16 drivers can still be Formula E champion – here’s what each must do to win
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Formula E's championship has gone down to the final, double-header weekend of the season every single year. But this year's field, after a run of eight different winners in the first eight races of the season, is exceptionally open even by FE standards – and the title is still up for grabs.
Going into the final three races, which start with the Swiss Eprix in Bern this Saturday, the magic number is 86.
There's a maximum of 87 points available to a driver in three Formula E races - 3 for the pole, 1 for the fastest lap (provided you finish in the top ten) and 25 for a race win. So any driver within 86 points of championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne is, unless he scores in Switzerland, within mathematical distance of the championship.
As things stand, that puts everyone as far back as sixteenth-placed Alexander Sims in the potential title fight, who gets comfortably within the 16 point minimum cut off with just a 78-point gap to JEV:
"Just" 78 points? Well, it's happened before - or nearly. If Lucas di Grassi had been anything like that close going into the Swiss round last year, held in Zurich, he might have been able to hold on to contention a little longer.
The Season 3 title winner was exactly 86 points back from Jean-Eric Vergne this time last season - languishing in sixth place in the championship after a faulty inverter left the first part of his season largely in the pits. But Di Grassi is, given the equipment to be, one of Formula E's most consistent racers and he staged a monumental comeback from this stage on.
DI Grassi won in Zurich – and a lot of drivers' chances will rest on that – while Vergne scored a single point, coming in tenth to take the Audi driver out of contention at last. But he finished second at the final points tally in New York, slicing through Sam Bird's lead – so 86 really is just a big number.
That was in a far less unpredictable season, of course. This year, of the top 16 drivers in Formula E only three of them are driving cars not already proven to be race-winning.
The two Nissan e.Dams drivers, Sebastien Buemi and Oliver Rowland, have three pole positions and three second place finishes between them but have yet to bag the top spot. While Stoffel Vandoorne, 15th in the championship standings with a 72-point gap to JEV, has taken his HWA AG to the podium in Rome and put it on pole in Hong Kong but never quite grabbed a win.
Every other driver amongst the top 16 contenders is in a car that they or their teammate have won in. Of the top 5, only Andre Lotterer hasn't secured a win himself and by all accounts, that seems only a matter of luck and timing given DS Techeetah's storming performances this season.
Fifth-placed Robin Frijns, who won his first Formula E race in Paris this season, is just 21 points behind JEV in the standings, compared to Sebastien Buemi last year, who was fifth placed at the same point in the season but 80 points behind.
Buemi would have needed a miracle in 2018 – all Frijns needs is a win on a bad day for JEV in Bern and he could be leading the championship into New York. And from the performances by both Envision Virgin cars, we know that's well within the realms of possibility.
Meanwhile Mitch Evans, who also won his first race this season when he took the top spot in Rome for Jaguar, is on 69 points – it might seem like a big gap to first place but 33 is absolutely not an impossibility to grab over three races. And although Bern is a different track to Zurich, Switzerland gave the Kiwi his first pole last year, complete with fetching cowbell trophy.
The Zurich super pole contenders last year, with Mitch Evans and his trophy for P1 - only Jerome D'Ambrosio would see the podium later, of the five. (Image: ABB FIA Formula E)
In fact, to get further away than a single bad weekend for the frontrunners to put you in serious contention, we'd have to look as far down the table as 11th and Sam Bird.
It's extremely rare for the 11th-placed driver in a championship to still be at any kind of risk of taking the championship. Even weirder, frankly, that that's Sam Bird – he's been in mathematical contention every year of the Formula E championship, going into the final rounds and in Season 4 was the only man left who had a realistic chance to stop JEV even by the time we got to Switzerland.
Speaking to him a few races ago, in Monaco, Sam still felt he could come back. "Yeah why not?
"I've had quite frankly a **** three races but I'm looking forward to putting that behind me and it's not like the lead of the championship is too far away.
"Last year I was second in the championship and I was 30 points back from the leader, this year I'm still within touching distance - all it needs is two good races in a row and you're there or thereabouts again."
Touching distance of the championship leader, demonstrated in New York last year. (Image: ABB FIA Formula E)
It might take a bit more than that for Bird, who needs to make up 46 points to JEV even assuming the reigning champion doesn't carve out a bigger lead. But then, Bird has a history of new tracks working to his advantage, like taking both wins in New York's Season 3 debut and none of us have been racing in Bern before.
Meanwhile the title leader needs to hang on. Di Grassi, Lotterer, Da Costa and Frijns are within close range of Vergne - if he wants to hold on and be Formula E's first ever two-time champion then he has a lot of competition and three as-ever-unpredictable races to go.
With thunderstorms forecast for Bern's early-evening Eprix this Saturday, it's could go to whoever rides the lightning.
And no one should feel safe. It would be the season turnaround to end all season turnarounds but promising rookie Maximilian Guenther is just 86 points back from second-place Lucas di Grassi. The young German driver is out of contention for the title but as Di Grassi himself has proven – that's no gap to worry about...
Both Di Grassi and Vergne have the form, of course, to take the title. When either of them is on a roll, they don't make big errors and with no obvious reliability issues on either car anyone else's best hopes might hinge on them crashing each other out.
But sport isn't worked out on paper beforehand, it's in the playing out of it all. Di Grassi shouldn't have won in Zurich, starting from outside Super Pole and with a replay of Lotterer and Evans' intense Rome fight ahead of him. Fate sometimes finds a way, though - and where it does, you can bet that someone as experienced as Di Grassi can follow.
One prominent Formula E journalist predicted Lotterer to take this season, months ago when we were still waiting on the Gen2 car's debut. He's the highest-ranked driver not to claim a win and with some tantalisingly near misses that just a percent more usable energy or a wisp of luck might have changed the order on, the third-placed driver certainly wouldn't be a fool's pick. He already looks well set to take the Voestalpine European championship for most podiums on the continental leg and that would hardly hurt Andre's chances of the global crown.
Not that Vergne is likely to give up easily. It will come down, as Formula E always has - and in spectacular ways, this season - to who can see a gap, an advantage, a moment of on-track quick thinking and make it work. If any bookies are taking bets, expect the odds to change every session from here until mid-July.