Formula E’s 2021 season was the first time the all-electric series bestowed the title of ‘world champion’ upon a driver.
Its seventh season was a strange, disjointed affair where drivers struggled to find consistency, not least because of a contentious qualifying format which has since been dropped. That made tracing who performed best over the 15 races trickier than usual.
From exceptional rookie performances to series stalwarts demonstrating the benefit of experience, here’s our pick of the best performers last season.
10. Sergio Sette Camara
If the Williams F1 car isn’t as bad as people might think then the Dragon FE car is actually much worse. Although Sette-Camara ended up outscored by team mate Nico Müller, it was only due to Müller’s lucky podium during the genuinely bizarre Valencia race where most drivers failed to finish or were disqualified due to lack of energy.
Excluding that race, Sette-Camara’s points-scoring finishes were higher than Müller’s (4th and 8th to Müller’s 5th and 9th) and his consistent Super Pole appearances deserve the recognition Max Günther got, when he was driving the same poisoned chalice.
9. Lucas di Grassi
Di Grassi might not have made this list at all, in the previous year so although ninth might feel like a bit of a snub to Formula E’s second most successful driver of all time, it’s something of a recovery. Audi’s final year in the sport, their first with their own, in-house-built powertrain, was disappointing; although they solved operational issues that have hampered them in the past, it seemed to take too long to really understand how to use their system efficiently.
Nevertheless, Di Grassi took two victories – and could have had three, was it not for some slippery floor in the ExCel. Di Grassi crossed the line first in London’s second race, although was disqualified for an audacious pit lane move under safety car that, while ruthlessly exploitative of an unusual set of circumstances, showed how he remains as strategically thorough as ever.
After a largely anonymous first half of the season, Di Grassi seemed to regain his expected, threatening pace in Mexico and went on to be in title contention down to the final race of the season.
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8. Oliver Rowland
Rowland scored 80% of Nissan e.Dams points this season. Although team mate Sebastien Buemi had some bad luck, it would be hard to argue that he wasn’t comprehensively out-driven by Rowland.
2020 was not a great year for the team, who also suffered from delays getting their powertrain for this season after it was stuck in the Suez canal blockage. Unquestionably, Rowland’s performances saved them from absolute ignominy.
It’s also notable that Rowland managed to take 77 points despite being disqualified from three rounds (out of 15 – therefore 20%) due to technical infringements.
7. Alex Lynn
It pains anyone involved in Formula E that yet again, Alex Lynn is leaving the series. Whether he’ll ever be back, after being jilted for the third time, is pretty debatable and a genuinely unfortunate loss for the grid. Victim to repeat manufacturer politics (he left Virgin when they switched from DS to Audi, then was passed up at Jaguar) Lynn seems, this time, to have just fallen through Mahindra’s fingers, contract-wise, where he’ll be replaced by Rowland next year.
In the 2021 season Lynn once again proved what a valuable driver he can be for any midfield team. Getting his first podium in the second Valencia race was a breakthrough and then taking his maiden Formula E win, at home in London, silenced critics – and his own – doubts about his capabilities.
6. Sam Bird
Bird took a big gamble this year: leaving Virgin, the team he had driven every single race in Formula E with, up to that point, for Jaguar. Any team relocation is a risk but Bird faced the additional challenge of having Mitch Evans as a team mate. Key to the Jaguar project from the start, Evans had wiped the floor with every single driver who attempted to stack up against him, in a team that his longevity at inevitably meant was built around him.
It could easily have looked like Daniel Ricciardo’s attempts to stack up against Lando Norris. But Bird came out of the blocks with an early win at the second race in Riyadh and was only beaten on track by Evans once, in Monaco. Taking two victories, in a new team, shows Bird was not just settling in his comfort zone and if not for a staggering 7 non-finishes (46% of the season) this could easily have been his championship year.
5. Mitch Evans
Formula E’s last race of 2021 was a strange mess of attrition that essentially awarded De Vries the title by battle royale. Evans, whose car failed to move off the grid, was the first of the title contenders to be eliminated, after having lined up with the best prospect of taking the championship. Evans had been the only contender to make Super Pole for the final race, lining up third – Jake Dennis the closest rival, in ninth and eventual winner De Vries in 13th. It wasn’t to be.
Despite not having taken a race win all season, Evans was one of the only drivers to find something bordering consistency. His five third place finishes were hard-fought-for, having spent almost the entire year in group one of qualifying, where Mercedes’ attempts at tactical games frequently seemed to victimise Jaguar. Despite setbacks, Evans kept a clear focus and his ability to recover from painful weekends would’ve served him well, if not for the final race.
