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Formula E Season Preview: Can Buemi and Renault defend their titles?

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HONG KONG – Three months on from Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi’s tense championship showdown in London, Formula E returns this weekend for the start of its third season.

The all-electric series has gone from strength-to-strength over the past couple of years, welcoming on board a number of the biggest names from the motorsport and automotive worlds.

Buemi clinched the second Formula E title by two points last time out in London, but he nor his renault e.dams team will have rested on their laurels over the off-season.

With pre-season testing completed at Donington Park and excessive private running also undertaken by all the teams, the stage is set for another thrilling season of racing.

2016-2017 FIA FORMULA E SEASON PREVIEW

Drivers and Teams

DS Virgin Racing
2. Sam Bird
37. Jose Maria Lopez (R)

NextEV NIO
3. Nelson Piquet Jr.
88. Oliver Turvey

Venturi
4. Stephane Sarrazin
5. Maro Engel (R)

Faraday Future Dragon Racing
6. Loic Duval
7. Jerome d’Ambrosio

Renault e.dams
8. Nicolas Prost
9. Sebastien Buemi

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
11. Lucas di Grassi
66. Daniel Abt

Mahindra Racing
19. Felix Rosenqvist (R)
23. Nick Heidfeld

Panasonic Jaguar Racing
20. Mitch Evans (R)
47. Adam Carroll (R)

Techeetah
25. Jean-Eric Vergne
33. Ma Qinghua

MS Amlin Andretti
27. Robin Frijns
28. Antonio Felix da Costa

The grid for season three gets a small shake-up with the arrival of five new drivers and some tweaks in the owernship and management of teams, as well as one big-name newcomer.

Of the incoming drivers, Jose Maria Lopez is perhaps the best-known following his hat-trick of WTCC titles with Citroen from 2014 to 2016. The Argentine replaces Jean-Eric Vergne – having nearly stepped in for him in Buenos Aires earlier this year – via the connection between Citroen and its sub-brand, DS.

Vergne in turn moves to the new Techeetah team, whch replaces Team Aguri. The Aguri operation had been running on a shoestring budget through season two, but now has a bright long-term future thanks to investment from China. Armed with Renault powertrains that are identical to the one used by e.dams, Vergne could be a dark horse with Techeetah.

Dragon Racing continues with both Loic Duval and Jerome d’Ambrosio for season three, with the team now enjoying a tie-up with EV development company Faraday Future. The same ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to drivers has been taken by Renault and ABT, both of whom retain their successful partnerships from season two. MS Amlin Andretti parted company with Simona de Silvestro after London, bringing in Antonio Felix da Costa by virtue of its new partnership with BMW.

NextEV has cut ties with Team China Racing (previously the ‘TCR’ in its name) for season three as part of a sizeable restructuring of the operation overseen by CEO Martin Leach. The fresh investment being made in the team is evident by the presence of a Formula 1-style race truck in testing and a new two-tier garage in Hong Kong, the first of its kind in the series.

At Mahindra, recent Indy Lights racer Felix Rosenqvist replaces Bruno Senna, the Swede having cut his teeth in F3 for the past five years and driven a wide variety of cars. DTM and GT racer Maro Engel also enters the series with Venturi in place of Mike Conway.

The biggest new name on the Formula E grid for season three is Jaguar. The British manufacturer returns to top-line international motorsport 12 years after its ill-fated F1 project ended with a renewed sense of optimism. Its first all-electric car, the I-Type, will be driven by Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans, both of whom may be series rookies but boast a wealth of experience and potential.

Calendar

1. Hong Kong – October 9
2. Marrakesh – November 12
3. Buenos Aires – February 18
4. Mexico City – April 1
5. Monaco – May 13
6. Paris – May 20
7. Berlin – June 10
8. Brussels – July 1
9. New York – July 15
10. New York – July 16
11. Montreal – July 29
12. Montreal – July 30

The calendar for season three acts as quite the diversion from season two. Gone are rounds in Beijing, Putrajaya, Punta del Este, Long Beach and London, while Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Brussels, Montreal and New York are set to debut, with Monaco also returning following a season’s break.

