The seven greatest drives in Formula E ever
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It's easy enough to talk about why Formula E is cool: it's got close racing, tight competition, highly skilled drivers who make the difference, a broad field of people who can win. It's everything motorsport should be.
But somewhere along the line of explaining (yet again) why actually, the decibel level of the cars doesn't affect what's happening on track, it's a bit easy to lose what the best bits really are. So in no particular order, I've picked the best drives – ever – in Formula E, so far.
1. Sam Bird – Buenos Aires, Season 2 (win)
The Buenos Aires Eprix (or Baeprix, for those close to it) has generated some really exciting racing every time we've been there. Whether it's the sharp twistiness of the track giving even the least efficient cars a chance to pounce on any errors ahead of them, or just the potential for any mistake at all to cost heavily and shake up the grid, it's never been anything but unpredictable.
The pre-race attention in Buenos Aires in 2016 had been on Bird's teammate, with Jean-Eric Vergne publicly fighting the team to be allowed to drive after a hospitalisation. With a presumably somewhat strained atmosphere in the garage, race day hadn't quite started as usual.
Nevertheless, Bird held his nerve where championship leader Sebastien Buemi didn't, scoring pole position while the dominant Renault e.Dams driver span out of qualifying contention altogether. Bird might have seemed safe from Buemi, at opposite ends of the grid, if not for a mid-race safety car that saw the pack bunch up after car-swapping pit stops and Buemi's charge to the front become seemingly inexorable.
After fighting Da Costa, Prost and Di Grassi for the whole race, with a car that increasingly seemed to have a mind of its own under extreme temperature pressure, Bird was forced to drive flawlessly to the end of the race to fend off Buemi. Rarely further than inches apart from each other and equal on energy, Bird's defensive control to the end showed a sheer focus that's impossible to fault.
The battle was as fierce as any of them get in Formula E – which is to say an elbows-out, right-on-the-edge street fight, but ended with nothing but extreme respect between the two, a mark of why Bird is considered one of the absolute best drivers in the championship.
2. Lucas di Grassi – Mexico City, Season 3
It's possibly the most dramatic race Formula E has ever had, albeit that's a bit difficult to quantify. Oliver Turvey had grabbed pole with an outstanding performance on his 30th birthday. He looked set to lead the race – potentially, to a win – before car failure took him out of contention.
Meanwhile, a torrid qualifying had seen Di Grassi outpaced by the then-backmarking Jaguars (more on them later) and stuck at the back of the grid. A lap 2 incident saw the Brazilian forced into the pits for a complete rear wing change – no quick jaunt, even under yellow flags.
It looked as though all was lost when a wild strategy call saw Di Grassi pit to change cars on just lap 16 – an opportunity under safety the car, but one which put him at the back and with a steep energy management challenge ahead of him.
D'Ambrosio had also pitted - but was rapidly running out of charge. A frustrated Di Grassi harried the Dragon until he was eventually forced to retire but managed to eke nearly three quarters of the race distance out of charge intended to go half that and take the chequered flag.
3. Nick Heidfeld – Hong Kong, Race 1, Season 4 (3rd)
Heidfeld is a bit of a dark horse in terms of Formula E's most memorable drivers – his aerial crash at the very first race is probably one of the most famous bits of footage from the series, but having never quite scored a win, he's not necessarily given the credit he deserves.
Much more than a jobber, Nick pushed forwards Mahindra's development programme in the series (and continues to do so now) and despite being forty one at the time of this race, was never cruising. He'd qualified third at Season 4's inaugural Hong Kong round and not only held onto the position with dogged intent but made it very obvious he not only intended to take Vergne's second - and Bird's first - spot but that he was livid about some of the tactics JEV had to employ to stop him.
Bird was able to bag Vergne (who'd scored pole by spinning backwards over the line earlier that day) relatively early - and a dramatic pit stop left the focus mostly on the DS Virgin driver for a lot of the race but the real battle was a short way behind him.
A muted podium - Heidfeld and Vergne were debating with each other and Bird had been penalised - ABB Formula E
Heidfeld not only didn't give up harassing Vergne – who's notoriously difficult to overtake – but reeled him in for the entire race, the pair furiously debating it immediately after. To show the Mahindra powertrain going up alongside the then-Renault-powered Techeetah was not only a colossal statement for the team but a fierce declaration that Heidfeld wasn't heading for a twilight drive that year.
He might not have eventually made it around Vergne but putting the man who'd become the season's champion under such pressure was more than enough to confirm he was still one extremely Quick Nick.
4. Jean-Eric Vergne – Montreal, Race 2, Season 3 (win)
Before Formula One recently got on board with it, Formula E were throwing pit lane tantrums in Montreal years ago. It was the site of the dramatic end of Season 3 and of a lot of things changing in the series.
Banners announcing Mercedes and Porsche's arrival were festooned across the track - and some change in the atmosphere felt like things were about to get very, very big indeed. It was a tipping point moment for a lot of things, probably most noticeably the championship as seemingly invincible Buemi crashed his way out of FP2 and Di Grassi's season-long campaign delivered the title.
