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New York City ePrix: Jean Eric Vergne wins Formula E title, but Techeetah loses Teams' Championship to Audi

It was a double whammy for French sports fans as Jean Eric Vergne was crowned the 2017-18 Formula E Champion on the weekend of the New York City ePrix. Vergne, a former Formula 1 and Red Bull Racing junior driver, won his maiden Formula E title in his 4th attempt; finishing ahead of Audi’s Lucas di Grassi (also former Formula 1 driver) and Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird.

For Vergne, this could be regarded as his second series triumph in 2018. Earlier in May, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans only to be disqualified post-race due to technical irregularities. In a heartwarming gesture, Vergne dedicated his Formula E title win to compatriot and former Formula 1 driver, Jules Bianchi.

Vergne’s Victory

A double-header racing weekend in New York City and the tightly-contested championships meant that the finale of the 2017-18 Formula E season had the potential to swing both the title battles either way and it actually did. Vergne and Techeetah enjoyed a slender lead in both championships over di Grassi and Audi. In Race 1, the Audi cars raced to a 1-2 finish which helped the German team close the gap to Techeetah in the Teams’ Championship. However, for Vergne, a fifth-placed finish in Race 1 was enough to help seal the Drivers’ Championship early into the weekend. Vergne’s sustained championship challenge and eventual win deserve much applause.

The Frenchman is the only driver on the grid of 25 drivers to have scored points in every single race this season, highlighting the consistency of his performances. In fact, his worst finish is a point-scoring 10th place (Zurich ePrix), also claiming 4 wins & 6 podium finishes en route to title honours. As for Formula E, Vergne’s win further highlights the immense competition the series has to offer — four different drivers (ironically, all ex-Formula 1) have won the Drivers’ Championship since inception.

Apart from the diverse winners, the current season also highlighted the number of drivers who actually were in contention for the Drivers’ Championship. In the early part of the season, Vergne faced stiff competition from Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and Sam Bird. As the season progressed and Audi sorted their early season niggles, di Grassi joined the competition at the top. However, Vergne’s early season advantage and consistency turned out to be tough to beat.

Come Race 2, the newly crowned Formula E champion Vergne had a new mission to accomplish — to lead his Techeetah team to their first-ever Teams’ Championship. Audi’s performances in the latter half of the season made them serious title contenders and the battle was set between Renault’s customer team (Techeetah) and a works team (Audi). While Renault’s Sebastian Buemi (2015-16 Drivers’ Champion) clinched pole position, the Techeetah drivers (Vergne and Lotterer) lined up 2nd and 3rd at the start, ahead of Audi’s drivers (di Grassi and Abt) in 4th and 5th.

At the start, Vergne got the jump onto Buemi into Turn 1 to seize the lead, while Lotterer was caught to have made a jump start. The German driver was penalised with a 10-second stop and go penalty, one that ruined his race and also ended hopes of Techeetah’s Teams’ Championship win. While Lotterer managed to recover and finish 9th, Vergne’s victory ahead of di Grassi and Abt wasn’t enough to help Techeetah keep their lead as the chequered flag came out. Audi deservedly claimed the Teams’ Championship — a feat that not many would have believed as possible given the team’s struggling start to the season.

Audi’s Recovery

It was only after 4 races into the season that Audi and their reigning Drivers’ Champion (di Grassi) claimed a win. The team suffered a disqualification for Abt in Hong Kong (Race 2; he actually won this race) while also registering a double DNF in the Santiago ePrix. However, di Grassi’s podium scoring spree from the Punta del Este ePrix — one that saw him finish the last 7 races on the podium with five second-place finishes and two wins followed by Abt’s wins (Berlin and Mexico) helped Audi outscore every other team on the grid and claim the Teams’ Championship ahead of Techeetah by two points.

As for Techeetah, it isn’t much of a secret that given their fast and reliable cars, had Lotterer been able to match Vergne’s performances through the season, they could have sealed the Teams’ Championship well in advance. However, it is actually good for Formula E that even a driver with Lotterer’s talent and professional competencies (former 24 Hours of Le Mans and World Endurance Champion) required time to settle in the series and the car in his debut season. With Lotterer confirmed for Techeetah for 2018-19, one would hope that he is able to challenge for titles from his second season.

Mahindra Racing Disappoints

Mahindra Racing’s early-season charge fizzled out as the season progressed. After leading the Drivers’ Championship after the first three races, Rosenqvist could only manage a 6th in the Drivers’ Championship; he was second runner-up (3rd) last season. Nick Heidfeld did return to meagre form towards the end of the season, but his mid-season DNFs and non-points scoring finishes saw the German Formula 1 veteran end his season in a lowly 11th place.

As for the Team’s Championship, Mahindra Racing lost their early season lead and were unable to recover as the season progressed despite having a fast and reliable car. The Indian-owned racing team was beaten by Audi and Virgin Racing in the second half of the season. Where did it go wrong for Mahindra Racing though? The team insisted that they had a strong car throughout the season, but was it the general lack of direction that saw their maiden title hopes fade away? Or was the team unable to lift themselves up after a series of unexpected retirements and non-points scoring finishes in the middle of the season.

For the next season, Mahindra Racing is yet to confirm their driver line-up. While continuing with Rosenqvist would make absolute sense, Heidfeld’s lack of performances and inability to match Rosenqvist throughout the season should hopefully make the decision of his extension (or not!) easier.

Next Season

The 2018-19 Formula E Season will commence in December 2018 with the Riyadh ePrix; Saudi Arabia joining the list of countries hosting the all-electric series. However, apart from the calendar changes (some of them that are yet to be confirmed), the biggest infusion of interest and challenge in the next season will be the debut of Formula E’s gen-2 racing car. The much-powerful all-electric car will do away with the need to make in-race car swaps, an action that made it difficult for Motorsport purists to accept the series.

Also joining the sport next season would be Felipe Massa, the 2007 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship runner-up and former Ferrari driver. Massa would be Formula E’s biggest signing from the world of Formula 1 (Massa retired from Formula 1 in 2017) and should bring newer audiences and fans to the sport. Additionally, HWA AG (Mercedes’ associate team) would debut while Renault would undergo a re-branding to Nissan Motorsport. All in all, there are interesting changes expected to the series for the next season; ones that are guaranteed to add excitement and suspense to an already exciting racing series.

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Updated Date: Jul 16, 2018 22:01:59 IST

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