The 2017/18 FIA Formula E Championship is going down to the wire as DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird chases Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne in the title-deciding finale double-header on the streets of New York this weekend.
At the start of the 2017/18 Formula E season, not many would have put in the money for Vergne as the winner of the Season 4 considering the form of reigning champion Audi’s Lucas di Grassi and former champion Renault’s Sebastien Buemi in the previous years.
The Frenchman actually did well towards the end of last season and was tipped to be a strong contender sure, but to win the whole thing, it wasn’t very certain especially since Techeetah is eventually a customer team to Renault.
However, here we are after 10 races with Vergne leading the championship as he heads into the season finale double-header in New York. He sits on top with 163 points, with the closest challenger and the only possible contender, Bird is on 140.
They are 23 points apart and there’s 58 points up for grabs in the two races which includes points for pole positions and fastest laps. Such has been the dominance of Vergne and Techeetah that it has blown away even the factory team as Buemi is fourth with 92 points.
Vergne and Bird are absolutely the deserving candidates as well. Both have had a consistent run all-through the season. For Bird, the car hasn’t been a given winner on all the circuits but his knack of taking podiums and points has earned him the second position.
The two along with Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist were the only drivers to have any chance after the early part in the season. However, the Swede’s double DNF and patchy results meant he fell away – and now sits even behind di Grassi and Buemi.
At one point, Rosenqvist was leading the championship but he finds himself in fifth with 86 points and could lose the place to Audi’s Daniel Abt who is right behind him on 85. Anyways, that is not the battle to hinder the fight between Vergne and Bird.
Bird started the season with a bang after taking a victory in the season-opener in Hong Kong where Vergne finished second. It was then Vergne who finished fourth in the second race of the weekend with the former just behind in fifth.
The British driver kept on the advantage with a podium in Morocco where Vergne was only fifth but a victory in Chile helped the Frenchman to gain the lost points where Bird was only 17th – and as things stand currently, the Santiago ePrix is one of the key differences between the two.
Bird still kept the pressure in the next three races though with three podiums which included a win in Rome, but Vergne’s double win in Uruguay and Paris along with a fifth place in Rome meant he was still the man to beat heading into the closing stages of the season.
It was a back and forth scenario in Germany and Switzerland with Vergne taking third in the former race with Bird in seventh, while the British driver took second in the latter when the Frenchman was only 10th – interestingly, Zurich was the first race in the season where Vernge finished anywhere below fifth.
Statistically, Vergne has more wins with three to his name and two podiums outside it, but Bird has made up slightly with four podiums apart from the two wins he has. Just on the basis of race results, the difference between the two would have been 11 points.
But it is Formula E, where points are awarded for pole positions and fastest laps as well, which is where Vergne has built a good advantage with four poles in the season, helping him to accumulate 11 extra points to Bird’s only one for the fastest lap.
While the victory in Santiago could be termed as the turning point for Vergne in the title battle, but it was the race in Mexico which actually made the difference. Bird entered Santiago with a seven points advantage over Vergne and left the race being 11 behind.
The race in Mexico damaged it even further where Bird scored nothing to Vergne’s 10, thereby making it a 20 points advantage. And Vergne continued on extending his run in the next three races even though Bird managed to finish on podium.
It shot up to 32 but Vergne’s troublesome outing in the last race in Zurich made the difference as Bird managed to trim it down to 23, taking out nine points from Vergne’s lead in the two races. However, the advantage still stays with Vergne.
Even though Bird made it a double in last year’s races in America but the layout has been altered this season which Bird thinks won’t play to their advantage as it will require more efficiency which has been lacking in their car this year.
Vergne wasn’t too bad either in New York last year as he finished second and eighth respectively. But it is still all to play for! For Bird this will be his first chance to take the Formula E title and deservedly though after finishing fifth, fourth and fourth respectively in the last three seasons.
There’s no doubt that Bird has been the most consistent driver outside di Grassi and Buemi in the Formula E series. Vergne with all the team changes he has had, has also been improving having finished seventh, ninth and fifth in the three previous seasons.
One thing is certain though that whoever wins at the end of Sunday, he will be a first-time Formula E champion – following on from Nelson Piquet Jr, Buemi and di Grassi.
Rest of the pack and the teams’ battle:
Behind the Top 2, it will be a close fight in the Top 5 as well. Now both di Grassi and Buemi didn’t have the best of the starts like Rosenqvist. The Swede had two wins in the first four races before he fell apart.
Even Buemi had some form behind in the early part, whereas di Grassi only had his first points of the season in Round 4 in Mexico. And since then, he has gathered five podiums including a victory – thereby shooting himself to third with 101 points.
His arch rival Buemi is behind him with 92 points, but he has no race wins to his name apart from the three podiums. Rosenqvist’s faltered form helped Abt to close in as one point separates the two – the latter scoring two wins as well.
All the four drivers will be eyeing to finish third in the standings. But interestingly, they also have the chance to even topple Bird from second position, at least mathematically. Sixth placed Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans with 60 points is long way off from this though.
Meanwhile, the Formula E teams’ championship also has Techeetah on top with 219 points and they are 33 ahead of Audi while 62 from DS Virgin and 103 from early table leaders Mahindra. There’s a good chance for the Chinese outfit to take both the titles.