But it was also a very specific turning point for one Formula E driver. No one's ever doubted JEV is fast – it was obvious when he arrived in Punta del Este to get in a car he'd never seen before and put it straight on pole.
JEV had struggled across the year, though; crushing retirements in Monaco and Paris seemed to have left him licking his wounds and by the final race in Montreal, he'd gone another almost-full season without scoring his debut win. Everyone believed he probably could do it – he'd got a Renault powertrain and certainly knew how to drive it, it just seemed he couldn't ever quite prove the theory.
This year, he told me it was pivotal, "The win in Montreal was very important to me, because that was where I gained everything and I had a super good summer afterwards, the team and everybody was extremely motivated and after that race, we knew we were in the game for the championship the season after.
"I found my position, like I had in junior categories, I was more confident and more experienced. It was a difficult turnaround and I’m ok. I don’t make the same mistake as before, that when you achieve something good you lose focus and think you’re the king of the world; I won last year but the day after, I was thinking about this season. And try not to take yourself too seriously, as well."
5. Mitch Evans – Rome, Season 5 (win)
Mitch Evans came into Formula E as an unknown. He'd been GP3 champion in what a lot of people considered a standout year, fighting off Da Costa and Abt for the title but he'd then never quite shown what he could do in GP2, missed out on any Formula One opportunities and reappeared alongside the more notable Adam Carroll for Jaguar's debut season.
He went on to score the manufacturer's first point – for the fastest lap in Berlin that year – their first podium (albeit off-track, following Daniel Abt's disqualification in Hong Kong at the start of Season 4) and their first pole, in Zurich.
But he'd never got the win. Mitch's frustration was obvious – every time I spoke to him, he was visibly stressed by the need to perform both for himself and for a manufacturer who'd left a lot riding on Formula E. The pressure was on – and the hunger for success, to prove himself and the team's efforts weren't for nothing, was gnawing.
Rome had been his track, the previous season. An energy miscalculation saw Evans lose an epic battle for the lead with Di Grassi and Lotterer to crawl home at the back of the points but if there was a track he had a chance at, it was surely here.
Fending off Andre Lotterer is no mean feat. Keeping your head – and your control of a timed race – isn't either. Mitch didn't drive flawlessly; a miss on the Attack Mode activation zone saw him heart-in-mouth close to being got by Lotterer but he managed to pull it back, keep things clean and to pull the rest of the race together out of what seemed like a fatal error.
Rome is a long track, it was a difficult race; a good metaphor for finally getting that win.
6. Sebastien Buemi – Punta del Este, Season 1 (win)
Goodness me, this feels like a long time ago now. But way back in Season 1, the whole Formula E circus packed up and headed to a remote peninsula in Uruguay.
It was early days, the championship still settling in and the then-spec cars (for the first season, every car ran the same powertrain supplied by the championship) were still being worked on and out by every team and driver.
JEV had roared into the championship, making his debut for Andretti at the front of the pack but fellow former Toro Rosso driver Buemi was not to be outdone. It's maybe not a race huge numbers of people remember - the time difference to Uruguay put it at a deeply antisocial hour and the racing was relatively unknown at the time.
But it showed what was to come: Sebastien Buemi, the driver who has won the most Formula E races of any, showed typically relentless speed and tactical resilience. Despite an error on Full Course Yellow timing meaning Buemi backed himself right on to the waiting Di Grassi, Buemi came back from having clipped the wall not once but twice during earlier sessions and held on for the win.
7. Pascal Wehrlein – Santiago, Season 5
This year's rookies came in with baggage, for the most part. Faltering Formula One careers, questions about their adaptability... Pascal Wehrlein carried more than most into the championship after a clash with DTM testing forced him to miss the first round.
It's no mean feat, coming into a field as competitive as Formula E. And Wehrlein's relatively high profile meant he was under scrutiny from the start that some other drivers might have escaped.
If there was any question, however, Santiago should have shut them up. It was an impossibly hot race – the battery temperatures that no one expected to have to manage this season were flying out of control with air temperature somewhere above unbearable and the pit lane hot enough to cook on.
Wehrlein celebrates with his Mahindra team in Santiago after holding on to a second-place finish - ABB Formula E
Formula E cars are physical; with no power steering and the car weighing nearly a tonne, it's more than many of us would be able to get round a corner at all. Add temperatures in the mid-40s on the grid and you have a furious game ahead of thermal maths, at speed, in a sauna.
Any rookie could have been forgiven for finding it tough – but Wehrlein pushed on for the best possible finish right to the end. And then was, despite heated protests, levelheaded enough to understand when the team told him to back off, to save the car – temperatures too critical to continue fighting for regenerative energy or pushing the powertrain.
Being able to win is one thing – but bringing the car home the absolute best you can is a mark of true maturity and shows how much drivers manage during a race. Wehrlein might not have snatched the win – but he showed it's only a matter of time.