The battle for the 2016-17 Formula E World Championship may not have garnered as much attention as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s duel for the Formula 1 crown last year or the Ferrari-Mercedes tussle this season, but it did demonstrate that the all-electric racing series is in the ascendancy.
A CLOSE TITLE FIGHT
The third Formula E season reached its climax in Montréal at the end of July and, as in both previous seasons, the championship was decided at the final race. The contest was between Renault e.dams’ Sébastien Buemi and ABT’s Lucas Di Grassi.
After both narrowly missing out on the first Formula E title, the two drivers finished the second season just a point apart – with Buemi the victor. With six wins from the first eight races of 2016-17, the Renault driver seemed likely to add a second championship trophy to his cabinet. But then it all unravelled.
Buemi was forced to miss the two New York races due to a clash with the 6 Hours of Nürburgring race in the World Endurance Championship. That left him just ten points ahead of Di Grassi heading into the final two races in Montréal. Di Grassi won the first race from pole, while Buemi was disqualified when his car was found to be underweight.
The ABT driver therefore took a commanding 18-point lead heading into the finale. Seventh place for Di Grassi was enough to clinch the title, as Buemi could only manage 11th after suffering damage in a first-corner collision.
For the third year in a row, Formula E produced a thrilling championship battle that kept fans guessing until the very end.
A HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENT
And Formula E made a little bit of sporting history along the way. In July, the teams and drivers arrived in Brooklyn for the first motor race to be held in New York City since 1896.
A real strength of the series is the lack of noise or air pollution given off by its electric racing cars, allowing it to go places that F1 and other championships cannot. Formula E has already taken to the streets of Paris, Berlin and Moscow, as well as the confines of Battersea Park in London, and has now successfully added the Big Apple to its unique calendar.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
But the most important developments of the year concern Formula E’s future. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche both announced that they will be joining the series in 2019 – at the expense of programmes in other major championships (German touring cars and the World Endurance Championship respectively). It has also been reported that Formula E could add an all-electric touring car support series as soon as next year.
As we wrote at the beginning of the season, more and more manufacturers see Formula E as an important arena to develop electric vehicle technology and burnish their green credentials. Jaguar joined the field this season, Audi will take over the ABT team in season four, and BMW will field its own entry in 2018-19. Fiat Chrysler might also be joining the sport in the future, most likely through its Alfa Romeo or Maserati brands.
Given that only one big manufacturer – Renault – fielded a team when Formula E began three years ago, that’s quite an astonishing rate of growth. We know electricity is likely to be the future for road cars. Will it be the same for racing cars too?