Gentlemen, start your batteries! This weekend, the Formula E teams will congregate in Hong Kong for the beginning of the fourth season of all-electric single-seater racing.
The series has grown rapidly over its first three years, becoming a firmly established and highly competitive feature of the motorsport calendar. There’s been more and more investment from manufacturers and sponsors, and more and more interest from top drivers and fans around the world.
In some ways, this fourth year will be the last of Formula E’s first era. Season five will see big changes, with the introduction of a new chassis and a new McLaren-built battery with enough energy to last an entire race distance. But that doesn’t mean the 2017-18 season won’t see some significant changes of its own.
Audi will head to Hong Kong as a fully-fledged manufacturer team, having worked with the ABT team for the past three years. Audi withdrew from the World Endurance Championship at the end of last year to focus on its Formula E program, and will arrive with high expectations. The team has retained reigning champion Lucas di Grassi and will be aiming to power him to a second consecutive title.
Audi will be up against a number of other manufacturer teams: Renault e.Dams, which has won each of the three teams’ championships so far; Mahindra, which took its maiden win in Germany in June; and Jaguar, who had a tough first season in 2016-17 but is looking to take a big step forward and has hired former Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jr to help it do so.
And there are more to come. Nissan will enter the sport next year, replacing its Alliance partner Renault and becoming Formula E’s first Japanese manufacturer. BMW is already working with the Andretti team, and will turn it into a works entry in 2018-19. Two more German giants – Mercedes-Benz and Porsche – will join the field in 2019-20.
There will also be some new faces on the grid in Hong Kong. New to Formula E, that is, but not to fans of other categories of racing. Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi, who competed in Formula 1 from 2009 to 2014 before heading to Super Formula and the World Endurance Championship, will join the Andretti team.
Both André Lotterer and his Porsche teammate in the World Endurance Championship, Neel Jani, will swap sports cars for Formula E. Lotterer has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, and got a one-off F1 drive in 2014 (replacing, coincidentally, Kamui Kobayashi). Jani came close to an F1 drive earlier in his career, serving as Toro Rosso’s test driver in 2006, and won Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship last year.
After an impressive one-off appearance in New York earlier this year, former GP3 champion Alex Lynn also becomes a full-time driver alongside Sam Bird at the DS Virgin team. That’s an all-British partnership with a huge amount of potential.
Formula E has already broken a lot of new ground, with races in London’s Battersea Park and on the streets of Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Montréal. In July, Brooklyn hosted the inaugural New York City ePrix – the Big Apple’s first motor race in 120 years.
Season four will take the sport to even more new destinations, including Rome and Santiago.
The Zürich ePrix in June will also be a historic occasion. Switzerland banned motor racing following the disastrous accident during the 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race, in which 83 spectators and one driver were killed. However, a specific exemption for electric racing was added in 2015, paving the way for the first circuit race in the country in 64 years.
Through all the change, there are some constants. All of the sport’s eight race-winners to date will return for season four. Di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi, who battled it out for the last two championships and shared the spoils between them, are both expected to be at the front once again.
Their teams – Audi ABT and Renault e.dams – look like they’re still the teams to beat, but a number of others might well be a lot closer this year, including Mahindra, DS Virgin, Andretti and Jaguar. The stage is perfectly set for another thrilling season of electric-powered motor racing.