Vergne takes final win of the season as Audi snatch teams’ title

Formula E

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Jean-Eric Vergne has claimed the final win in Formula E’s first generation seasons, while Audi have finally taken the teams’ title, after a scrappy start to the year.

This weekend in New York was the last time that Formula E’s first generation of cars would race – the final outing for a battery design that has seen the output power and regenerative limits it could be forced to increase year-on-year and the final race distance increase by more than 50% from Season 1’s end. For a series mocked by many at its inception, Formula E has – over its four, progressively bigger seasons – if not silenced that doubt then made it seem as shrill as a power train’s acceleration over the noise being made about the championship’s growing success.

The three drivers on the final podium here, Jean-Eric Vergne, Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt, have all been in Formula E since that first, small-seeming season and perhaps it’s appropriate it ends with them. Di Grassi frustrated by being denied a final victory in the year his title defense – so certain-seeming in Valencia testing – faltered and finally mathematically died in Zurich.

And Daniel Abt, who many people assumed only had a seat in the season for his family’s name being on the now-Audi team, carried the factory effort’s points during an initially error-strewn campaign. While Jean-Eric Vergne – who said himself on Friday came into this series angry and lost after Formula One – has gone from his first victory at last year’s final race to being the only champion in Formula E ever to seal the title before the last race.

This has been a strange weekend, all the stranger as tempestuous weather threatened not just Formula E’s first wet race but its first suspended event altogether, local authorities evacuating spectator areas under weather safety concerns between qualifying and the start of the race. Fortunately, the storm over New York changed direction and the event re-opened without more serious drama.

It’s a good metaphor for the end of the first phase for a championship many people can’t believe exists and potentially more, especially amongst traditional motorsports fans, think shouldn’t. And if Formula E has had anywhere it has ever been able to answer critics, it has certainly been on track.

Starts, under electrical torque, are dramatic – the instant ability to use full power means any driver can hit the first corner hard, often into someone else’s car. Although for once any direct contact was mostly avoided, both Techeetah drivers (starting second and third) managed to get a spectacular drop on pole man Sebastien Buemi and pass him before turn two, forcing him back into the reach of the waiting Audis.

Spectacular start it truly was – and remains slightly controversial as first Andre Lotterer, then Vergne came under investigation for jumping the lights. Lotterer was issued a ten second stop-go penalty that took him out of contention but lead driver Vergne managed to avoid being penalised, something Di Grassi made no bones about thinking was incorrect in the post-race press conference.

Nevertheless, with Lotterer out of contention Techeetah’s 5-point advantage in the team battle was looking extremely frail, as Abt and Di Grassi moved up the ranks with even Buemi, dominant across the first three seasons of Formula E, unable to stop the sheer speed of the Audi cars.

Meanwhile the midfield was where Sam Bird, who until yesterday was the only man who could contend Vergne’s title lead, lost second-place in the championship. DS Virgin’s season has been difficult – with staff changes including the departure of team boss Alex Tai and a 13kg overweight car that chugged power inefficiently relative to its front-running peers.

Bird had entered the weekend annoyed at the 0.3km extension to the New York circuit he’d taken both wins at last year, saying the distance set the advantage against them and if anyone thought he was damage-limiting or attempting to overstate the struggle, the track seemed to shake out the truth of the situation. Bird has fought to the front of circuits where sheer power is less of an issue but it was clear to see he was falling crucial percentages behind the more efficient cars yesterday and that the DS car simply couldn’t convert 200kW output into speed in qualifying the same way others could.

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Bird needed to finish within 15 points of Di Grassi to keep second in the championship and with the Audi driver up to second, even as he fought to keep hold of ninth place it looked impossible to move forward. Both Nick Heidfeld, who has had a relatively strong weekend for Mahindra after a huge hiccup for the Indian team in Europe and Nelson Piquet Jr’s Jaguar seeming to pull away impossibly.

But with Vergne holding Di Grassi from taking the lead, it remained in reach right until the final laps. The last blow for the chances came when Lotterer, steaming back up the order after his penalty, passed Bird and even mathematical chance discharged itself.

It wouldn’t be a Formula E race without some contact – and five cars never saw the finish line, even laps down. Filippi and D’Ambrosio were both taken out by some slightly bizarre – if dramatic – contact from Da Costa, who ploughed into the rear of Filippi, sending him into D’Ambrosio as the NIO driver slowed for a full course yellow prompted by the other Dragon driver, Lopez’s, front wing almost catching fire after a brush with the barriers.

Tom Dillman, in this weekend for DTM-detained Edoardo Mortara, put in a good result yesterday to take fourth place but was stopped early on with a transmission problem, his Venturi teammate Maro Engel suffering a loss of power in the second half of the race.

For the final Formula E race with car change pit stops, there were thankfully no pit lane incidents, although Di Grassi’s stop ended up scrappier than the Audi driver would have liked. At the end of the era and a season where the pit stops had become increasingly fraught and incident strewn, moved to a timed part of racing, a clean finish to the first generation was extremely welcome.

Formula E has a lot to be proud of from its first generation. Not least four different champions, four very differently-fought titles and technological advances that are staggering even within the context of a series being driven by the urgency of broader automotive change.

If Formula E’s greatest achievement has been survival then that’s no mean feat or a limited ambition. Creating any new series is difficult. Creating a new series that relies on technology only reluctantly being adopted and riding a wave of change arguably driven more by staggering fear than hope – environmentally and economically – is the sort of proposition that’s difficult to make entertaining. You can stare into oblivion on a vertical drop rollercoaster but it wouldn’t have the same appeal if you didn’t know there were mechanisms there to catch you.

