The Grid: Driver and Team breakdown for FIA Formula E kickoff

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada provided an overlay of the FIA Formula E Championship yesterday. In case you missed that, or my interview with series CEO Alejandro Agag earlier this year, here’s the links.

Meanwhile, here’s a more in-depth overlay of the 10 teams and their drivers:

AMLIN AGURI: Katherine Legge, Antonio Felix da Costa

The Aguri squad sees ex-F1 team boss Aguri Suzuki and fellow members of the now defunct, but plucky underdog Super Aguri Formula One team re-emerge. Mark Preston is the team principal and technical director Peter McCool is a top shoe.

On the driver front, Legge has reinvented herself as one of racing’s more versatile drivers beyond her open-wheel career. She has taken up residence as one of the DeltaWing drivers, and also made a cameo in a Honda Civic Si at Road America. She should be able to come to grips with the new car rather well.

Da Costa, meanwhile, was famously passed over for a Scuderia Toro Rosso race seat this past fall while Daniil Kvyat got the nod. Since, the Portuguese driver has made it to DTM, but had a difficult season. He’ll miss the season opener due to his DTM commitments, and a familiar face to open-wheel racing aficionados is set to fill in.

ANDRETTI FORMULA E: Franck Montagny, TBA

One of two U.S. squads, Michael Andretti’s ever-expanding racing portfolio will now see an entry into FE. Knowing his propensity for success, it would be hard to imagine the team not being a contender.

Montagny is a solid, veteran shoe but limited in terms of recent open-wheel running. He made an IndyCar cameo at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and while he enjoyed himself, he mainly felt it important to reacclimatize after a five-year hiatus.

The second driver (or drivers) remain a mystery, as Andretti FE takes a page out of Dale Coyne’s playbook. Scott Speed (Red Bull Global Rallycross) and Matthew Brabham (Indy Lights) race for Andretti in 2014 and have already tested; likely these two and a combination of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti are possible to fill the void. Alternatively, Andretti could opt for a single European shoe for consistency’s sake. Stay tuned.

AUDI SPORT ABT: Lucas di Grassi, Daniel Abt

The Germans will likely be a force to be reckoned with. The Abt team has enjoyed a wealth of success in DTM and now head to the open-wheel ranks.

Di Grassi has relevant hybrid experience with his Audi sports car career in the team’s R18 e-tron quattro hybrid, and is another who’s reinvented himself since his F1 race career ended.

Young Abt has starred in GP2 and GP3, and this will be his first opportunity to make a major name for himself on a wider scale beyond the junior ranks. He made his name known to IndyCar teams in Fontana; expect they’ll be watching him closely this winter.

CHINA RACING: Nelson Piquet Jr., Ho-Pin Tung, Antonio Garcia (reserve)

Although the team has had experience in A1GP, Superleague Formula and FIA GT1, it’s still a bit of a mystery on the world stage. But it has a capable team principal in Adrian Campos.

Driving-wise, Piquet Jr. makes his open-wheel return after his recent experience has been in Red Bull Global Rallycross and NASCAR.

Tung is a solid second driver and could surprise. He’s done well in his international sports car outings this year, racing with OAK Racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Asian Le Mans Series. Garcia, when he gets the chance to race, should also make some noise.

DRAGON RACING: Jerome d’Ambrosio, Oriol Servia

The second U.S. team, Dragon Racing had a propensity to underachieve during its IndyCar career, although there were times Sebastien Bourdais punched above his weight over a two-year period. Jay Penske’s team does have a solid driver lineup, though.

D’Ambrosio never properly got to show what he could do in his F1 stint and while he hasn’t raced regularly the last two years, he could well surprise.

Servia, who will fill in for Mike Conway at least at Beijing if not for more, remains a dependable hand who rarely makes mistakes and almost always bags a result – usually without the TV cameras noticing.

e.DAMS-RENAULT: Nicolas Prost, Sebastien Buemi

If I had to pick an early season favorite, e.dams would be the team I’d monitor. Jean-Paul Driot has a stellar record in European junior formulae over 25-plus years; Alain Prost provides the necessary support alongside.

Both Prost and Buemi have made strides in sports car racing the last several years, Prost with Rebellion Racing and Buemi with the Toyota Hybrid program. They’re quick enough, young enough and determined enough to want to deliver. My only concern – and this affects both of them – is a mindset one since they’re both accustomed to sports car endurance races, and yet have to amp up for single-driver sprints now.

MAHINDRA RACING: Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna

Mahindra is partying like it’s 2010 and it’s actually called HRT, because Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna are teammates again. OK not really, but still, that’s going to be my go-to joke for this team this year until they deliver the results on paper.

Thing is, for both drivers, they’ve never had the top-flight opportunity either has deserved. Chandhok’s F1 stint was only that partial season with HRT and a one-off with Lotus (now Caterham) in 2011, and he’s had to make miracles happen with lesser rated co-drivers in LMP2 sports cars over the years.

Senna, meanwhile, has grown instrumentally the last few years after his post-HRT run. He was respectable at Renault (now Lotus) in 2011 and was more consistent with Williams in 2012. Since driving for Aston Martin in GTE in the FIA WEC, that’s where his career has really taken off. It remains to be seen whether he can reacclimatize back to an open-wheel car after his recent GT time; Chandhok may have the early edge. A fascinating inter-team battle to watch.

TRULLI: Jarno Trulli, Michela Cerruti

Give Jarno Trulli this – the Italian is certainly not lacking for ambition. But having completed a late takeover of the Drayson squad, although still using some Drayson electrical technologies, Trulli will likely find out quick that being a driver and being a co-team founder at the same time is a mammoth challenge.

And the concern is that this affects him behind the wheel, too. We’ll see how Trulli’s management structure works – but like for Ed Carpenter in IndyCar, it may take time for Trulli the driver to fully hit his form while Trulli the owner gets the team up and running.

Teammate Michela Cerruti is very much an unknown quantity. She’s raced AutoGP and the Blancpain Endurance Series, and does have podiums in both. Young and full of potential, but it remains to be seen how she’ll exploit it.

VENTURI: Nick Heidfeld, Stephane Sarrazin

The team has the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its four co-founders, and Venturi Automobiles have been a solid electrical vehicle leader in the marketplace.

Heidfeld and Sarrazin, like others, have specialized in sports cars after their F1 careers came to an end. They’re both solid, veteran shoes who don’t make many mistakes and have occasional speed to burn. Sarrazin should be quicker on paper, but Heidfeld could surprise. I’d be surprised if this team isn’t a winner in its first season.

VIRGIN RACING: Jaime Alguersuari, Sam Bird

Alex Tai is the team principal but Sir Richard Branson is the face of Virgin Racing, which re-appears on the motorsports scene after prior stints as Brawn GP sponsor and as the team precursor to what’s now known as Marussia.

Alguersuari has something to prove after being chewed up and spit out of F1 by Red Bull, via Toro Rosso. He’s still young enough – he’s only 24 – and will be motivated to succeed in this season.

Bird is one of racing’s rising stars. He was woefully unlucky to have never had a proper F1 shot after his GP2 career, and since has been ridiculously fast driving an AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia in GTE in the FIA WEC. We’ll see whether his natural speed can translate into FE this season.