Formula E must continue post-pandemic recovery in final year before ‘Gen3’

Formula E

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The 2022 season will be last for Formula E’s second generation of cars, before its new ‘Gen3’ package arrives next year.

It’s been a tough few years for many racing series. But it’s been an especially tricky time to be one whose modus operandi is going to city centres and getting right up close to people.

Formula E took the pandemic harder than, for example, Formula 1, as its season was already midway through when Covid hit in 2020. It was sent into an endless holding pattern of cancelled and rescheduled races as things shut down.

At the time, Formula E was having its strongest year yet, bolstered with new entries from major manufacturers at Porsche. But a damp squib season ender with six races in total seclusion at Berlin Tempelhof saw momentum slip away.

It kept slipping during a nine-month gap between seasons before a double-header-heavy, event-sparse calendar. Formula E’s first world championship year was marred by farcical energy rules at races that people did know about and all too frequently, a lack of audience compared to its better-publicised peers.

Dan Ticktum, Antonio Giovinazzi, Valencia, 2021
Ex-F1 racer Giovinazzi joins the grid, plus F2’s Ticktum
A press release last year announced Formula E had recovered 32% of its television audience, compared to the pandemic-wracked season, last year to get 316 million viewers over its 15 races. That indicates the 2020 season must have had just 239 million viewers, heavily weighted to the first five races. Compared to the season that ended in 2019, which had 411 million, Formula E needs to recover not just energy from the brakes but its own sense of narrative and audience to have any hope of keeping moving forwards.

For the 2022 season (season eight, by the series’ own naming process) there’s a lot riding on it. Gen2 was, initially, a success. By eliminating the mid-race car swap, Formula E gained credibility at the same pace it did manufacturers. However, ironically, the process of electrification in the automotive industry – alongside a global pandemic and chip shortage affecting automaker profit margins – has also hurt it badly as Audi, BMW and then Mercedes withdraw.

What could have been the end of a triumphant era instead returns to something FE’s much more familiar with, territory-wise: being a scrappy underdog, needing to work hard and radically adapt, trying to prove itself.

Feature: Fairer or just more complicated? Formula E’s new ‘duels’ qualifying explained
A new qualifying format has been introduced to address the tendency of the previous one to create a spread field, over half the drivers fighting for the title by the final race last season. A new rule has also been introduced to prevent a repeat of last year’s absurd, energy-starved crawl to the finish line at Valencia which showed electric vehicles at their least convincing: instead of removing a one kilowatt-hour of energy from the available allowance for every minute behind a safety car, instead a minute will be added to the race’s overall run time of 45-minutes-plus-one-lap.

One team has dropped out: ABT, which had acted as a vehicle for Audi in the series and been one of the most consistently strong contenders. But there are still 11 on the grid, Envision carrying on with the Audi powertrain and Andretti continuing with its BMW one. Mercedes are staying as a factory outfit to defend both world titles and while the manufacturer won’t continue Gen3, it remains to be seen what will become of its team, and most of the grid is committed to going forwards some new manufacturers.

Andretti also has a refreshed line-up as former McLaren IndyCar driver Oliver Askew joins alongside last year’s standout rookie Jake Dennis. Max Günther, one of the stand out talents to have come into the series straight from Formula 2 (alongside Mitch Evans and current champion Nyck de Vries) has gone to stack up against 2016 champion Sebastien Buemi at Nissan e.Dams. Meanwhile 2017 winner Lucas di Grassi has had to find himself a new home at Venturi, his first ever team move in Formula E.

FE is not standing still, the urgency of where it’s ended up too obvious to ignore. New venues (Vancouver, Seoul and Jakarta this year, a confirmed race in Cape Town and prospective race in Hyderabad for Gen3) are still being added and the Gen3 rules have been unveiled for the future.

But Formula E has to deal with its problems in the present. “This season needs to be a very good season for Formula E to bounce back,” said di Grassi – who was Formula E’s first employee, as well as one of two drivers to have competed in every race so far – “because the pandemic really hit Formula E quite hard because we race in the middle of cities and cities were in lockdown and difficulty to organise and so on.

De Vries is out to defend his crown in Mercedes’ last year
“If we have a good season, it would be very, very important. If we have a bad season, it will get even tougher and tougher to recover in Gen3, which I think has a very good potential. So it is definitely very important, for this reason.”

Comparing the end of Gen1, when excitement for the batmobile-like Gen2 car reached a fever-pitch as Jean-Eric Vergne sealed his first title, in New York, Di Grassi said that back then “there was a lot of hype for the future. Everything was much smaller, was much more amateur in a way because it was the start of something. But there was a lot of good feeling for the future, how big it would become. People who were there knew in three years we were going to be massive and there will be more manufacturers and more cities and it happened.”

After that pandemic-struck sixth season in which “we had six races in one place without spectators”, Di Grassi is hoping the upcoming season, and the arrival of Gen3, will mean a “fresh start” for Formula E.

2022 Formula E teams and drivers

MercedesStoffel VandoorneNyck de Vries
JaguarMitch EvansSam Bird
TecheetahAntonio Felix da CostaJean-Eric Vergne
EnvisionRobin FrijnsNick Cassidy
AndrettiJake DennisOliver Askew
VenturiLucas di GrassiEdoardo Mortara
PorscheAndre LottererPascal Wehrlein
MahindraAlexander SimsOliver Rowland
NissanMax GuentherSebastien Buemi
Dragon PenskeSergio Sette CamaraAntonio Giovinazzi
NioOliver TurveyDan Ticktum

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Author information

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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3 comments on “Formula E must continue post-pandemic recovery in final year before ‘Gen3’”

  1. The problem with Formula E is they manage to make everywhere they race look like an abandoned industrial estate. I’m lucky enough to have visited Hong Kong a couple of times, and how they managed to make HK Central look miserable was truly amazing.

    1. @olpeculier
      The global pandemic wants to have a word with you for disregarding its merits.

  2. I don’t think they’re doing anywhere near as good a job as Formula 1 at advertising. I never really see or hear of it in “the wild” (outside of motor racing sites). They need to do some big stunts, or big deals or something to increase the interest. Even the racing itself is pretty tame. I feel like with the way the cars brake so fast and then accelerate away, the handling of corners look like bumper cars as they slowly knock each about jostling for position. I’ve never really felt like street circuits are the best showcase for these cars for this reason. Neither would F1 circuits, they need something between the size and flow of go-kart tracks and full circuits, a pricey proposition for sure.

    Bottom line for me is, I think it’s disingenuous to blame all their downward trend on the pandemic. They’re steadily heading for relegation as a clear B-tier category unless they get some wow factor soon, there’s so much potential to turn that around though.

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