Formula E back in action in Buenos Aires

15.02.17

Formula E - 2017 Buenos Aires ePrix - Preview

After the unusual and positive experience of the virtual race held in Las Vegas, the FIA Formula E Championship moves back from the screen to the tarmac this coming Saturday for Round 3 of its third season. The race takes place on the Buenos Aires street circuit with the Argentinian capital thus becoming the first city to host an ePrix for three consecutive years. The circuit, in the modern quarter of Puerto Madero is the only venue to feature on the calendar right from the very first season of this series for electrically powered single-seaters and on the topic of race locations, it was recently confirmed that the Berlin ePrix is back on the calendar, staging its race at the Tempelhof airport.

To use a cycling expression, the championship resumes with a one-man breakaway. With two wins on the trot in Hong Kong and Marrakesh, reigning champion Sebastien Buemi immediately made his intentions very clear, although he had to fight very hard for both those victories. The Swiss Renault e.dams driver has built up a pretty substantial lead of 22 points over his eternal rival Lucas di Grassi ( 28 points,) with team-mate Nicolas Prost right behind the Brazilian on 24. A bit further back we have Felix Rosenqvist (19,) Sam Bird (18) and Nick Heidfeld (17) with Antonio Felix da Costa (10), Oliver Turvey (10), Robin Frijns (8) and Daniel Abt (8) making up the top ten. Renault e.dams has an even more dominant lead in the team classification: the team that has won both championships to date has 74 points, more than double the 36 of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport and Mahindra Racing, the closest pursuers right now. All the other teams managed to score points in the first two races with the exception of newcomer Panasonic Jaguar Racing, who will therefore be very keen to put that right in Buenos Aires.

Does this mean the championship is already done and dusted? Definitely not, as lessons from the two previous seasons would teach us. Buemi and Prost have demonstrated that, for the moment, their car is the most competitive, however just the slightest glitch could see their big lead eroded in a championship that is usually closely contested. Finishing consistently near the top of the order is the key to title honours and that means reliability, as always, plays a crucial role. In fact, here in Buenos Aires, the chassis-powertrain-battery package will be sternly tested, especially because of the high temperatures in this part of the world where it is summer time right now. However, at the moment, rain features on the weather radar for the city on the Rio de la Plata, with variable conditions forecast for race day. 

Buemi has never had much luck at the Puerto Madero circuit. In season 1, the Swiss driver was on pole, but had to retire after an accident, with the win going to Antonio Felix da Costa. Last year, Buemi encountered problems in qualifying, but thanks to an incredible fight back up the order, the Renault e.dams driver managed to finish second, hot on the heels of Sam Bird, the Englishman putting on a bravura performance to fight off Buemi’s attacks in the closing laps. Can Buemi win this time in Buenos Aires? He is undoubtedly the favourite, but when it comes to who is favourite with the crowd, that will be local hero José Maria Lopez. The three times champion in the FIA WTCC came close to making his Formula E debut last year, when Jean-Eric Vergne was forced to pull out after being unwell during free practice, but now he is preparing to tackle his third ever ePrix, determined to live up to the expectations of his home crowd. The Argentinian scored his first point in Marrakech, when his team-mate Bird showed how competitive their car is, by finishing second in the Moroccan race, so his chances are looking promising.

The Mahindra team will be looking to extend its run of good results, having finished on the podium in Hong Kong with Heidfeld and with Rosenqvist in Marrakech, on the day when the young Swede had also taken his first Formula E pole position. By his own very high standards, Lucas di Grassi had a lacklustre last race and will be keen to make up for that, especially as he really cannot afford to lose ground to his great rival, Buemi: the Brazilian also failed to score in the first edition of the Buenos Aires race, while last year, he finished third. This weekend, Di Grassi really needs a podium finish and with the Swiss driver behind him, if he is to have any chance of closing the points gap significantly, as he is currently looking at a 22 point deficit.

This year’s race will be longer than the two previous editions, a change based on the increased efficiency of the energy management package currently in use: it will be a challenge for everyone and a small indication of the progress Formula E is making on the technological front.