With the dust having now settled on the explosive season three finale in Montreal, the time has come for Current E to look back on the 2016/17 campaign and deliver the much-anticipated driver rankings.
Lucas di Grassi managed to edge out Sebastien Buemi for his maiden Formula E title two weeks ago, but does the Brazilian sit at the top of our tree? Read on to find out…
10. Nicolas Prost – Renault e.dams
Nicolas Prost’s season was hardly anything to write home about, yet his regular points-scoring was crucial in giving Renault e.dams a third straight teams’ title.
Prost was regularly on the fringes at the front of the pack, taking P4 in each of the first three races, but that proved to be the high point of his season. While points were brought home in every single race – even when he retired in the final Montreal round, he took the fastest lap – Prost rarely threatened the front-runners despite having the quickest car on the grid.
Perhaps the most disappointing moment in Prost’s season came in New York, when he was soundly outpaced by debutant Pierre Gasly. Nevertheless, the Frenchman did enough for P6 in the final standings, and his contribution – crucially – was greater than that of Daniel Abt to ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, delivering a third teams’ crown in the process.
9. Mitch Evans – Jaguar Racing
Life was always going to be tough for Jaguar during its debut Formula E season given the short lead-up time it had to get everything together and design its powertrain, but there was a definite weight of expectation on the shoulders of both Mitch Evans and Adam Carroll.
While Carroll struggled throughout the campaign, reaching the points just twice, Evans was able to lead the Big Cat’s charge, winning the teammate battle 6-2 in races both finished.
The highlight of Evans’ season was a fourth-place finish in Mexico City, capitalising on the chaos that unfolded in the closing stages, while his run to seventh in Montreal was also massively impressive.
Considering Jaguar’s limitations, Evans did a stellar job throughout season three, securing himself a place inside our top 10.
8. Robin Frijns – MS Amlin Andretti
Season three was a difficult one for Andretti, sitting firmly on the fringes of the top 10 all things being equal. While Antonio Felix da Costa struggled, taking points only in Hong Kong, Frijns was able to dig deep and bring home a tidy haul of points on a regular basis.
Frijns’ run to sixth in Hong Kong was thanks to an inspired strategy call, and came after a qualifying smash that meant his second car was only repaired just four minutes before he pitted. His strongest showing came in Paris when he punched well above his weight to qualify and finish inside the top 10, losing fifth after a time penalty.
A pair of P9s in New York and a run to eighth on Saturday in Montreal is hardly much to shout about, yet it was more than Andretti could really have hoped for. While da Costa struggled to rise above the midfield mire, Frijns was able to more often than not.
Once again, Frijns proved why he is one of motorsport’s brightest stars. The fact he’s unlikely to be with Andretti next year due to the BMW deal is disappointing, particularly given how highly the American team rates him.
Got a seat free for season four? You need to get on the phone to Robin Frijns.
7. Jose Maria Lopez – DS Virgin Racing
Jose Maria Lopez’s arrival in Formula E was subject to much fanfare given his title success in the World Touring Car Championship and the Citroen/DS links, yet a points haul of little more than half of teammate Sam Bird’s suggests it was an underwhelming debut campaign.
The maths belie the performances, though. Lopez was on the pace from the very beginning, qualifying third in Hong Kong and in contention at the front of the pack before a suspension failure sent him into the wall. A quiet run followed, but his second-place finish in Paris was very well-taken, as was his charge to the podium at the final race in Montreal.
Like Bird, Lopez’s points haul was limited by the struggles DS Virgin faced through the year. What’s more is that he missed two of the four races where the team was really on the pace when he was forced to skip New York to complete his FIA World Endurance Championship duties with Toyota at the Nurburgring. Bird racked up 53 points there; the gap between the two was 57 in the final standings.
A solid start to life in Formula E and back in single-seaters from Lopez. The focus will now be on securing a seat for season four and taking things up a notch.
6. Nick Heidfeld – Mahindra Racing
Nick Heidfeld was as dependable as ever for Mahindra through season three, acting as a fine teammate for rookie Felix Rosenqvist and picking up a healthy haul of points.
Five podiums – all third-place finishes – came about as Heidfeld capitalised on opportunities that came his way, rarely putting a foot wrong. Buenos Aires was his only really flat weekend, with his DNFs in New York and Montreal not being of his own doing.
Heidfeld may have lacked the outright pace of Rosenqvist through season three, yet he proved just why he remains one of the best assets in Formula E. If he can squeeze a bit more out of the car through season four and opportunities come his way, Heidfeld could yet finally ascend to the top step of the podium.
5. Sam Bird – DS Virgin Racing
Sam Bird’s season three display was a near-repeat of those from season one and two: consistent for the most part, outstanding on occasion, perhaps deserving of a better championship finish.
Bird was in the mix from the start in Hong Kong, leading until a dud strategy call caused him to drop down the pack, and his showings in Marrakesh and Mexico were also proof that DS Virgin had a quick package.
Things just weren’t clicking for Bird and the team, with a rough weekend in Berlin – a pair of seventh-place finishes – being evidence of that. But in the struggles there was solace as the team got to the root of its problems.
What followed was one of the most dominant weekends we’ve seen in Formula E. Bird took control in New York, taking two wins and a pole to rack up a mighty 53 points, catapulting himself into the race for P3 in the drivers’ championship. The pace was there again in Montreal, but issues once again held Bird back, preventing him from fighting at the very sharp end of the order.
