Formula E: Three take-aways from Diriyah
Updated: Feb 2
THE eighth season of electric racing commenced with back-to-back races under the floodlit streets of Diriyah.
Simplier and fairer qualifying system proves popular
Mercedes EQ driver Stoffel Vandoorne began the season in style with the Belgian fighting off the challenge of his team-mate and Reigning Champion Nyck de Vries and then going onto face Avalanche Andretti's Jake Dennis in the final round of the sport's new qualifying system.
Being introduced for this season, the new format seeks to bring around more track action as well as giving every driver a chance to qualify well.
In previous seasons, the old format for qualifying was based on the current championships standings and it usually resulted in the drivers in the top five struggling to qualify well. These drivers were put out in the first group to venture onto the track when it wasn't at it's best condition whereas the drivers lower down in the championship had a better chance of qualifying well as the track tended to become more gripier.
The new format features knockout rounds with drivers being seperated by only a few
seconds on track and the driver with the fastest lap time progressing through to the next heat. The 22 drivers get whittled down to eight, then to four with the final consisting of two drivers battling it out for Pole Position.
It's just as tense and exciting, if not more than the old system, as we saw on Saturday's final draw with de Vries edging ROKiT Venturi Racing's Edoardo Mortara to Pole by just 0.005 of a second.
Mercedes power rules
Reigning Champions Mercedes EQ hope to leave the series this season with a second Championship in the bag and it looks like that the Silver Arrows are going to be the benchmark again this season. Along with customer team ROKIT Venturi Racing, the two teams claimed victory with de Vries in Race 1 and Mortara in Race 2.
Mercedes EQ controlled the entirety of the opening race and both of their drivers ran in the top two positions right from the very start as de Vries jumped Andretti's Dennis to run behind Polesitter Vandoorne. The Belgian looked comfortable to go onto victory but missing the activation points for Attack Mode gave de Vries the opportunity to start his title-defending campaign on the best foot. Not only did both drivers manage their energy extremely well but it was their consistent and fast lap times towards the climax of the race which proved even more impressive.
Come the second race, it was de Vries who grabbed Pole by the slightest of margins with Mortara narrowly missing out but for the majority of the first half of the race, de Vries looked to be in control for a second-successive win. However, the ROKiT Venturi Racing pair of Mortara and Season Three Champion Lucas di Grassi made their way to the front after gaining the upper-hand when deciding when to use their second Attack Mode. Mortara then led the pack across the line as the race came to an anti-climatic finish under the Safety Car.
With all of the Mercedes powered drivers finishing inside the top ten for the opening weekend, all four drivers (Mortara, de Vries, Vandoorne and di Grassi) are in the top five of the championship with Mortara leading the way. The only non-Mercedes powered driver in that top five bundle is Dennis.
The two teams command the championship with Venturi a point ahead of Mercedes - then it's a massive 30 point gap back to Andretti who are the closest challengers sitting in third. It's clear that every team that don't run a Mercedes powertrain this season is going to be difficult, but it's not hopeless.
Askew stars as other open cockpit drivers struggle
Three new rookies started their Formula E journey in Diriyah with Oliver Askew at Avalance Andretti, Antonio Giovinazzi at Dragon/Penske Autosport and Dan Ticktum at NIO 333.
However, it was the driver from across the pond, American driver and 2019 Indy Lights Champion Askew who had the more impressive debut. Having raced in IndyCar, Askew is no-stranger to racing on street circuits and this knowledge was shown on Friday during his debut race.
Despite only having a few days of testing in the car, Askew managed to race his way through the field - starting from 17th making him the highest-placed rookie - to finish in ninth. There were a few mistakes throughout both races, an 11th place finish on Saturday, he contributed to the team's points haul and gained a lot of information which he'll take forward.
Former F2 racer Dan Ticktum and former Alfa Romeo Formula One driver Antonio Giovinazzi had slightly less impressive debuts as the open-cockpit drivers got used to the racing and enviroment of the sport.
Before the race weekend, Ticktum's aim of the double-header was to get to grips with the NIO 333 car - adding to what he'd initially learned testing the car. His weekend was mainly spent at the back of the grid but he managed to out-race team-mate Oliver Turvey in Race 1. The Brit then finished behind Turvey in the second race.
Giovinazzi's transition from Formula One to Formula E was always going to be difficult but no-one, including himself, thought it would be as tough as it was during Diriyah. Despite being voted as one of the drivers to receive Fanboost during both of the races, Giovinazzi finished 20th and the last of the drivers that completed both races.
What was more evident that in his first qualifying session, he was 0.7 tenths away from team-mate Sergio Sette Camara and then he was around half a second slower come the race. Saturday's performance was slightly better but at one stage, the Italian found himself ten seconds adrift of the pack. His experience will build on each time he steps into the Dragon/Penske Autosport car.