How Formula E’s incredible, 18-way world championship finale came about

Formula E

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As Formula E’s first season as a world championship draws to a close this weekend, three-quarters of the grid are still in contention for the title. Here’s how a tangled season has unfolded.

How has this remarkable situation come about? After all some series are lucky if the championship isn’t decided before the final two races.

Formula E awards points to the top 10 and the driver who sets fastest lap, as in Formula 1. However, there is also a point for being the fastest driver in the group stages of qualifying and three for taking pole position, meaning the maximum a drive can score over a single round is 30.

Mercedes driver Nyck de Vries currently leads the championship on 95 points. But with two races remaining in Berlin this weekend up to 60 are still up for grabs. That means everyone down to 18th Alexander Sims has a genuine chance, if an increasingly remote one, of heading the table come Sunday evening.

If the possibility of Sims coming from 51 points back sounds far-fetched, it’s not inconceivable. His team mate Alex Lynn took a 44-point haul over the previous round in London.

Formula E’s title fight typically has lasted until the final rounds and has only being settled earlier twice. The first was during Jean-Eric Vergne dominant run in the last season for the first-generation cars, when only he and Sam Bird came into the final round as contenders. Bird was at a distinct disadvantage with a mothballed powertrain, which had received no updates for the whole of that season, and Vergne neatly took the title on the Saturday in New York.

Sims, with four scores from 13 races, could win the title
The second time was last season, when every driver arrived at the six-race ‘finale’ in title contention by default as it constituted the majority of the season’s races. After five rounds, Antonio Felix da Costa went into the six races in Berlin with a narrow lead that immediately extended to an impossible one and Da Costa sealed it beyond question with two races to go.

This was particularly impressive given the number of points still on the table. Putting together a dominant run, as Da Costa did in Berlin, is difficult in Formula E.

Although group qualifying has taken a lot of flak for the inconsistent results seen this year, it’s not always the culprit. At two races this year – Valencia’s second round and Puebla’s first – a drying track made a meaningful difference to qualifying times across the groups.

Teams also did the damage to their own lap times on some occasions, such as when the drivers in group one were sent out nose-to-tail in Monaco. Any lap time set on a clear track is likely to be better than one where your front wing buried in another car’s diffuser.

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De Vries took the points lead for the third time in London
It’s also true that the drivers in the earlier groups have the fastest cars. Performance gaps in Formula E are much less than in F1, the worst powertrains only really showing their weaknesses over race distance as efficiency is worn down by wear over a season. But it’s still true that qualifying well in a backmarker car isn’t likely to result in a good outcome.

The only time a driver from group four has managed to convert that advantage in qualifying into pole position and victory was Jake Dennis during the second Valencia round. Unlike most backmarkers, however, Dennis was in a BMW factory car and only arrived in group four having been repeatedly squeezed into walls during the opening rounds.

As the points situation makes clear, no driver has had a completely consistent season. Second-place Robin Frijns has come closest with six non-points finishes over 13 rounds but no retirements or disqualifications. In contrast, Alex Sims has failed to finish five times and De Vries and Sam Bird have four ‘DNFs’ apiece.

Frijns has consistency on his side, if not the quickest car
So who among the closely-knit group will emerge on top? A very strong weekend in New York has put Bird back into realistic contention. If the cars’ raw speed decides the outcome, expect a fight between Bird’s Jaguar team and Mercedes in Berlin. The Audi-powered Virgin car of second-places Frijns is nowhere near as competitive overall.

However, another surprise result could swap the top 10 completely in just the first race, all drivers down to 13th-placed Vergne technically within one round of catching De Vries.

Audi and BMW will drive their final races as factory teams in Berlin and many of the grid have undecided futures, at present. At least one more manufacturer is thought to be on the brink of announcing their departure. While Formula E itself doesn’t need to worry too much about that, plenty of others waiting for entries, drivers’ contracts are more pressing for them.

Of the top ten, only three have seats secured for next season. Walking away with the crown would, of course, make those conversations much easier.

