2020 Formula E-WEC Calendar Clash: Unfair To Drivers

Sebastian Buemi reacts to 2020 Formula E WEC calendar clash
Formula E is expanding next season and the Formula E – WEC calendar clash for 2020 was only to be expected. The FIA needs to step in to avoid embarrassment for the all-electric series.

Business of Formula E

The series organisers announced a provisional calendar for the 2019-20 Formula E season. The all-electric championship aims to host 14 races, its highest ever as it expands to newer markets. The new season will see the addition of an ePrix in South Korea and with London returning to host a double-header. While the calendar will eventually firm up after going through its formal approval process, it waits to be seen how Formula E and WEC (World Endurance Championship) solve the date clashes between at least three of their events in 2020. It would be unfortunate if the drivers were expected to select one series over the other for no fault of theirs!

For the drivers, racing in both series is a good form of exposure, opportunity and earnings – hence it isn’t a surprise that most of the better drivers have dual contracts. Is Formula E going down the Ecclestone-era of Formula 1 where they want drivers exclusive to their series? Well, it isn’t a bad idea to build a brand, but maybe a bit too early in the life cycle of Formula E? Several of the affected drivers have already pledged their allegiance towards their WEC teams and contracts. Unsurprisingly, so.

2019 Bern ePrix – Report

The temporary street circuit that hosted the 2019 Bern ePrix in Switzerland was labelled a ‘rollercoaster’ by the series and its drivers, thanks to its unique characteristics. And true to its word, Formula E fans were delivered a rollercoaster of a car race. The 2019 Bern ePrix had all the characteristic ingredients that make a classic motor-racing potboiler – lights-to-flag action, challenging circuit layout, racing incidents and late-race rain.

Jean-Eric Vergne, the reigning Formula E champion and Techeetah driver, crossed the line in the first place – ahead of Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans and local hero Sebastian Buemi of Nissan. Vergne became only the second driver this season to win a race from pole position. He is also now the driver with the most wins in the season (three).

Qualifying & Super Pole

It would be easy to classify the 2019 Bern ePrix as one of Vergne’s best performances of the season. Honestly, it couldn’t have come at a better time as the Techeetah driver aims to become the series’ first back-to-back champion. Vergne claimed pole position after clocking a lap that was three tenths faster than his nearest rival, Evans.

However, the story of qualifying belonged to Vergne’s title rivals, Audi’s Lucas di Grassi and BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa. The two championship contenders could only manage laps that were 19th (di Grassi) and 20th (da Costa) fastest, with only the NIO team drivers (Tom Dillmann and Oliver Turvey) behind them. The surprise entry in Super Pole was that of Dragon Racing’s Maximillian Gunther, who scored his career-best finish (5th) only a few races ago at the Paris ePrix. Vergne’s teammate Andre Lotterer blamed di Grassi’s slow out-lap for spoiling his qualifying run – he could only manage 8th. It was also heartening to see Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein qualify 3rd in the group stage and eventually finish 4th in Super Pole.

The ePrix

Within the first minute of the ePrix, Wehrlein and Evans were involved in a collision which led to a 19-car traffic jam on the narrow street circuit. The incident also caught out Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns, who broke his drivetrain and was forced to retire.

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This incident prompted the FIA to Red Flag the race for nearly an hour – and it was the race restart that led to a humongous controversy. The FIA ruled that all drivers would restart the race in the order that they lined up originally on the starting grid. This was met by a huge uproar from the drivers, who opined that they should instead line up in the positions they were in when the Red Flag was waived. A visibly frustrated di Grassi was seen yelling that the stewards were wrong and “this is a joke.” Venturi’s Felipe Massa, was one of the biggest losers of this ruling as he started 12th but was 4th just before the Red Flag. He expressed, “I am sorry, I have never seen that in my life”.

In the FIA’s defence, the situation at the 2019 Bern ePrix was an unusual one. The Red Flag was brought out after the drivers crossed the start line but before they could cross the timing beam that marked the first sector. As a result, the FIA ruled that drivers restart basis their last official recorded position – their start position.

After the restart, Vergne-Evans pulled away from Buemi while di Grassi desperately tried to fight his way from the back of the field. Wehrlein’s Mahindra Racing car came to a halt on track and brought out the Full Course Yellow, helping bunch the field up one more time. At the restart, it was Vergne-Evans-Buemi-Bird that led the pack, but Bird was later overtaken by Lotterer. Evans tried his best to overtake Vergne for the lead of the race, while also being attacked by the Fan Boost-supported Buemi. In the end, Vergne and the other drivers in the top-4 (Evans, Buemi and Lotterer) drove well to survive in the slippery conditions caused by the late-race rain and finish within a second of each other. The top-3 qualifiers finished in the order they started the race, but with a lot of wheel-to-wheel action all through.

Gunther finished 6th, ahead of Audi’s Daniel Abt, Jaguar’s Alex Lynn, Felipe Massa while di Grassi could only manage 10th – adding 1 point to his championship tally. BMW’s da Costa, the other championship contender, finished 12th and outside of the points, but scored a solitary point for the fastest lap of the race. Finally, an applause is in order for all the Formula E drivers who raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend and still managed to recover in time for this weekend’s ePrix.

2018-19 Formula E Championship

Up next is the New York ePrix, which begins from 13th July – a doubleheader that will bring down the curtain on the current Formula E season. Jean-Eric Vergne sits atop the Drivers’ Championship table with 130 points, a comfortable 32 points ahead of his team-mate, Lotterer. The result of the 2019 Bern ePrix impacted the title chances of di Grassi and da Costa – who are 43 and 58 points behind Vergne. In fact, Evans jumped da Costa to 4th place in the standings. However, the all-electric series has shown time and again how fortunes can swing between races and with two races left, the title battle is still open. No doubt, this is the most comfortable Vergne has been all season while leading the Drivers’ Championship.

The Mahindra Racing drivers, Jerome d’Ambrosio and Wehrlein, who were early season contenders, find themselves in 10th and 13th place respectively. d’Ambrosio led the Drivers’ Championship till only a few rounds ago but has failed to add to his championship tally for four races in a row. As for Wehrlein, fans witnessed his early season form only briefly re-emerge at the Monaco ePrix (he finished 4th) last month. The former Mercedes junior driver is battling with Edoardo Mortara and Oliver Rowland for 11th place and could probably beat d’Ambrosio to 10th if he continues to out-score him.

In the Teams’ Championship, several teams were mathematically deemed out of contention after this weekend’s race. Like the previous season, this year’s battle for top honours has been filtered down to Techeetah, who are gunning for their first-ever Teams’ Championship title and Audi, who would be eager to defend their crown. After the 2019 Bern ePrix, 58 points separated the two teams, with Virgin Racing jumping Nissan for 3rd place. Mahindra Racing who led the Teams’ Championship early in the season are in 5th place, over 100 points down on the leaders.

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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