This void squeaks back at you – while any racing series will always have its detractors, from Formula One fans who can’t stand WEC to Moto GP fans who think car racing is no kind of sport, Formula E is doing something. At the end of its first generation it’s not facing a tipping-point brink into desperate new measures, regulations tweaked to up its appeal or try to rescue an audience.

Formula E enters its second era with its head held high: a threshold-crossing rather than a panicked redirection. Some may not like the architecture but the street ahead’s been built now.

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Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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  • 16 comments on “Vergne takes final win of the season as Audi snatch teams’ title”

    1. Robert McKay
      16th July 2018, 6:42

      “the final race distance more than double from Season 1”

      That’s interesting – watched both rounds at the weekend and didn’t appreciate that fact from the TV coverage. They ought to make more of that sort of progress!

      1. Apologies, that was actually slightly inaccurate on my part (blame the excitement of the final!) and I’ve edited to make sure it’s clearer; the race distance of the final has increased from 84km in Battersea in Season 1 to over 130km in New York; that’s more than 50% increase, rather than straight-up doubling.

        (still incredible, frankly! We used to have cars stopping on track in Season 1 and now that’s extremely rare, using the same storage tech and with higher output levels; massive, massive steps forward in efficiency)

    2. What a bad weekend for Sam Bird. I’m quite sad he didn’t made it for the title and now he had lost even 2nd place. What a shame.

      In his fight for the title with Vergne, I think the biggest difference was made not by the title contenders but by the team mates. While Lotterer was able to push Vergne to the limit, slow down other drivers, block Bird or even overtake him with small contacts ruining Sam’s race like in Paris, Lynn was unable to do anything, only crash himself out from a couple of races.

      Di Grassi’s finish of the season was excelent, he and Audi made an excelent job and Lucas was the best driver on the field for a half of a season. Sadly, the other half were races he didn’t finish which almost surely cost him the title.

      Daniel Abt was another star performer this season since he wasn’t the ‘team’s two driver’ who sometimes score points but was actually able to fight for highest spots.

      Congratulations to Vergne and Audi, both did an excelent job this season and even though I, as a fan of Sam Bird, am not excited about this result, the season was dramatical, really fun to watch, and we’ve seen a lot of great racing and I’m really looking forward the next season and the new car

    3. It was so disheartening to see Bird with absolutely no ability to fight and made the race for the championship a bit of a damp squib (what the hell happened to DS Virgin and Mahindra over the year? They both went from winning to also rans), but you can’t take anything away from Vergne who’s been by far the most consistent driver over the year and put in some great performances.

    4. Hazels sentences are too long, too many thoughts trains within the same space. It’s a hard read.

      1. i agree, i know she is new and i’m not trying to cut any wings, but i stopped reading after a few paragraphs. It felt like i was constantly reading something that eventually became too hard to understand and having to go back and restart the paragraph.

      2. I disagree. I was expecting to lose interest after the first paragraph but it held my interest right to the end. I have been watching Formula E since the beginning…not every race but most of them…and I really enjoyed this write up of the last 2 races. I was really pleased that JEV won the championship, though I would have been pleased if Bird had won it as well…

    5. Is this a news article or an opinion piece? I admire Hazel’s enthusiasm, but it’s really hard to read. Some sentences don’t seem to convey any meaning because either:

      They’re too long, or

      Hazel was so enthusiastic about what she was writing that she lost track of it mid-sentence

      1. I’m not sure I agree with these “hard to read” comments as I appreciated all the details in a race I could only watch a part of and a title race I haven’t really been following.

        To each his own.

      2. I am with @rpiian on this @pt, I am glad to read this as a race report that does more than give the simple facts but conveys the emotion of the racing too. Thanks for covering this exciting season @hazelsouthwell

        1. + 3, Kudos for a thorough informative race report,
          I now know know a heck of as lot more about the drivers and formula than I did after watching the first race.
          Hazels enthusiasm is infectious, I’ll sure be watching next season.

    6. As much as I love ICEs, I love racing. Formula E is a nice plan B for drivers we liked in F1 but were not fast enough to win a championship over there. This “plan B” allows us to watch these drivers we like competing in a FIA World championship.

      My only problem with FE are the track layouts, most of them are really boring, narrow, with simple chicanes and hairpins. Not enough room for overtakes, so there are too many wrecks when drivers try to create room.

      Hopefully with advancement in battery technology, the cars will be able to run more interesting layouts, or even go to traditional circuits… at very least to a Monaco GP in the F1 layout.

      Maybe F-E just wants to be its own thing, driving in bad layouts in the middle of the city, with fan boost and music on the broadcast. But one day in the future we will have a series with electric cars: FE, F1 or a new series… with cars on slick tires, with enough power output to hit 250KPH+ on a car with F2 levels of downforce, with enough battery to complete 150KM (half GP), and running at tracks we have in the F1 calendar today. No music over broadcast and no fan boost. You bet I’ll watching it, no hard advertisement or pushy blog articles needed.

    7. I am happy for JEV, he is a great driver (or ‘steerer’ as my mate says LOL)

      1. Same. I was shocked when he was dropped in F1, happy to see his success now!

    8. My Formula e driver rankings of the year:
      1 Jean-Eric Vergne
      2 Oliver Turvey
      3 Sam Bird
      4 Daniel Abt
      5 Mitch Evans
      6 Lucas Di Grassi
      7 Felix Rosenqvist
      8 Sebastien Buemi
      9 Maro Engel
      10 Jerome Dambrosio
      11 Nelson Piquet Jr
      12 Jose Maria Lopez
      13 Andre Lotterer
      14 Antonio Felix Da Costa
      15 Nick Heidfeld
      16 Edoardo Mortara
      17 Alex Lynn
      18 Nico Prost
      19 Luca Filippi
      20 Tom Blomqvist

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