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Formula E: Who can challenge champion Vergne?

For reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah), it’s been a long five months. After clinching his first championship title at the 2017/18 ABB FIA Formula E Championship finale in New York City back in July, the Frenchman has been waiting patiently for the chance to do it all again.

The only issue? He’s got 21 other drivers all vying for the same title.

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But, in just a matter of days – on December 15 – there will be no more waiting or wondering as we embark on a whole new era of Formula E. Welcome, one and all, to the 2018 SAUDIA Ad Diriyah E-Prix – the first round of a new season of the closest, most intense racing series on the planet. Buckle up, folks and prepare for battle – here’s the story of the 2018/19 season so far.

Who can challenge the Champion

Testing, testing

With pre-season testing marking the start to the season, we headed out to the Circuit Ricardo Tormo outside Valencia, Spain to witness all 22 new Gen2 cars run for the very first time. And, true to Formula E form, there were more than a few surprises.

After finishing the 2017/18 championship at the back of the grid, with just 24 points, Andretti Motorsport’s association with German manufacturer BMW has blossomed into a full works squad for the fifth season. With that, the newly named BMW i Andretti Motorsport appears to have made a miraculous return to form, topping the timesheets for all three days of testing.

More specifically, the team’s rookie driver Alexander Sims outdrove his seasoned teammate (Antonio Felix da Costa), posting the fastest times for two out of the three days. Beginners luck, the might of a manufacturer or was everyone else holding back? Very soon, all will be revealed.

Vergne: The biggest threat is myself

For our reigning champ and DS Techeetah driver, you’d think there was nothing but pressure going into a new season with a title to defend but no, the colourful Frenchman begs to differ.

“Everybody is looking competitive. I expect this season to be very tough and tight. I think everyone is a threat but mainly myself,” he said during pre-season testing. “If I make a mistake, it doesn’t matter what the others do – I won’t score points.”

“I need to focus on myself and do the best job possible. Then, depending on how good my car is, I should be in a good position.”

With a total of four wins, six podiums and not a single retirement over the course of the 2017/18 season, the Frenchman clinched the championship title one race early in New York City, finishing up with 198 points to his name. The question is, can he do it again?

It’s all about strategy

If you thought things were starting to get interesting last season, brace yourself for 2018/19, which sees the introduction of Attack Mode. Now every driver can pick up an extra hit of power (25kW) on track at their own risk.

To fire up Attack Mode, drivers will need to arm their car, drive off the racing line and through the Activation Zone. It’s only here that they’ll be able to collect an extra 25 kW of power. Drivers that secure the extra speed, can engage Attack Mode for a few laps when they want to race harder, giving them the edge to keep ahead of the competition.

With the number of times a driver can pick up Attack Mode decided just an hour before the race starts, say goodbye to any long-term race strategies.

On top of that, FanBoost returns for Formula E’s fifth season, only the top five most voted for drivers will be awarded the extra 25kW of power (increasing from three). While the car swaps might have gone with the introduction of the longer-lasting, more powerful Gen2 cars, Formula E is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

https://youtu.be/3WwoOFSfOug

Closer competition, more unpredictability

Thought last season was unpredictable? Think again. With the likes of Felipe Massa, Stoffel Vandoorne, Pascal Wehrlein, Alexander Sims, Maximillian Guenther, Gary Paffett, Tom Dillmann and Oliver Rowland joining the championship this season, it’s getting tough at the top – extremely tough indeed.

After a baptism of fire, Andre Lotterer returns with DS Techeetah to embark on his second Formula E season. Stepping up the challenge in the 2017/18 season, Lotterer took to inner-city street racing and began to challenge even the most seasoned drivers for their place on the podium, namely his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.

Speaking ahead of the first race at testing, the German driver “every driver in the world wants to be here,” and looking at the team sheet today, it seems he was right. Welcome to the class of 2018/19 – who are you backing?

Major departures

Back in the summer, we waved goodbye to Nico Prost, who had raced all 45 E-Prix prior to his series’ departure at the end of last season. Felix Rosenqvist will be another notable absentee, although the Swede returns for the season opener in Saudi Arabia for Mahindra due to Pascal Wehrlein delaying his debut until January. Both Prost and Rosenqvist left the series having claimed three E-Prix wins apiece.

Also gone since the end of last season are Maro Engel (Venturi Formula E), Alex Lynn (Envision Virgin Racing), Luca Filippi (NIO Formula E), Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra Racing), Stephane Sarrazin (Andretti) and Ma Qing Hua (NIO Formula E).

Breaking new ground

With a new season come new city circuits and for the first time ever, Formula E will bring international motorsport to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the series takes to the track skirting the ancient city of Ad Diriyah, once home to the country’s royal family.

Racing in the ancient surroundings of Ad Diriyah, all 22 Gen2 cars and drivers will take to the 2.495km track to battle for the first victory of the season. With 21 twists and turns, the drivers will skirt the historic town walls before heading back towards the start/finish line in the heart of the district.

It’s a testing track with plenty of undulation, so expect the usual amount of unpredictability and close combat. Well, this is Formula E after all.

2018/19 Formula E: New era, new cars and innovations