While the calendar does now venture to some important markets – most notably New York and Montreal – the omissions are somewhat glaring. After Hong Kong, the next most easterly race on the calendar is Berlin, while the loss of London following a long-running tussle with local officials is also a great shame.

Series CEO Alejandro Agag has always stressed that the season three calendar is one of ‘transition’. Between Marrakesh in November and Mexico City in April, there is just a single ePrix – any momentum in the early part of the season will be hard to sustain as a result.

Alas, from season four, we should have a more winter-centric calendar that packs additional races into the period when other series are on their break.

Team-By-Team Previews

Renault e.dams
As the defending champion team and with last year’s title-winning driver, expectations are high at Renault e.dams. Buemi and Prost have forged a potent partnership through the first two seasons of Formula E, and will be gunning for another big year. Maintaining the powertrain advantage over the rest of the field may prove difficult, given the expectation that the field will converge.

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
The challenge for ABT this year will be trying to overcome Renault before Audi steps up its work involvement from season four. Lucas di Grassi could feasibly have two Formula E titles to his name by now, yet he sitll seeks that elusive championship. Daniel Abt has been an adept number two, but will want to step out of that shadow this year.

DS Virgin Racing
Losing Jean-Eric Vergne may have been a blow to DSVR, but the arrival of Jose Maria Lopez is hardly a step down. Sam Bird has led its charge through season one and two, taking three race wins and wiping the floor with his teammates in the process. The switch from a twin-motor powertrain to a single-motor should boost the team’s chances as well.

Faraday Future Dragon Racing
Dragon has enjoyed two fairly similar seasons in Formula E thus far, both featuring one strong half and one weak one. If it can find some consistency, the driver pairing of d’Ambrosio and Duval is certainly capable of fighting for a title. The arrival of Faraday Future should also offer a boost to the operation (not just spice up its livery).

Mahindra Racing
Formula E fan-favorites Mahindra enjoyed a number of breakthrough results through season two, scoring its first podiums and taking the fight to many of its bigger rivals. Now the focus for Mahindra will be stepping up a gear and battling at the sharp end of the field on a more regular basis. The arrival of Rosenqvist is a huge coup for the team given his prowess in F3 and – notably for Formula E – street tracks.

Venturi
The arrival of German manufacturing giant ZF bodes well for Venturi in the future, but it may be a bit early in the relationship to see any significant progress for season three. Maro Engel’s acclimatization to single-seaters after spending so long in GTs and tin-tops will be worth tracking, while Stephane Sarrazin has been one of Formula E’s unsung heroes through its first two seasons.

MS Amlin Andretti
After hobbling through season two with a season one-spec powertrain, Andretti now has its in-house design working properly and geared up for the new campaign. The new technical partnership with BMW is also significant, teaming together two notable racing organizations. Robin Frijns and Antonio Felix da Costa will combine to form what is arguably the most exciting driver line-up on the grid.

Techeetah
Survival may have been the focus for Team Aguri through season two, but revival is now the name of the game at Techeetah. With significant backing secured and a flashy launch taking place in Hong Kong on Thursday, the team is gunning to spring a surprise. Renault powertrain in hand and JEV behind the wheel, keep an eye on them.

NextEV NIO
Like Techeetah, the focus for NextEV in season three is recovering from a difficult second campaign. Season one drivers’ champion Nelson Piquet Jr. returns alongside Oliver Turvey, the pair both capable of some excellent displays on occasion. With the processes completely overhauled – even down to the exercise each team member is completing – the team will want to return to the podium this year.

Jaguar Racing
Jaguar’s much-anticipated return to motorsport starts this weekend in Hong Kong, and expectations are high. Carroll and Evans both arrive with bags of experience and pace, while the operation is slickly-run even at such an early stage. Time will tell just how far Jaguar can get up the field this year – bearing in mind it is starting two years behind the other teams – but regardless of how it fares on-track, its arrival is significant for the series.

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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