158 days. That’s the last time Formula E teams and drivers were last on track for season six at the Marrakesh E-Prix back in February.
The season looked to be on track afterward and had originally planned to race at the Sanya E-Prix. However, COVID-19 changed those plans when the virus flared up in March all across the United States and internationally. COVID, unfortunately, caused numerous lockdown and stay at home orders, which canceled not only the Sanya E-Prix, Rome E-Prix, Paris E-Prix, Seoul E-Prix, New York E-Prix but the two championship doubleheaders at the London E-Prix.
With those races canceled, the schedule and season looked in doubt. The FIA ABB Formula E Series officials could have given up and moved on to season seven. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and officials started looking at ways to restart the season. Then, in July, officials made the announcement that Formula E would have six races in nine days at the Berlin Tempelhof Airport. Additionally, all six of those races will be doubleheader events with different track layouts.
During the downtime with no racing, there was a slew of announcements from many different teams. For starters, Audi released former driver Daniel Abt, as he was fired from the team during the virtual races that took place through the summer. Abt had someone race for him in one of the races as part of what was supposed to be a joke. But, once Audi found out about the circumstances, the manufacturer/team let Abt go.
However, Abt was able to find a replacement ride with the NIO 333 Team for the final few races. This is due to NIO driver Ma Qing Hua being unable to travel to Berlin with travel restrictions in place.
Mahindra Racing made a few changes as well. On an Instagram post back in June, former team driver Pascal Wehrlein announced he was done with Mahindra immediately. As a result, Wehrlein will be sitting out the races since he does not have a ride lined up. British racing driver Alex Lynn and Mahindra announced that Lynn would replace Wehrlein after his departure. Lynn previously competed in a Formula E race two years ago for Panasonic Jaguar Racing.
Envision Virgin Racing also had some shocking news not too long ago. Longtime team driver Sam Bird announced his departure from the team at the end of the Berlin races. Bird had been with the team since the inception of Formula E back in 2014. The Englishman will instead drive for Panasonic Jaguar Racing starting next year. Replacing Bird for season seven is Nick Cassidy. Bird though will look to finish season six strong in the final remaining races.
The Envision Virgin team will look to resume winning when the season resumes Wednesday. Bird opened up the season by winning the first race at Riyadah. Since then, however, he’s had a mixed bag of results. He finished 22nd in the second Riyadh race after crashing and was unable to score any podiums before the long break. The highest Bird would finish was 10th at Santiago and the previous event at Marrakesh. At Berlin, Bird will have six chances to get momentum back on his side. He currently has zero wins in five races, but does have respectable finishes inside the top 10. The British driver commented on the 2019/20 season so far.
“I’ve had quite a mixed season so far but winning in Diriyah proved we’ve got the capabilities to fight at the top and I’m looking forward to getting back out in the car again,” Bird said. “I’ve continued to work hard on my fitness in the break and have spent a lot of time working with the team on the simulator and learning the new configurations. I think the final track could pose some different challenges, as it looks to be more technical, so I think they could be very interesting races to watch.”
Bird’s teammate, Robin Frijns hasn’t had much success at the Tempelhofring circuit. He has three starts with an average finish of 16.0 and a best finish of 13th, nearly two years ago. Frijns notes the doubleheaders will be difficult but he is also optimistic that he can score major points.
“For sure, it’s definitely going to be challenging but I’m really excited to see what happens in Berlin,” Frijins said. “There are 180 points up for grabs across the six races, and we’ve seen time and time again that anyone can win in Formula E, so I think we’re going to see some really exciting racing! Competing behind closed doors will definitely add another element to the event but as a team, we’re doing all we can to continue to interact with our loyal fans at home.”
Envision Virgin also will be running a ‘Thank You NHS’ slogan on both entries to say thanks to the important workers throughout the COVID pandemic. In addition, the team will be using a hashtag called #PositivelyCharged for the discrimination campaign.
The Mercedes-Benz EQ camp has been keeping busy through the pandemic. As the season looks to restart Wednesday, the rookie team will have a hashtag, #EndRacism.’ With the concept, two of their entries (Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries) will carry a black livery (i.e. paint scheme) with the hashtag appearing on the halo. Not only will the team have a different livery, but they also have a new technical director in the paddock area.
