virgin — Much like NextEV, the Virgin team looked like it literally shed enough weight to be truly competitive. But rookie José María López pushed too hard coming out of turn two instead of giving teammate Sam Bird some room, and the resulting contact ruined his day. Bird looked better than he did almost all of last season, but his second car stalled (wouldn’t boot up?) leaving the pits. Bird should be winning races this season — that’s how fast he looked. But the team’s got to settle down for that to happen.

Best day (drivers):

Robin Frijns — Good lord, what a show from Frijns. He wrecked one of his cars in practice, so he started last. And yet he still managed to come home 6th. His team gets all the credit for putting that car back together in such a short amount of time, but he gets the credit for putting that rebuilt car near the front.

Lucas di Grassi — Di Grassi not only wrecked in qualifying, he had to pit early because of a broken front wing. It was no fault of his own — the cars ahead of him in turn two just wadded it up and left him with nowhere to go. But di Grassi pushed hard — he passed three cars in one corner on lap 5 —and got some help from a mid-race safety car, enough to stretch his race out to finish 2nd.

Maro Engel— The rookie (and his teammate) snuck in a quiet top 10 finish. Formula E is a war of attrition in the middle of the pack, and Engel was one of the winners this time out. Good start to the series for him.

Worst day (drivers):

Ma Qing Hua—Ma wrecked going into turn two, then ran into car problems. Just a bad race for someone who needs lots more track time.

Jean-Eric Vergne—Vergne was fastest in practice, and looked ready to resume the fight he had started with Buemi in preseason testing. And yet he — like Ma—had technical troubles. Bad start for the driver and his team.

DevBot — The Roborace test car apparently failed to make it onto the Hong Kong circuit. The organizers of this self-driving racing series ambitiously claimed its first race would take place in the third season of Formula E, but that is looking less likely with testing still going awry.

Stray thoughts:

  • A lot of complaints about the US and UK broadcasts, specifically around how quickly they left the race once Buemi crossed the finish line. Formula E provides a really good global feed of the race, but that effort is for naught if the channels don’t properly carry it.
  • The new nose wing looks fantastic. This seemed true from the moment it was announced, and in testing, but watching a full field of cars racing with it was different. Smart move by the series taking advantage of the cars’ low aerodynamic impact to make such a daring cosmetic change.
  • Top 3 ‘manufacturers’ after 1 race: Renault, Audi, BMW. Pretty cool.