A mostly-unchanged driver line-up has been confirmed for next week’s second round of the maiden Formula E season. (The only new face is Antonio Felix da Costa for Amlin Aguri, which was first reported here). That could mean that we’ll see fireworks from many of the drivers who failed to deliver in Beijing for one reason or another.
With the heat and humidity, with wounded egos to repair and vendettas to settle, the Malaysian race is going to be something of a Wild West showdown. The truncated schedule means a simple mistake can wipe out the whole day, and identical machinery means that even the least experienced racers have a chance against the front runners.
Here’s where we’re expecting the drivers to qualify; tell us your predictions in the comments below.
- Di Grassi’s dominoes: Lucas di Grassi was imperious in China. After swapping fastest times with Sebastien Buemi all through preseason testing, he went on to be fastest in FP1 and second-fastest in FP2 around the Bird’s Nest. He dropped back in the race after the pit stops, but remained in the hunt (even without using his Fanboost) and was rewarded for it. With the first Formula E victory in the bag, his confidence in himself, his team and his car will only be stronger next time out. Look out for the red, yellow and green of the Audi Sport ABT; it’s his race to lose.
- Buemi, brawler: The Swiss driver dominated all through the Donington tests and looked set to continue that form with the second-fastest time of FP1 in Beijing. And then it all fell apart. Well, his car did anyway, after being shunted into wall after wall. Come the race, he was out of position and off the boil. His car was last seen limping around the circuit with a broken rear wing, looking like a dejected dog with its tail between its legs. It was a day to forget for Buemi and the e.dams-Renault team. The Putrajaya circuit looks far more suited to his aggressive approach, however, and we expect to see the Red Bull protégée and endurance winner resurgent.
- The pink panther: Franck Montagny was sporting Wolverine-style sideburns in Beijing, and he brought his claws too. The Andretti driver goes about his business without fuss and without fanfare, but he’s always somewhere near the front and he’s got an early taste for the podium champagne.
- Senna stopped short: Another driver we didn’t see too much of was the curly-haired and irrepressibly cheerful Brazilian. He was consistently near the top of the pile throughout summer testing, but a series of technical gremlins with his car meant he never really got off the ground in China despite posting the fastest time of FP2. He did win the Fanboost vote, which could have helped him thread his way through the pack if not for that first-lap incident which wrecked his front suspension, and he’s got to be favourite to pick it up again (although we have heard that drivers fear Fanboost will be a hindrance in Putrajaya, by overheating the powertrain too quickly).
- Chinese whispers: Tung was widely expected to miss the Putrajaya race but will now attend. He was pretty feisty around the Beijing circuit, and was third-fastest in FP2.
- Chandhok? ChandHOT: The new drivers’ rep ran a solid race day in China. He could have finished P3 but for an overheating issue in the closing couple of laps that allowed Bird to surge past. The Mahindra and Carlin combo is shaping up to be a formidable presence.
- Taking wing: Both Bird and Alguersuari are in good form, but Bird loves street circuits and this one looks like a cracker. The team will be thinking strategically about the race which could alter the approach to quali.
- Branson’s boys: Alguersuari will want to make up for lost ground after he had technical issues in Beijing that made him look like he was driving in reverse. Virgin’s chief of technology is confident they’ll get on top of the problems which will give the Spaniard a fighting chance.
- Mind games: Daniel Abt had a good turn of speed in every session at the first Formula E event, and brought the car home in third in the race. He was penalised for exceeding the permitted battery consumption. That’ll be at the back of his mind when attacking the Malaysia circuit which may lead to slower, race-pace runs during the sole practice sessions, leaving him relatively unprepared for quali.
- The quiet American: (Well, the other Andretti driver anyway.) Pic needs to up the ante after being jumped by Montagny in Beijing in one of THE moves of the race. He’ll be sore about that and ready to get his elbows out, but his late appointment means he hasn’t racked up many miles and he’s yet to feel properly comfortable in the car.
- The silent man: We didn’t see much of Nelson Piquet Jr in China. That is, we saw his car on track a lot, but we rarely glimpsed the man himself out of his cockpit. Still, he showed decent pace and the team has clearly got to grips with the car.
- Sideways Sarrazin: the Frenchman has been scintillating in rallying and is fast in Formula E too. But will he have got too used to drifting to keep his Venturi pointing the right way on the tarmac? He finished in the points in China and will be looking for a repeat this time around.
- Antonio, Amlin’s secret weapon: We haven’t seen much from Felix da Costa in a Formula E race but what we have has been impressive. While there’s no doubting that FdC is properly fast, his limited time in the Spark-Renault could count against him (albeit that didn’t stop his stand-in, Sato, from setting the fastest lap of the race in Beijing). The team admits they’ve been struggling for quali pace too.
- Prost picks up the pieces: Buemi’s team mate, Prost junior, surprised everyone with a quali lap that looked tidy but slow but which ended up bagging pole. He then ran a near-faultless race that was only marred by that clumsy last minute move on Heidfeld. He’s carrying a 10 place grid penalty into this race.
- Breathing fire (sort of): D’Ambrosio is decently quick and the Dragon outfit has really stepped up. There’s still a significant deficit from the stop-start approach to preseason testing.
- Still quick Nick: Heidfeld bagged P6 in Beijing and then clever racecraft and pit stop strategies catapulted him into P2 before that flying crash. He’ll have a new car to shakedown in Malaysia, which will take time to iron out the gremlins and then get set up right.
- Breathing more fire: With that said, we’ll put Servia in here, which is about what we’d expect from the preseason sessions and FP stints at Beijing.
- The super team: We’re not exactly sure how, but Amlin seems to have amassed an army of very capable drivers, including reserve driver Fabio Leimer who is faster than lightning. Legge is going to have to work hard to keep her place – and Putrajaya is the perfect time to show she deserves the seat. If she wins the Fanboost nomination again, she’ll be looking for points.
- Champagne Supernova: Oasis may have sang it, but we don’t think Trulli (and the Super Nova operations team) is quite there yet. He’s still got some serious speed, but the team is a little way behind the others. The Italian also has a lot on his plate with overall team management as well as driving duties, but he’s shown he’s more than capable of multi-tasking so far.
- Cerruti on the charge: it’s probably unfair of us to rank Miki down here, and she’s measuring up well against a phalanx of vastly more experience drivers. But she will be recovering from back surgery which means she’ll have been off the road for weeks. That will be tough coming into the one day format. Practice in Putrajaya for a powerful performance in Punta, we reckon.