How Formula E masterminded a great season despite global challenges

Formula E was in a unique position that no other championship was when the COVID pandemic took proper hold of the world.

They were part way through the season and all things going as originally planned, and would have been racing in March in Sanya and then onto Rome and continuing around the world.

E-Prix were lined up in Seoul and Jakarta for the first time before a return to London to round of the season being planned in the summer.

But all of this was put on hold and Formula E was in a tricky situation. The series, having been ongoing, had fewer options than most. Continuing the season was a must, but the timeframe was tighter with contracts in place for Season 6 closing down and Season 7 waiting in the wings.

The working dates would have been a November start for Season 7 so there was no option to have a resumption of the season in different locations just much later on because then there would be no off season for Formula E and Season 7 would be pushed far back and would be heavily affected.

To minimise the effects on Season 7 and to concurrently do justice for Season 6, the idea for the Berlin residency was floated.

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Jean-Eric Vergne crosses the line to win the race, Da Costa is behind winning the title © FIA Formula E

Nine days. Six races. Three tracks. One champion.

It created a whole new challenge to round out the season and was a brilliant way of finishing the season, legitimising the championship and most importantly keeping everyone safe and healthy.

A very close season in the opening rounds set up a hugely exciting prospect and any Formula E fan would not complain that there was another race almost immediately.

It become a slog and a half to cover as a journalist but you’re not reading this to pity me! I wouldn’t change it anyway. It was great to be back.

So did it work?

Short form. Yes.

Long form. Definitely it worked. It felt like a world cup.

Going into the first race day it felt like anything could happen, the championship could swing in any direction. There was always a palpable sense of excitement about the series and the hype was not lived down.

It worked from a health perspective too.

Two people tested positive at the initial testing phase, Dilbagh Gill, the Mahindra boss and Championship Chairman, Alejandro Agag. They were then required to obviously self isolate in their hotels and the rest of the event went off without a hitch.

Logistically, ensuring everyone was able to stay in their bubbles is an obvious behemoth of a challenge and one Formula E managed admirably. There were marked differences to the responses from other motorsport series with arm bands being obviously clear on everyone in the vicinity to make sure they did not go where they shouldn’t and keeping the system incredibly smooth.

The ordinary signs were there, mandatory masks and distancing and it all was obviously a success with Coronavirus never infiltrating the compound.

The virtuosity of Antonio Felix Da Costa

A quick gander over our mid season review of the Formula E season after Marrakech reveals that none of us expected Da Costa to go the lengths he did in performance later on in the season.

To pick up in Berlin where left off in Marrakech with another pole and the win is incredibly hard to do in Formula E, but then to go on and make it three in a row the next day is something extraordinary

It would have to be something special for anyone else to trump him.

Da Costa was in an unreal position. As he continued to soar, no one could match him. His energy management was off the scale, to the point where his champion teammate could not. Jean-Eric Vergne assumed Da Costa was going against team discussed tactics and that he ruined his race in the first Berlin event.

Antonio Félix da Costa, DS Techeetah wins the Formula E Championship © FIA Formula E

But, to come through from that and win the next day’s race immediately after sealed the fate of everyone else.

A disaster needed to befall him for Da Costa to fail and that was when DS Techeetah thrived. Locking out the front row and keeping the Nissans at arms length in the fourth Berlin race to take a 1-2 finish and to seal both championships.

He did all he needed to do and became champion the earliest of any driver in FE history.

No one could stop him and he nailed it. It was one of the most accomplished performances of any Formula E driver and a championship won so dominantly is more than worth it for Da Costa.

The fickle competition

Second place in the championship proved to be the most changeable position of all in Formula E this season.

The wonder stat of the final four races of the season was that the driver in ninth in the standings would win the next race and end up second.

It happened for Gunther, then JEV followed by Rowland and when it really mattered, Stoffel Vandoorne, preventing a Techeetah 1-2.

Going into the two weeks, Gunther and Evans were the most talked about drivers. Da Costa seemed a non entity for most. I predicted Evans because it felt like his pace had been most consistent all season and that Jaguar would only continue to grow in pace. It was a similar story for the BMW drivers of Gunther and Sims.

They were all caught out by the competitive nature of Formula E’s group qualifying. Where Da Costa could hook up a lap they were mostly way off. The late races were disasters for Group 1 qualifiers with the highest placed normally being well down the order. Recovering through the races was just impossible for them.

Da Costa was able to unlock more pace early on and could start at the front when it mattered and was able to be more than a win ahead after one race in Berlin.

Credit: BMW-i Andretti FE Team

New Kids on the block

Formula E’s driver market was not lacking during lockdown. Various goings on have been well discussed such as Daniel Abt’s Race at Home fiasco. Other’s were a bit under the radar but there were still a few new drivers on the grid for Berlin.

Rene Rast was promoted from the Audi stable in DTM where he is incredibly successful as the reigning DTM champion. He acquitted himself well to Formula E and a debut podium and super pole appearances with audacious racing to achieve it to boot.

He was obviously aided by Group 4 qualifying in an Audi, which also counted for Alex Lynn and his solid qualifying performances. But after a few rounds he made the most of the opportunity and did very well on the final layout and in the last two events.

Lynn also did well qualifying more often than not in Super Pole. Obviously also aided by Group 4. He did take his time to score points but soon he did get on top of the inefficient Mahindra and in the end scored more overall championship points than Pascal Wehrlein whom he replaced.

Sergio Sette Camara also had good qualifying performances, for the most part getting ahead of full season Dragon driver Nico Muller, who is no slouch having just won 3 out of the 4 DTM races. Both of them were in Group 4 so they are an easier match to judge.

Muller has had a questionable Formula E season not scoring any points but having some good performances.

Tom Blomqvist came in for the final two races in place of WEC bound James Calado. He did a stunning job to be in Super Pole on debut and run in the points for the race’s majority.

To do a similar job the next day as well proved it was no fluke. Having no Formula E experience, it was a grand job by the son of rally champion Stig.

Tom Blomqvist (GBR), Panasonic Jaguar Racing, Jaguar I-Type 4
Tom Blomqvist started 6th on debut © FIA Formula E

Up and comers

The final two Berlin races featured two new FE race winners. Oliver Rowland and Stoffel Vandoorne.

The Nissan’s and Mercedes looked very fast in Berlin but operationally struggled in qualifying and always had people to beat. When both teams got it right and scored poles they promptly won in similar fashion.

Both by controlling the race and never looking under threat.

Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL), Mercedes Benz EQ, 1st position
Stoffel Vandoorne wins his first FE race © FIA Formula E

Whilst the DS Techeetah’s became unstoppable this season, these teams look set to be some of the hardest challengers for their crown next season. Nissan, Mercedes and BMW took the other three wins in Berlin and have all shown flashes of excellent pace.

They have proved they can win and no doubt will be employing some title tilts come 2021.

It has been a cracking Formula E season and they have done a fantastic job to get it back and complete it in such a unique fashion that will likely never take place again.

I already cannot wait for Santiago in January.