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Jake Boxall-Legge

What's new in Formula E this year?

Ten of the 11 teams have a revised driver line-up, the entry list features a handful of different names, while the Gen2 cars have been put out to pasture and replaced with the jet-fighter-inspired Gen3 machinery. Plus, for those critical of the championship and what it comes to represent, Fanboost has been officially killed off. The perception of a popularity contest is no longer there, even though the five-second power boost made scant difference…

Ahead of the season opener, the teams had the chance to unbox their new cars (presumably all the trimmings attached to a plastic frame like a Tamiya model kit) and plonk their upscaled powertrains inside. There are two on each car this year, although only one is used for propulsion; the drive motor has been upscaled from 250 to 350kW, while the front-mounted 250kW single-spec motor will be used for energy regeneration only. That’s 600kW of total regen, and Formula E is particularly proud of the statistics: 40% of the energy used during a race will come from harvesting, up from around 25% in the old-spec car.

That means that the new Williams Advanced Engineering-designed battery can be smaller than the old 52kWh package produced by McLaren/Atieva, resulting a lighter car. Hankook has taken over from Michelin as tyre supplier, so the teams won’t even have a baseline to work from going into the new season. Those uncharted waters must be rapidly mapped out.

On paper, these elements could produce a truly brilliant season. The unpredictability of the new rules, the tweaks to the sporting format, and each team finding key veins of performance at different times could yield a back-and-forth battle for supremacy. That will shape the title fights and the on-track battles; if the spectacle with the new car can deliver on its promises, then the championship’s stagnating viewing figures could enjoy a massive upswing.

But it’s important to note the teething problems ahead of the season. The deliveries of common parts were late, causing manufacturers to cancel tests. The new battery also had a fraught development and required a packaging rethink as overheating and derating proved a common theme. With limited running, some teams have also suffered with brake-by-wire problems, with Formula E taking the brave decision to remove the rear brakes and hand the motor the remit of providing the stopping power.

These are genuine concerns among the teams, and there have been heavy crashes due to the latter; Sam Bird had a crash during Jaguar’s private testing programme at Calafat, while Sebastien Buemi shunted his Envision Jaguar during the Valencia collective test.

Buemi's switch to Envision didn't get off to the best of starts in Valencia (Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images)

At the same time, this is what testing is for; engineers speak of needing to ‘break the car’ to ensure all creases are ironed out ahead of the season proper. If any of these issues continue in Mexico City, then it could be cause for the teams and drivers to hit panic stations, but we’re yet to cross that bridge. An emergency brake is in the pipeline, but won’t be ready for the opening rounds.

Outside of the bubble, reaction to the championship’s aesthetic overhaul has been… mixed, to say the least. The graphics themselves, aligned with a new typeface, are very contemporary affairs, but the new logo has split opinion. To this writer’s mind, it’s reminiscent of an early-2000s rural Spanish holiday lettings brand. People will simply get used to it – remember the uproar over Formula 1’s rebrand for 2018?

And what of the car? It’s something else that the most vocal will come to accept; although it looks worryingly like a casket from a plan view, it looks lively out on the circuit as the drivers attempt to tame it. Thankfully, the teams have done wonderful jobs with the liveries – and have strayed away from the dark background, light blue accents that had proliferated in recent years. The skittishness of the new cars comes from the new Hankook boots, which are harder and more durable than the Michelin offerings from seasons prior. Grip is at a real premium, which the drivers will surely air grievances about.

The on-track product should be even better than before, with the new cars looking like they’ll punish mistakes but reward well-calculated risks for the teams and drivers

The first glimpse of the cars all running together was offered in Valencia’s December test. It’s a fool’s errand to try to derive any pecking order from one collective test, given each team is at different stages in their understanding of the Gen3 package, but patterns nonetheless emerged in the timing screens.

PLUS: 10 things we learned from Valencia Formula E testing

New Maserati MSG recruit Maximilian Guenther headed five of the seven timed sessions and ended the test with the fastest time, joined by the DS Penskes in the overall top three. The two Stellantis marques share common hardware and, while it would suggest that either the ex-Dragon team or the ex-Venturi squad enter Mexico as favourites, it’s feasible that another manufacturer could have found another step in development.

As Jaguar technical chief Phil Charles explains: “It will keep evolving. I’m confident that everybody’s on a really steep learning curve, and certainly nowhere near to a stabilised condition. It’s going to be interesting. That’s going to make the championship ebb and flow a lot.”

