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VARSHA: Title Thriller in New York City

Formula E commentator on the title hunt ahead of the New York City E-Prix…

Photo: Formula E

Around this time last season, poised between the final race of the European swing and the season finale in New York City, I wrote an e-racing365 column discussing the potential scenarios and possible spoilers, seven in all, in the fight between the only two championship contenders: Jean-Eric Vergne and Sam Bird.

What a difference a year makes!

With 58 total points up for grabs in the final two races, no fewer than eight drivers remain mathematically alive for the Season Five title.

Given the unprecedented level of competition seen thus far, surely this will lead to a weekend of myriad possibilities when we go green in Brooklyn?

I like to think so.

This doesn’t seem to be a widely-shared opinion, even among my television colleagues. I get that.

A penalty to Andre Lotterer following the recent Bern round dropped the German out of the points, shuffling the standings and leaving his DS Techeetah teammate Vergne clear of his nearest rival, Lucas di Grassi of Audi Sport, by a whopping 32 points.

With just 25 points for a win, Vergne could sleep through his wake-up call on Saturday in the Big Apple and still be the championship leader on Sunday.

Yes, I know that Sebastien Buemi for Nissan e.dams and di Grassi’s Audi teammate Daniel Abt basically have to sweep every point on Saturday and hope that Vergne finishes eighth or worse just to get to Sunday.

Given that Vergne’s average finish when he sees the checkered flag is sixth, with only one DNF (Santiago) the odds aren’t good.

But Buemi is the all-time series leader in wins, and Abt is one of only two drivers ever to sweep every point for pole, the race win and fast lap on a race weekend. The other? Buemi. Stuff happens.

Third through seventh: Mitch Evans for Panasonic Jaguar, Lotterer, Antonio Felix da Costa for BMW i Andretti, and Envision Virgin’s Robin Frijns have a little more wiggle room.

I’ll spare you the multitude of scenarios, but they’ll still need dominating weekend and some misfortune for Vergne to close the gap in the points.

But three of the four have won races this year, Lotterer being the sole exception.

The biggest threat to Vergne becoming the first two-time Formula E champion is di Grassi.

The Brazilian has the racecraft to pull off spectacular wins from deep in the field, and he won the weekend opener in New York last year, when he and Abt handled the pressure of closing down the Vergne/Lotterer DS Techeetah squad for the team championship by just two points.

Which brings me back to spoilers: the drivers who cannot win the title but who can have a big impact on who does. Chief among these is Sam Bird at Envision Virgin Racing.

It seems odd for the British driver to be out of title contention coming into the season’s final weekend.

But Bird is always quick, he won Round 3 in Chile and nearly won two races later in Hong Kong, where he was first to the line but penalized for contact with Lotterer.

More importantly, Bird swept all before him when the series’ first visited the Brooklyn waterfront two seasons ago, winning both races and raking in 53 of the 58 available points. Think about that.

Other Season Five race winners out of contention but very much capable of upsetting the Big Apple cart are Jerome d’Ambrosio of Mahindra and Edoardo Mortara for Venturi.

Then there are the drivers who keep knocking on the door, such as d’Ambrosio’s teammate Pascal Wehrlein, Buemi’s stablemate Oliver Rowland, and Lotterer.

So, Jean-Eric Vergne may appear ready to waltz down Broadway with the big trophy once again this year. Then again, he may have the fight of his life on his hands.

We say it all the time: that’s why we run the races.

Bob Varsha is a veteran American broadcaster with more than 30 years of experience covering international motorsports, including Formula 1, the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA. Varsha is currently the host of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship broadcasts.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    MarkyMark

    July 6, 2019 at 8:13 am

    Bob,

    Nice to see you writing a column! Wish you said more during the races, though you seem to be more of the pre-race guy. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed your work for years, going back to Speedvision.

    As for who will win the FE championship, though it’s still wide open; though eight drivers could mathematically win it; I think JEV will be our first repeat champion. After the last race in Bern, he’s solidly in control; it’s his to lose at this point. Thanks to the scenarios you discussed, I think it could be close, but ultimately JEV will win it all.

    Then again, you can never count out Lucas Di Grassi. We’ll see! As you said, that’s why we run the races… 🙂

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