Nick Chester, who is 51-years-old comes in as the new technical director. Chester is from the United Kingdom and previously worked at Renault’s Formula 1. He will bring tons of experience after being in motorsports for three decades.
There are some changes for Mercedes-Benz EQ also as the team has promoted former rookie Daniel Juncadella as a Reserve driver after a successful test completion at the Marrakesh E-Prix.
Though the focus will be on current drivers, Vandoorne and de Vries, who are looking to capture victories. Only Vandoorne has experience with one start coming two years ago (where he placed fifth after starting second). The German hopes to lean on those experiences in this year’s events.
“First of all, I’m really looking forward to racing again,” Vandoorne said. “I almost can’t remember the last time out. It’s definitely been a good while and feels a bit weird that we can finally go racing again. It’s crazy to think that we’ll have completed six races in just less than two weeks and everything in the championship will be decided. It’s going to be a super intense time, but there’s everything left still to play for. I feel optimistic about the finale because we’ve been able to reset as a team and improve one or two details. Thanks to these bits of progress, I can feel confident about the upcoming races.
“We achieved good results in Berlin last year. We qualified second and ended the race in P5, which gives us a good basis on which to build. Along with the progress made this year, we should hopefully be well placed to fight up front, but let’s wait and see. We have a week packed with emotion ahead of us, some positive and some maybe not quite as positive, but it will be the same for everyone, and we will all have to deal with these different scenarios. We’ll see very soon how things work out.”
Out of the group, de Vries does not have prior experience to use to the best of his advantage. But, he hopes that staying focused and ready will help prepare him for the grueling schedule ahead.
“Of course, I’m really looking forward to racing again,” de Vries said. “It’s been a while since I last lined up for the team in Formula E, and I’m pleased that the people in charge have found a good compromise so that we can end our season. It’s going to be a very intense nine days with a lot of points to be scored. After all, we’ll be contesting more races in the next few days than we’ve had all season. I hope that we as a team are well prepared for it, but then probably, no one really can be a hundred percent, as we will be facing many challenges and everyone will experience some ups and downs during these nine days. That is why it is important to stay calm and take everything one step at a time. And then, hopefully, we can score a decent haul of points and end the season with a good outcome.”
BMW i Andretti drivers Alexander Sims and Maximilian Günther hope to have strong outings, especially Günther as he will be headed to his home racetrack.
“After the long break, I’m very excited to get back to racing – particularly in such a short space of time now, with six races in nine days, Günther said. “In Berlin, unfortunately not in front of a home crowd, but at least driving in my home country to finish the second half of the season is really special. We are really motivated after the long break. We’re also aware that we had a good first half of the season with strong results, but everything is starting from zero again now. I think that, as previously, we will try to focus only on ourselves and getting the best out of the car and us as a team. There will be some huge challenges, but we’re very well positioned, we used the past few months wisely and now I am just really looking forward to things starting up again.”
Sims is also ready to get back to racing.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to racing in Formula E after such a long break. I think the track layout changes look exciting. They all look very different, so it certainly won’t feel like six races in the same place. Berlin was pretty good for us last year, so hopefully we will have a similar strong pace again and try to have some clean race days. Our main target has to be to score some good points and to fight for the title. I can’t wait.”
Sims and Günther both have one start each coming in 2018, with Sims placing seventh and Günther 14th, in his former GEOX Dragon entry.
Both NIO 333 drivers Daniel Abt and Oliver Turvey have a solid chance of winning in the six races. Even though Abt previously had starts with the Audi team, the German scored one win in 2017 after earning pole position and leading all 45 laps.
“Going back to racing is making me extremely excited after all these months,” Abt said. “At the same time, doing six races in this short amount of period is a huge challenge, which I have never experienced in my career. I think the team and I have done good preparation, our aim is clear, and that is to perform at our best. If we can reach that target, good results will soon come. I hope my wishes will come true at my favorite circuit.”
Oliver Turvey has four starts to his credit with a best finish of fifth in 2017. Overall, he has an average finish of 10.5, which makes him look forward to the upcoming races.