Whether he’ll still be at DS Virgin for season four remains to be seen – but if any team wants an experienced ringer to lead its charge, it can’t go far wrong with Sam Bird.
4. Jean-Eric Vergne – Techeetah
Joining what was essentially a brand new team may have looked like a risk for Jean-Eric Vergne, but it proved to be a masterstroke as he enjoyed his best season in Formula E to date.
From the word go, Vergne was on the pace, lighting up the timesheets in testing and carrying the pace through the Hong Kong as Techeetah put its customer Renault powertrain to very good use. An issue on his first car ultimately resigned Vergne to retirement, and an even more galling loss followed in Marrakesh when a pit wall cock-up meant he could take no part in Super Pole despite setting the fastest time in the heats.
When Vergne finally had a clean, issue-free weekend, he was devastating. He was only beaten in Buenos Aires by Buemi, who had a strong package, while his loss to Lucas di Grassi in Mexico was not for want of trying (well, if you ask JEV, it was all Jerome d’Ambrosio’s fault…).
Victory finally arrived at the final race of the year in Montreal, Vergne having racked up six second-place finishes in the series up to that point. It was Vergne’s first win in any series since 2011, and proved what we knew all season long: he has what it takes to fight for the championship.
With the experience of the debut season now under its belt, Techeetah should come back stronger next year – as should Vergne.
3. Sebastien Buemi – Renault e.dams
Six wins from eight classified finishes and second in the overall standings, yet just third in our rankings? Maybe this is a little harsh on Sebastien Buemi.
There can be no denying Buemi’s star quality and his dominance at stages through this season. He became the first driver to take three straight wins in Formula E to kick-start the season, fighting his way through on all three occasions. Monaco and Paris were more dominant, with his success in the former coming despite significant pressure from Lucas di Grassi in the closing stages.
But when it mattered, the pressure really got to Buemi. Mexico was a clear example when he spun while trying to fight back from a slow pit stop, costing him crucial points, yet his collapse in Montreal was something else. The crash in FP2 set the tone for a fruitless, pointless weekend just when it mattered the most, giving di Grassi the chance to snatch the title away.
Buemi always knew he would end up missing both of the New York races, with Toyota making clear his commitments in the WEC had to come first. As such, he had to capitalise on every single opportunity that came his way – and he failed to do so.
Buemi was spectacular for much of the season, but blundersome at crucial stages. Bear in mind that even discounting di Grassi’s New York points, Buemi would still not have won the title…
2. Felix Rosenqvist – Mahindra Racing
Felix Rosenqvist was an absolute revelation in Formula E this season. While the Swede may have arrived with a CV littered with success and plaudits from pretty much everyone who has encountered him, few expected him to take to Formula E quite as quickly as he did.
Rookie errors were to be expected, as seen in Hong Kong where a ding with the wall cost him a shot at a debut podium, but Rosenqvist rallied in emphatic fashion by taking pole in Marrakesh – just his second race. The better pace of both Buemi and Bird’s cars meant Rosenqvist had to settle for third, but enough of a statement had been made.
Rosenqvist’s finest hour came in Berlin when he enjoyed a run on the field – even the seemingly-omnipotent Buemi – for the entire weekend. Had it not been for a questionable drive-through penalty, he’d have sewn up a weekend double; alas, he had to settle for one victory.
Mahindra’s package was decent through season three, but not comparable to ABT and Renault. The fact that Rosenqvist not only finished third but, with his rookie errors ironed out, could have feasibly been in contention for the championship, proves just how incredible his season was.
We’re left with two takeaways from Rosenqvist’s season. Firstly, he will be a title contender next year so long as the car is half-decent. Secondly, Formula E should enjoy having him as part of the paddock for as long as possible. His quality is such that bigger things – seemingly IndyCar – may come calling down the line.
1. Lucas di Grassi – ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Buemi’s no-show in New York may have raised questions about the credibility of Lucas di Grassi’s championship win, but it really shouldn’t. Ultimately, di Grassi was the better driver in season three; even Buemi said as much himself.
At the heart of di Grassi’s championship win was his greatest strength throughout his Formula E career: consistency. His lowest finish was seventh at the final race in Montreal, and he had very few bad races. Perhaps the only big blot throughout his season was Paris when his race seemed somewhat desperate.
Di Grassi was quiet in both New York races and in Marrakesh, but otherwise was a potent force. His Herculean fightbacks in Hong Kong and, most notably, Mexico were key to his title win, the latter arguably being the greatest victory Formula E has seen. His Saturday rout in Montreal was more important, though, swinging the momentum decisively in his favour.
Buemi may have entered two less races – although even when removing di Grassi’s New York points, he’s still champion by two points – and been disqualified twice, but error-strewn weekends opened the door for his perennial rival to take away his crown.
That’s why di Grassi tops our list as well as the championship standings. Sure, he won just a third of the races Buemi did, and maybe never quite reached the heights the Swiss driver did, but there were few lows – and never as low as Buemi’s were.
The deciding factor? How to act under pressure. Di Grassi rarely got flustered, as he may have had every right to in Hong Kong and Mexico. Instead he soaked it up and turned it into another level of performance – the mark of a true, deserving champion.