The new generation offers lots of potential for Formula E to capitalise, but it’s up to the championship to tap into that. The on-track product should be even better than before, with the new cars looking like they’ll punish mistakes but reward well-calculated risks for the teams and drivers. Reliability just needs to remain strong; the championship could do without any repeats of the issues in testing to set the Gen3 era off to the best possible start.

The key plot-lines to follow

1. Will 2023 be Evans’s year?

Mitch Evans, Jaguar Racing (Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images)

Two near-misses in as many years – will 2023 be third time lucky for Mitch Evans? The irrepressible Kiwi has evolved into one of Formula E’s leading lights in recent seasons, and was a candidate for titles across the past two campaigns.

Both ended in heartbreak. The 2021 finale in Berlin began with Evans unable to pull away from the grid, collecting fellow title contender Edoardo Mortara in the process to kill off his chances. Another electronics glitch a year later in London left Evans with too much to do in the Seoul finale, despite taking the title to the final race with a win at the Olympic Complex on the Saturday.

PLUS: Is this a Formula E 'nearly man's' best chance yet at title glory?

In the case of that Seoul win, he underlined the determination he carries into every race. Lesser drivers would have failed to shrug off the disappointment of that London retirement, but Evans refused to wilt. That drive around the site of the 1988 Olympics set a high bar for his competitors to follow, the only blot on his copybook being a slight lock-up a few laps from home. You can bet that Evans will carry that form into 2023, although he admits the new cars require a complete reset in approach.

“In general, I was really proud,” he says of 2022. “And you want to carry that momentum and that confidence into the season. But it’s such a massive reset; mentally, you come in with good spirits and high hopes, and you think, ‘Now it’s that time to go one better’. But on the other hand, you’ve got to be a little bit realistic. There’s not many things we can take from Gen2 into Gen3.”

Much of it depends on how Jaguar can hit the ground running. If the I-Type 6 proves to be a frontguard staple, then Evans will undoubtedly become one of the favourites – but if team-mate Sam Bird proves rejuvenated under the new ruleset, the Aucklander won’t have it all his own way. Such is the nature of the Formula E field, however, that you could say that about anybody…

2. Old faces line up at new teams

Hughes and Rast line up at McLaren, which has taken over the former Mercedes squad (Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images)

After winning two teams’ titles and two drivers’ crowns, Mercedes has left the building, but the team remains in Formula E under its new McLaren guise. Team principal Ian James wanted to keep the band together despite the Silver Arrows’ withdrawal, and Mercedes motorsport CEO Toto Wolff saw the sense in selling off the squad as a going concern. For its part, McLaren wanted to expand its electric racing portfolio alongside its Extreme E team, and secured backing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to do so.

PLUS: Can McLaren make a success of its foray into Formula E?

The squad has since moved out of the Mercedes powertrains base in Brixworth and takes up residence at Bicester Heritage. It also becomes a customer team, linking up with Nissan for the foreseeable future as the Japanese marque hopes for a revival in fortunes after a lean couple of seasons. Testing, despite a few early bumps in the road, looked encouraging for the team as it starts its new life in papaya.

Guenther was a late signing because Maserati originally had Nyck de Vries pencilled in, before the 2020-21 champion earned a long-awaited Formula 1 drive

Italian luxury marque Maserati has also joined Formula E as a powertrain supplier and partner to the MSG Racing team, formerly known as Venturi. Again, the core of the outfit remains the same, so it’s merely a rebrand to cement its quasi-works team status. Edoardo Mortara, a title contender in each of the past two seasons, remains on board to head up its efforts and has a new team-mate for the third time in the past two years in the form of Maximilian Guenther.

The German was a late signing because Maserati originally had Nyck de Vries pencilled in, before the 2020-21 champion earned a long-awaited Formula 1 drive. With the caveat that testing times can often prove misleading, Guenther already looks comfortable after setting the timing boards alight during the four days at Valencia. The challenge of matching – or even beating – Mortara on a regular basis will be the true test of his progress.

