FORMULA E FIELD READY FOR DESERT DUEL IN DIRIYAH | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

FORMULA E FIELD READY FOR DESERT DUEL IN DIRIYAH

22.02.21

Too close to call as drivers and teams resume battle under Saudi Arabian spotlights.

The seventh season of ABB FIA Formula E World Championship – and its first as a World Championship – will get underway in Saudi Arabia this weekend (26 & 27 February), with big points on offer and a fierce battle in prospect around the Riyadh Street Circuit.

 

Not only is the Diriyah E-Prix one of just two double-headers on the 2020/21 Formula E calendar, but in a first for the all-electric single-seater series, it will take place after nightfall, with the action around the 2.495km track to be illuminated by low-consumption LED lights.

To add to the unpredictability, pre-season testing in Valencia at the end of last year saw all 24 contenders blanketed by barely three-quarters-of-a-second on the final day – closer than ever before in the championship’s history – setting the scene for a spectacular Saudi Arabian showdown.

António Félix da Costa goes into the new campaign as reigning champion after dominating proceedings last season. The Portuguese ace registered his second career Formula E victory in Diriyah in 2018 and is eyeing a repeat performance as he aims to launch the defence of his Drivers’ crown in the best possible fashion.

DS TECHEETAH team-mate Jean-Éric Vergne, meanwhile, is eager to bounce back from a troubled 2019/20 campaign that fell short of his two title-winning seasons. The Frenchman shadowed da Costa across the finish line in Saudi Arabia in 2018, and he is fired-up to turn the tables this weekend.

Mercedes EQ fields a similarly unchanged line-up of Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries. The Belgian secured second in the standings last summer by triumphing in the final race in Berlin and has twice been a podium-finisher in Diriyah, while de Vries showed increasing flashes of form towards the end of last season, which he is keen to build upon over the coming months.

As the winningest driver in Formula E history, not reaching the highest step of the rostrum marked a disappointment for Sébastien Buemi in 2019/20, and the Swiss star is determined to quickly rediscover his winning ways. On the other side of the Nissan e.dams garage, by contrast, Oliver Rowland broke through last August with his maiden Formula E victory in Berlin, and the Briton has his sights firmly set on more champagne celebrations.

Like Buemi, 2016/17 champion Lucas di Grassi endured a frustrating 2019/20 campaign – the first time he has failed to win a race or finish inside the top three in the overall classification – and the Brazilian is targeting a rapid return to form. His Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team-mate René Rast, meanwhile, is aiming to build upon a positive performance over the final six races of last season since returning to the series.

Maximilian Günther stole pre-season bragging rights in Valencia back in December by posting the fastest time of the test. The German was a double winner last year and new team-mate Jake Dennis turned heads with his composure and consistency at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. Ominously for their rivals, the BMW i Andretti Motorsport team for which the pair compete has triumphed in two of the three races held in Saudi Arabia so far.

The second of those successes was achieved by Alexander Sims, who switches to Mahindra Racing for his third campaign in Formula E. There, he will race alongside countryman Alex Lynn, who laid down the benchmark on day two of pre-season testing.

The other Valencia pace-setter – on the opening day – was André Lotterer, who is confident of a further step forward for TAG Heuer Porsche in the team’s sophomore campaign in the championship. The German is partnered by compatriot Pascal Wehrlein, returning to the series after missing the second half of last season.

Sam Bird was arguably the highest-profile mover of the off-season, leaving Envision Virgin Racing after six years to join Mitch Evans at Jaguar Racing, where he hopes to add to the nine Formula E victories he has achieved to-date – the most recent of which came in Diriyah in 2019.

Bird is succeeded at Envision Virgin Racing by rookie Nick Cassidy, with Robin Frijns remaining on-board in the sister car, while Dragon / Penske Autosport enters an unchanged line-up of Sérgio Sette Câmara and Nico Müller, who impressed by posting the second and third-quickest times respectively in pre-season testing.

ROKiT Venturi Racing will run Edoardo Mortara and series newcomer Norman Nato – another to display a strong turn-of-speed in Valencia – with NIO 333, like Mahindra, opting for an all-British line-up of Oliver Turvey and Tom Blomqvist and eager to significantly improve upon a scoreless 2019/20 campaign.

 

The first Diriyah ePrix will begin at 20:00 local time (17:00 GMT) on Friday, 26 February, with race two following at the same time the next day.