For the fourth consecutive year the Formula E title goes down to the double header finale, and for the first time in New York between Jean-Eric Vergne and Sam Bird.
A fourth different champion in as many years is guaranteed as Vergne and Bird are the only two eligible for the title, separated by 23 points going into the weekend. This puts Vergne, as the current series leader, in a strong position.
The Techeetah driver only needs to out-score his rival by 7 points to wrap up the title in Saturday’s race, but a total of 58 points are up for grabs including the points for fastest lap and pole position. His form this season would suggest that a podium finish is likely for Vergne, but this is the circuit where Bird claimed back-to-back wins last year.
Bird’s pace at this race last year is ominous, however the track layout has been altered in preparation for the arrival of the Gen2 car next season. Where the start line hairpin used to swing right, the track now goes left on a sequence that has extended the circuit by 0.3 miles.
This may sound like a minor change, but the additional length combined with the nature of the corners goes against the DS Virgin car. Bird has admitted he is not expecting the same level of competitiveness he enjoyed last year simply because of this.
It has been a plain and simple fact all season that the DS Virgin car has lacked efficiency, therefore race pace, at the majority of circuits compared to its rivals. Bird will therefore need to pull out yet another stunning performance if he is to take the fight for Vergne.
In a way he has nothing to lose, whereas the pressure is on Vergne. The scenario is incredibly similar to last year’s championship showdown between Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi, even the points gap between the two protagonists is the same.
Last year Buemi crumbled under pressure, and threw away all hope of winning the title with a small error during practice and destroyed his car. Vergne has done well to soak up pressure so far this season, and to perform under extreme circumstances.
A lot has been said about Vergne’s transformation this year. His drive in Santiago where he managed to win while saving an extra lap of energy (unnecessarily due to a communications shutdown) was proof of that. His follow up in Mexico City, finishing fifth with no radio or dashboard information on his steering wheel backed up the claim.
Elsewhere he has been sweeping up. Taking three wins on back-to-back weekends in three different series shows how highly skilled a driver Vergne has become since he left Formula 1. In Formula E he has been showcasing that in a team with the smallest budget and is the only customer on the grid. It has to be admired.
Bird has equally impressed though. In an under-performing car he has dragged results to mount a title challenge that he, among many, did not expect to after pre-season testing.
The nature of Formula E is unpredictability. Vergne has the upper hand for now, but after the sensations of last season, we should not call it until the chequered flag has fallen on Sunday.
Also up for grabs is the constructor’s championship between Virgin, Audi and Techeetah. There are just 33 points between Techeetah and second-place Audi despite its abysmal start to the season where Lucas di Grassi failed to finish the first four races, and his team-mate Daniel Abt had strong results taken away from him.
Given the trajectory of their performance this season however, having won the last two races in dominant fashion, a boost to the number one spot could be on the cards. The rest will be down to the title protagonists’ team-mates Alex Lynn and Andre Lotterer, who have both had mixed seasons for various reasons but both are more than capable of pulling out results.
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