F1 to FE Racers – Automatic Success?
Formula E entered its fifth season in 2018, and the all-electric racing league doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Despite its success since debuting in 2014, Formula E is still fighting for a strong foothold in motorsports.
Formula One, the well-established race organization Formula E is competing against, attracted nearly 200,000 spectators per race last season. While Formula E has attracted a younger set of race fans, it is still fighting to draw comparable numbers on race days.
One area in which Formula E has attempted to build its reputation is through its pool of drivers. A number of ex-Formula One racers are now competing in the all-electric race series. Jean-Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi, Pascal Wehrlein, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Felipe Massa all traded in their careers in Formula One to drive on the growing Formula E circuit.
Formula 1 is notorious for snatching race seats away from drivers a little early. The stakes are high, and often times, teams are not patient with drivers who don’t perform at a high level. For some of the drivers, a change of scenery may have done them good. Others have not fared quite so well.
Formula E hasn’t been a walk in the park for all of the ex-Formula One drivers. Just because these men once drove for McLaren, Ferrari, or Sauber doesn’t mean they’ll have automatic success in all-electric racing.
DS Techeetah Formula E Team driver Vergne left Formula One at the end of 2014. Vergne’s Formula 1 days ended when Toro Rosso released him. According to a May 2019 interview with Reuters, Vergne stated that leaving Formula One was the best thing for his career.
Now in his fifth season in Formula E, Vergne is one of the motorsport’s best drivers. He won the Formula E Championship in 2017-18 with DS Techeetah and currently sits in first place in the driver standings. With the season coming to a close, Vergne can win his second straight Formula E title and prove his move to the younger race circuit was a great idea.
Vergne has been able to showcase his driving ability, and there is no doubt he will be the driver every team wants to sign when his current contract expires in 2020. Verge’s success in 2017-18 piqued the interest of a Formula One team who pursued signing the former Toro Rosso driver. However, a deal did not materialize between both parties. Formula One’s loss has been Formula E’s gain as Vergne closes in on a second straight title.
Like Vergne, Buemi left Formula One for Formula E not long after losing his Toro Rosso seat. Prior to the inauguration of Formula E, he became a Red Bull test/reserve driver, but he never got back to gaining an F1 seat. Buemi finished second in his first season in the all-electric race league for e.dams Renault. He won the championship a year later before another second-place finish in year three.
However, Buemi is Formula E’s most successful driver. He has recorded 12 wins in 53 race starts while achieving 23 podiums. Although he hasn’t had a great 2018-19, Buemi’s place, for now, should be secure in the motorsport.
Wehrlein spent his time in Formula One with Manor and Sauber in 2016 and 2017, respectively. After losing his seat at Sauber, Wehrlein moved to Mercedes as a test driver. Prior to that, he drove for the Mercedes DTM team and won the competition in 2015.
With Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas solidly set in the Mercedes Formula One team, Wehrlein had no chance of unseating either. A move to Formula E’s Mahindra Racing has allowed Wehrlein to compete and possibly impress Formula One teams.
Reports claim Wehrlein is focused on returning to Formula One after the current season. He has been on a long list of candidates to drive for Toro Rosso next season after missing out on the seat in 2019.
Wehrlein’s Formula E career has been brief and short on wins. He has one podium to show for ten race starts. Will his performance impress a Formula One team for 2020? More importantly, has he done enough to make Mahindra Racing have a desire to bring him back?
For now, Wehrlein’s racing future may be solely based in Formula E.
Vandoorne was dropped by McLaren for the 2019 Formula One season. The Belgian finished back to back Formula One seasons in 16th place, which influenced McLaren to go with the duo of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr this year.
Vandoorne’s seat loss came as a shock as the driver had no explanation for why McLaren had moved on. Many in the industry felt Vandoorne deserved to stay in Formula 1 considering his talents. His move to Formula E was an opportunity to show Formula One teams that he could still win races and perform at a high level.
Thus far, Vandoorne’s performances in Formula E haven’t been great. He has claimed one podium; a third-place finish at the Rome ePrix, in 11 races and sits 15th in his first season on the all-electric circuit.
Vandoorne drives for HWA RaceLab and could have an opportunity to race for the team next season. Given his current Formula E performance, a return to Formula One is not likely to happen any time soon.
Former Ferrari, Williams, and Sauber Formula One driver Felipe Massa came out of retirement in 2018 and joined Formula E team Venturi Grand Prix. The Brazilian signed a three-year contract to race for the high-profile team.
Massa’s name recognition offers Formula E an established ex-Formula One star. He won 11 Formula One races during his 15-year career. Venturi Grand Prix is co-owned by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and Massa’s name offers more star power to the team.
However, the Brazilian’s season hasn’t been great. He has achieved one podium in 11 races thus far. Massa is 14th in the Formula E standings and has claimed a mere 36 points.
Massa’s career legacy had been set following his Formula One retirement, but now he is damaging those memories race fans had of him. Although Massa wanted to help grow Formula E, it hasn’t really worked out.
Perhaps the best news for Massa is Venturi teammate Edoardo Mortara is just two places higher in the Formula E standings. Maybe the cars are the problem and not the drivers.
With two seasons left on his Venturi contract, it will be interesting to see if Massa finishes out the deal. If year two goes terribly wrong, Venturi could find another driver to take Massa’s seat.
Formula E is destined to continue its growth and attract more ex-Formula One drivers. The bigger the names get; the more eyes Formula E will have on it. While it’s easy to assume a former Formula One driver will find quick success in Formula E, that clearly hasn’t been the case, and this may help elevate the profile of Formula E in the eyes of die-hard Formula One fans.