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Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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  • 31 comments on “How Formula E’s incredible, 18-way world championship finale came about”

    1. I love FE, I really do. But I feel like the qualifying “randomness” is one of the reasons why it is difficult to love for some other fans. The qualifying sessions really are a missed opportunity.
      Superpole is fantastic (if F1 really want to shake up qualifying, why not try Superpole for the top 3 or 5?), but the sessions before that are just stupid. Drivers only have 1 full power lap, which means the first group is just preparing the track for the others. With the constant weight as their ‘fuel’ does not affect weight, the cars are perfect to allow them to simply blast full power qualifying laps for the duration of every group session. Hopefully this will also allow Group 1 to set some representative lap times instead of the fastest cars being a second or more off pole due to track conditions.

    2. How has this remarkable situation come about?

      Because this field of drivers, who are actually of an incredibly high quality, find it impossible to go more than 3 corners without making contact with one another?

      1. It’s nothing to do with the incidents, it is entirely down to the qualifying format which is just too gimmicky and artificial, and turns the championship into a bit of a lottery. Formula e would still be very unpredictable if they used a normal qualifying format, and I hope they do for next season.

        1. @geemac, @f1frog

          It’s both.

          The qualifying format, the reverse mixing it up grid and high percentage of incidents due to small narrow tracks is making it impossible to have good racing or passing, it’s more of a spectacle & gimmicks than a sport.
          Maybe give the drivers and the cars the chance to see what they can do on that day and see who is the best and fastest racer, instead of putting all of them in a box and see who can survive while under pressure? It’s like watching a lab experiment.

    3. I feel that this season has, in general, been a bit of a lottery, and the season finale is surely going to be no different. Unless there are changeable conditions, I think the championship will most likely be won by whichever member of group two qualifying (7th-12th in the points) in the final qualifying session of the year happens to string together that one good lap on the day to put themselves at the front of the grid, which is not really the best way for a championship to be decided. Next year, the group qualifying format should definitely be scrapped, and replaced with a more conventional one. It would be great if they were allowed to copy the Formula 1 qualifying format, but if they are not, a simple x minutes of who can get the fastest lap time would be fine (and superpole can stay).
      But if I had to choose a worthy champion based on the performances over the entire season, I would say Robin Frijns deserves it the most. He has been consistently up there in group one qualifying but never seems to drop out of it, as he has fought through the grid many times, and still lies second in the championship. The second-most deserving champion would be Antonio Felix Da Costa, in my opinion. However, I will be supporting the Audi drivers, as usual, and think they have a decent chance, as Berlin has traditionally been a strong track for the team. Rene Rast is another who has been strong all season and deserves to be in with a shout. He has been one of the worst qualifiers, but has always fought through impressively and arguably has the best racecraft on the grid. And if anybody is going to attempt to finish in exactly the right position to go into the final race seventh in the points it will surely be Lucas Di Grassi, although he may be a bit too far back.

      1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        11th August 2021, 14:50

        Stoffel was happily at the front in one race I recall and gets rear ended out of a race he was walking to a win.

        1. @andyfromsandy Happened several times now to Vandoorne and Bird has a horrific record for ending up in the wall.

          I do think FE need to do something about race-ending incidents that puts drivers off risking them, whether it’s upping the penalty points or what. I think most people who’ve watched this season would be astounded to know Lotterer has fewer penalty points than Perez.

      2. In FE grids the are too big and the tracks are too tight for the F1 qualifying format I think. Besides, superpole is cool.

        Indycar has a good “group qualifying” format that could work for FE.

    4. Formula E is the definition of silly gimmicks & artificial nonsense going too far creating the sort of quantity over quality that just makes the entire thing just feel a bit unsatisfying to follow.

      Going on about how many pole sitters, race winners & title contenders there have been/are is irrelevant when the way you get to those numbers feels as much of a lottery as it often does in Formula E.