3. Rookies and returnees seek to impress

After making his debut for Jaguar in Korea, Fenestraz makes the full-time switch to FE with Nissan (Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images)

The third ‘new’ name on the teams’ entry list, Abt makes its return to Formula E after a year away. Following Audi’s withdrawal at the end of 2021, Abt fell off the grid for the following season, but with a clear intention to resume in Gen3. Much of the team from its initial stint in the championship remains on board, and the team has put together a strong driving duo of Robin Frijns and Nico Muller. Mahindra supplies its ZF-designed powertrain to Abt, which has also received title sponsorship from Spanish car maker Cupra.

But testing wasn’t the easiest time for the German squad; Abt principal Thomas Biermaier admitted that the team “wasn’t sleeping well” since its late call-up required preparations for 2023 to be hastened. Long pauses in proceedings at the Valencia test were understandable, as the team had garnered only cursory running beforehand.

Muller is one of three returning drivers to the grid – Rene Rast and Norman Nato also once more have full-time drives. Rast, formerly of Audi, joins McLaren after a year back in the DTM to partner rookie Jake Hughes, who steps up from his Mercedes reserve role. Nato had been Jaguar’s reserve in 2022, which closed with a substitute outing in Seoul in place of the injured Sam Bird, and he moves to a new Nissan line-up alongside Sacha Fenestraz.

Fenestraz made his debut last year replacing Antonio Giovinazzi in the Seoul season finale at Dragon/Penske, and now makes the full-time switch to Formula E after three and a bit years racing in Japan. If that Seoul one-off precludes the Franco-Argentinian from rookie status, then Hughes is the sole true newbie. After years of driving for underfunded teams in F2 and F3, the Briton finally gets his chance at a top-level series – and he looked very comfortable from the off.

“It’s been very positive so far,” Hughes says. “In terms of just jumping in and basically going about with my natural driving style, it seemed to come to me quite quickly.”

4. Sporting changes keep teams on their toes

Porsche will no longer be able to rely on the tactics it used to such devastating effect in Mexico last year after the 45-minutes-plus-change run-time was dropped for a set number of laps (Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images)

Timed races are no longer part of the Formula E race weekend – the series has dropped the 45-minutes-plus-change run-time in favour of set laps. It’s sticking with the extra time format triggered by any safety car appearances, but they’ll instead tack laps onto the end. The championship will have its reasons, but it feels like change for the sake of it; while you can appreciate how Porsche was able to control last year’s Mexico race by pushing it to an extra lap as a finishing blow, maybe a lap count is a fairer way of going racing.

Instead of the set attack mode activations issued to teams before each race (usually two lots of four minutes), Formula E has instead handed it over in one lump sum (four minutes) and offered drivers the chance to decide how it’s divvied up

Fanboost has been removed, and Formula E has also introduced an F1-style requirement for rookies to drive in practice – each current driver must vacate their seat at least once for a newcomer. There’s a small modification to the popular knockout qualifying, where drivers from the A and B groups won’t meet until the final to ensure that neither group is disadvantaged by conditions in the quarter-finals and beyond.

Tweaks have also been made to attack mode to offer the drivers more variation; instead of the set activations issued to teams before each race (usually two lots of four minutes), Formula E has instead handed it over in one lump sum (four minutes) and offered drivers the chance to decide how it’s divvied up, so long as it’s over two activations. In other words, the four minutes can be spent as 1+3, 2+2 or 3+1, which should offer strategic variety. It’ll be activated in the same way with the off-line sensor loop, until Formula E introduces its latest innovation later in the year…

5. Attack charge brings a new dimension

Teams will have plenty to get to grips with as FE introduces Attack Charge later in the year (Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images)

…which wraps up attack mode and fast charging into one. It was only a matter of time before Formula E wanted to showcase the next developments in EV charging, and it’s a good way of introducing it by tying it together with attack mode. It’ll work like this: a pit window will open up after about 15 minutes, and the drivers will pull in for a 30-second charge for an extra 4kWh top-up within that window. Then, the driver can deploy that extra energy in attack mode, but can choose when to do so.

Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle suggested that the attack charge races could be run as one half of the double-header events, with a regular attack mode race for the other to offer strategic variance. The fast-charging kit won’t be introduced yet, because the earlier battery worries pushed back development, but the championship is targeting a mid-season appearance.

If it comes to pass and works out, having two races at a venue with distinct strategic outlooks could really change the picture. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say; Berlin’s reversed ‘Nilreb’ course offers something different on the second day at Tempelhof, so why not run to a slightly different format at double-headers?

Formula E will resemble an all-new series in 2023, but who will the changes favour? (Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images)
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