Formula E’s Gen 3 era is well and truly underway after a thrilling opening round in Mexico City. The race had everything that we’ve come to expect from Formula E, including three safety cars. But more importantly, it also featured some stand out performances from our rookie (or rookie adjacent) teams.
Coming into Formula E for the first time during a major rule change may have been what these rookie teams needed to start on a level playing field, and the likes of McLaren definitely seem to have taken advantage of that. Other “new” teams seem to have struggled to get to grips with their new home.
Whether any of the four “rookie” teams can be classed as rookies is open to debate. McLaren took over from Mercedes, purchasing their assets as well as entry. They did switch powertrain supplier to Nissan, though. Maserati enters Formula E in partnership with MSG – Venturi as it was. Both DS and Penske (under the Dragon Racing name) have plenty of FE experience but came together for the first time. And Abt were one of the first teams to join Formula E, but now they stand as a customer team of Mahindra after a few years out.
While not necessarily new, all are in a new form and facing some steep learning curves compared to the likes of Jaguar and Mahindra.
Of the four, McLaren came out swinging. Jake Hughes and Rene Rast is a partnership not to be sniffed at.
While Hughes’ single-seater record doesn’t show anything too special, those who have been following him know he was going to be an asset to McLaren. Hughes described himself as the most prepared Formula E rookie after years as Mercedes reserve and development driver, and it seemed to have paid off. He qualified third in his first ever Formula E qualifying, with a mistake on his semi-final run denying him the chance at a shot in the final. Unlike other strong qualifiers, Hughes also had the pace during the race, and appears to have learned quickly that it’s overtake or be overtaken in this electric series. He hassled the most experienced Formula E driver in history and might have come out on top were it not for some well-placed yellow flags.
But it wasn’t all great for McLaren. Rene Rast’s race was not like that of his team-mate. His problems started in FP1, when a spin late at the final corner and a late move into the pits left him with damaged suspension. It was an incident free FP2, but a difficult qualifying put him on the backfoot and Rast struggled to move forwards. Being in the mid-field in Formula E is always a dangerous thing, and Rast got unlucky when contact with Oliver Rowland took him out of the race.
Overall, it’s hard to read much into McLaren’s performance. Hughes’ performance could prove the team have a car competitive enough to fight for wins. Rast’s difficult race could just be a mistake in FP1 throwing off the rest of the weekend. The team will definitely class the weekend as a positive, but whether it’s representative of what the season as a whole will look like waits to be seen.
DS Penske will be hoping Mexico doesn’t represent what the season as a whole will look like.
While Dragon haven’t been heavy hitters in the past, DS come with a lot of prestige. It’s obvious those in the paddock were expecting great things from the team. You don’t sign Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne if you’re expected to be at the back of the field.
But neither managed to put it together when it mattered. Both Vergne and Vandoorne looked blisteringly quick in practice, but the pace didn’t show up in qualifying. And in Formula E, a poor qualifying makes life extremely difficult in the race.
The DS squad haven’t put forward one big issue that needs to be solved. Vergne suggested it was difficult to get a lap together without a mistake in qualifying, and with the field as close as it was just one mistake could cost four or five places. The new Gen 3 cars and Hancook tyres also appear to make overtaking more difficult. Whether that is a quirk of the car, or just something the drivers need to get used to in order to overcome is something else that will be left until after a few more races to judge.
Somewhere between the extremes of McLaren and DS Penske lie Abt and Maserati. Neither scored points, but it wasn’t quite the same disappointment as DS. Robin Frijns for Abt and Edoardo Mortara for Maserati both suffered DNFs. Frijns was left with a fractured hand after his incident, where he made contact with the rear of Norman Nato’s car. It was a sad end to a difficult weekend in which Frijns qualified 19th and didn’t have high expectations to begin with. It was a spin that took out Mortara, and one that represented an erratic weekend for the driver.
Nico Mueller (Abt) and Maximilian Guenther (Maserati) both finished the race, but outside the points. It’s another situation where no one thing can be pointed to.
It’s round one of season one of a new era. How much can we read into this race? Well after race one of the Gen 2 era, Antonio Felix Da Costa lead Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio. The season ended with Vergne champion, da Costa sixth and d’Ambrosio 12th. The most important thing isn’t the results of the Mexico E-Prix, it’s how the teams react to those results.