“I am really excited to go back racing. It is going to be intense competing in six races over nine days especially with three different layouts, but I feel well prepared and ready for the challenge having spent a lot of time training in the past months as well as preparing with the team in the simulator,” Turvey added. “I know the team has been working hard with the engineers making a number of updates since the beginning of the season so I can’t wait to get back out on track. I aim to maximize the potential in qualifying and to achieve the best result possible in the race so I will be giving my best to score points for the team.”
As mentioned previously, Mahindra Racing will have a new look aboard one of their entries for Alex Lynn. He has two starts at Berlin with a best finish of 16th in 2017. Lynn notes he is excited about the new team, giving him hope for better finishes.
“Berlin is going to be totally different,” Lynn said. “It’s going to be heading into the unknown for all of us with a few different track changes that will spring up a few surprises. I think you’ve got to prepare knowing it’s going to be intense, there’s no other way around it. You want to build momentum, start on the right foot. These are all things that are easy to say sitting here but difficult to perform because everyone will be aiming to do the same thing. Without a doubt, no one is going to have been sitting still during this period but I’m definitely with a team that is putting in every effort to achieve results.
His teammate Jerome D’Ambrosio loves the Berlin circuit and understandingly so. He picked up a win back in 2014 (7-years ago). After ‘14 however, D’Ambrosio’s results have not been kind to him, placing outside the top 10 four times. In the most recent outing for Mahindra, he started ninth but finished 17th.
“I feel great about going to Berlin, I love the track,” D’Ambrosio said. “Having said that, it’s going to be a challenge. We have three double-headers in nine days so it will be a mental and physical challenge for every member of the team. And that’s going to make a difference; the guys that can keep up the pace over the days are the guys that going to do well. Given the circumstances, it’s great that Formula E have put this together and we’re going to be able to finish the season. I want to be back in the top five, fighting regularly for those positions in every race. And look to get some podiums as well.”
Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans and James Calado hope to gain several points through the six remaining races.
“This season we’ve tasted success and I am really proud of my performance, particularly in the last three races,” Mitch Evans said. “We achieved Super Pole and a Podium in Santiago, we won in Mexico City and we made history in Marrakesh by gaining 18 places and finishing P6 after starting from the back of the grid. Being second in the drivers’ championship puts me in a good position heading into Berlin but I know I can’t underestimate the challenge that we have ahead. Our Jaguar I-TYPE 4 is incredibly quick so I’m hoping to show everyone that we can be in the fight by 13 August.”
“I’m looking forward to getting back into the Jaguar I-TYPE 4 at the Tempelhof circuit,” Caldo added. “I started in P10 in Marrakesh and felt like I had made some solid progress. I want to give my best performance in Berlin. My role is to support Mitch and the team and secure as many points as possible. I’m sure it will come with its challenges and this break has definitely added the pressure but I’m ready for the lights to go green and finish the season on a high.”
The Audi team of Lucas di Grassi and Rene Rast are feeling optimistic and recharged after a five month shutdown.
“The break also had some positive aspects, because I had a lot of time with my son and my family,” di Grassi said. “I also did a lot of sports, ate a healthy diet and spent many days with the data of the first rounds of the season. But at some point, you’ve had your fill of it and finally want to race again,” says the Brazilian. Although di Grassi clinched just one podium in the first five races, he shows a fighting spirit.
“We’re going to Berlin to claim the title. That’s clearly my goal.”
“I did everything I could. In addition to testing, I analyzed data for hours on end, watched videos and spent an enormous amount of time with the engineers,” says Rast. “It’s difficult to express expectations for my debut with Audi, but one thing is clear. I’d like to arrive in Berlin perfectly prepared and deliver a good result.”
Other teams fielding entries are GEOX Dragon, Nissan e.dams, and RokiT Venturi Racing.
In addition, the JAGUAR I-Pace eTrophy Series looks to wrap up what will be their final races in Formula E before closing down for good.
Track facts regarding the different Berlin layouts.
Fans hoping to catch the remaining six races can click here for more info regarding start times in different countries.