      There’s no flow it anything, There’s no story to the season & It just kind of feels like a series of unconnected races which isn’t how a world championship should really feel imo.

      1. For Gen 3 they should realistically get rid of fanboost, change the qualifying format and get rid of the energy usage regulations.

        1. @major-dev I actually asked Jamie Reigle about Fanboost a few months back – he said it’s definitely on the cards for review:
          https://www.racefans.net/2021/05/13/formula-e-will-reconsider-need-for-fanboost-when-new-cars-arrive-next-year/

        2. Fanboost has a (very) small impact on this all though. And energy usage is one of the spearheads of the series, a main raison d’être I’d say.
          @major-dev

      2. Stephen Higgins
        12th August 2021, 9:51

        That’s why I don’t watch it.

    5. Pointless fact of the day.

      this is not the first “Formula E FIA World Championship.”

      1. The answer to “what do you mean?”

        1983-1995 Formula E World Championship was the class name for 250cc twin superkarts.

        Can’t wait for the pub quiz question “who won the first formula e world championship?” and I get to smash out “Martin Hines”

        1. Particularly funny as there is a Martin Hines who works at Formula E!

          1. Would’ve been poetic had Rowland been in contention too.

    6. Nice article. So, what does the author @hazelsouthwell think about

      How Formula E’s incredible, 18-way world championship finale came about

      , as in what is/are the underlying cause(s)?

      BTW:

      all drivers down to 13th-placed Vergne technically within one round of catching De Vries.

      JEV sits in 12th.

      1. Think I was fairly thorough about it in the above; there isn’t a single cause. Although Group One have sometimes been at a genuine disadvantage and frequently self-sabotaged in qualifying, incidents and raw luck have played a big hand. It’s still possible to tell which drivers have had a good or bad season – De Vries is in arguably the form of his life, so far whereas Buemi is languishing.

        Probably the single most significant factor is the double header weekends. If a team comes into a weekend with an issue, it’s 60 rather than 30 points by which it can swing away from them.

        1. Thanks for replying.
          Those are very good points. Would you agree the points system itself is another one?
          @hazelsouthwell

    7. This is not a championship, it’s a lottery.

    8. Still not convinced of Fe. Please make it faster so you can use proper tracks and get rid of energy saving, show us what EVs are capable of. ATM watching a Fe race is like watching a Tesla charging.

      1. @zomtec oh come on there’s hardly ever been any fires

    9. 50 points available in the last weekend

      There is a line somewhere between a competitive championship and points awarded randomly.

      Typically 16 rounds is enough to award points and sort teams and drivers based on their merit over the time period. When it doesn’t happen, it mrans teams and drivers are extremely inconsistent or the championship formula adds too much random noise to the results.

      I have difficulties watching this series, so I don’t know what is the main reason.

      1. I tried to use the symbols “smaller than” and “greater than” but the system didn’t like it.

        I meant to start my post with:

        Championship leader with less than 100 points after 16 rounds
        More than 50 points available in the last weekend…

        1. Championship leader with less than 100 points after 16 rounds

          The ch-leader has 95 points so less than 100 yes, but there haven’t been 16 rounds. The whole calendar comprises 15 rounds, with still 2 to go, so those 95 points are from 13 rounds.

          Typically 16 rounds is enough to award points and sort teams and drivers based on their merit over the time period. When it doesn’t happen, it mrans teams and drivers are extremely inconsistent or the championship formula adds too much random noise to the results.

          This is an interesting statement. Do you have any mathematical (proof) or reasoning that backs this all up?

    10. Why isn’t Nyck de Vries in F1?

    11. Qualifying group 1 will be where the title is decided. Bird is unusually poor at a green track, where as DeVries and Frijns sometimes put in good performances, so we’ll see.

      Arguably it’s all a lottery though. Would be better to have the Jags, DS’s, and Mercs covering the first 3 rows and battling in the race, but instead they’ll be mired in 10th-18th positions making contact while Rowland wins and the Nissan team celebrates silly. This is why fans don’t like this stuff.

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