Of his four retirements over the year, only three were true non-finishes. The first, in the second Riyadh race, was because Evans pulled over to check on Alex Lynn following a dramatic airborne crash, ending his own race. Not a competitive way to go about the final lap, even from outside a points position but a testament to Evans’ genuine character.
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4. Nyck de Vries
De Vries came into the 2021 season with most people assuming he had barely clung on to his job and emerged the world champion. In that sense, placing him as fourth most successful is borderline dismissive, since De Vries absolutely had the season of his career, from a perfect first race in Riyadh (where he took every available point – fastest in groups, pole, win and fastest lap) to double second-place finishes in London that propelled him back into title contention for the Berlin finale.
Although his win in Valencia was a very questionable day for Formula E as a whole, someone had to be awarded the trophy and De Vries was the one that crossed the line first, within the rules. Avoiding incidents proved key to him finishing ahead in the points and his final drive, from outside the points to eighth in the last Berlin race, showed that he had the skill under pressure to be a worthy champion.
3. Robin Frijns
Mid-season – specifically, around Monaco, when he was leading the championship – you could well have expected a different Dutch driver to end up Formula E’s first world champion. Frijns is an understated driver, in a lot of ways and keeps himself largely under the radar in the FE paddock, despite consistently good results.
Frijns didn’t manage a win in 2021 but was a substantial part of how Virgin beat powertrain supplier Audi, outscoring both Di Grassi and René Rast. His best performances, in terms of driving, were fourth-place finishes in Rome and London; coming just short of a podium position either time typical of Frijns’ quiet excellence, for someone who came very close to the championship.
2. Edoardo Mortara
Venturi’s lead driver had two of the worst crashes of the 2021 season. First, a runaway MGU incident in Riyadh, when his car accelerated into a wall and all Mercedes-powered cars were excluded from qualifying while a software fix was found. Then, in the final race of the year, Mortara was helpless to ploughing into Evans’ stationary car on the starting grid, ending both of their title hopes.
Despite that, he finished a very convincing second in the title. Second place in the first Diriyah race and a standout weekend in Puebla showed what seven-time Macau winner Mortara is capable of and how far he and Venturi have come, from backmarking a few seasons ago. Always open about his emotions, Mortara hasn’t universally been impressed with fellow drivers’ conduct this season (few people on the grid have been) but has still produced some of the season’s most exciting moments, including a truly sublime threading-the-needle double pass between two cars during the first Riyadh race.
1. Jake Dennis
Jake Dennis arrived in Formula E as a totally unknown quantity. Although he’d been highly-rated in junior series (and still works for Red Bull’s F1 team) the 195cm former Bentley GT driver hadn’t ever had a professional single-seater drive before. Initially frustrated by being caught up in race-ending collisions, Dennis arrived in Rome without a single point to his name – a typical rookie arc. And then he nearly won the title.
There’s only one reason he isn’t Formula E’s first world champion, which is that during a red flag in the final race, cars were told to line up at the end of the pit lane too early. Dennis was ahead of De Vries on the restart but, after idling in hot sun, unattended, for more than 10 minutes his car developed a powertrain fault that resulted in a loss of braking. Dennis hit the barriers, unable to stop his car and finished the season a still highly-respectable third in his rookie year, the best first-year finish since Felix Rosenqvist came third in the 2016-17 season.
A brilliantly controlled win in the second Valencia race showed Dennis’ knowledge of how to manage an FE car, leading every lap without an energy-saving slipstream and redeeming the farcical antics of the previous day. His second win, as a home driver in London, was equally commanding and showed Dennis was more than capable of taking on the most experienced drivers in the field.
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Antonio Felix da Costa had a nightmare title-defence season as Techeetah’s gamble to replace their powertrain mid-season gave them limited time to understand it properly and an uphill battle in the championship. However, his win in Monaco was quite probably the best of the season.
Stoffel Vandoorne was foiled by chaos on more than one occasion, seeming to become a debris-magnet from Rome onwards but had two well-earned podiums.
Oliver Turvey, in the uncompetitive NIO 333, yet again outdrove machinery that’s unquestionably beneath him – maybe one year the car will reward his loyalty to the team.
Of the rookies, it feels strange to have to assess Nick Cassidy, whose performances have been terrific, as the third best. Norman Nato, getting to grips with the Venturi, managed a last-gasp win in Berlin that didn’t save his seat but did show his true speed.
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