By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
Ahead of each ABB Formula E Series race weekend, Motorsports Tribune offers an in-depth look at the details and storylines going into the weekend’s event(s).
Race(s): Antofagasta Minerals Santiago E-Prix (37 laps, 56.61 miles)
Circuit: Parque Forestal Ciudad De Santiago (Chile)
Track Details: Clockwise – 12 turns, 1.53 miles
Track Record: N/A (New Location)
What Happened Last Year: N/A. Formula E has never traveled to Chile before.
Saturday, February 3
Free Practice 1: 5:55-6:55 a.m. ET (FOX Sports Go)
Free Practice 2: 8:25-9:10 a.m. ET (FOX Sports Go)
Race 1 Qualifying: 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 2)
2018 Antofagasta Minerals Santiago E-Prix: 6 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)
Storylines to Watch
Di Grassi’s Search for Points
Last season Lucas di Grassi was one of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship’s best drivers, tallying two wins, seven podiums and an average finish of 4.3 en-route to a championship in the third season of the all-electric series.
Three races into his title defense, di Grassi has yet to tally a single point.
The problems don’t lie with the Brazilian alone. Reliability issues have plagued Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, keeping di Grassi from finishing the Marrakesh E-Prix after a strong fifth-place qualifying effort. The 33-year-old has also shown pace in small bursts, with two starts inside of the top six in the three E-Prix to date.
There are still causes for optimism, but di Grassi has no margin for error remaining if he wants to close the current 54-point gap on championship leader Felix Rosenqvist. With only nine races remaining due to the canceled double-header finale in Montreal, di Grassi will need to make up an average of six points per race on Rosenqvist and the other championship leaders to close up the gap and contend.
Accomplishing that will likely require a swath of victories, so don’t be surprised if di Grassi and Abt Schaeffler roll out of the garage with an aggressive plan in Chile.
The Battle for Control
For the majority of the last Formula E race – the Marrakesh E-Prix – the standard pecking order seemed to be restored. Sebastien Buemi and Renault e.dams were dominant up front, and no one seemed capable of offering up a worthy challenge.
Then Rosenqvist passed Buemi in the final laps and claimed his second E-Prix of the year.
The moment was mega for Rosenqvist and Mahindra Racing. Though it was at least partially spurred on by a FanBoost activation failure on Buemi’s machine, that Rosenqvist was able to topple Formula E’s most decorated driver both issued a statement to the rest of the field and firmly established the Swede as the points leader heading into Santiago.
Rosenqvist’s two victories give him the early championship edge, though DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird trails him by just four points in second. Jean-Eric Vergne is the only driver close to the top two in the standings, lurking an additional seven points behind Bird in third. Fourth-place Nelson Piquet Jr. sits a distant 29 points off of Rosenqvist, a full-race removed from the top trio.
Their massive points advantage aside, Formula E’s top three drivers also have the benefit of recent points trends. Saturday’s Santiago E-Prix will see the field complete the first third of the 2017-18 season. The points leader at the same mark in the prior three years has finished no worse than third in the standings at season’s end.
Knowing that, look for the top three teams to try to increase their stranglehold on the points, while familiar powers like Buemi and Piquet search for a way to get back into the fight.
A New Challenge
While it’s been something regulars of the series have been used to in Formula E’s first three seasons, this weekend’s Santiago E-Prix offers something that the field will likely see less of over the years – a new locale.
The Chile circuit is one of just three locations that Formula E will visit for the first time in Season Four, joining Rome (April 14) and Zurich (June 10).
With a trip to a new venue comes a heightened learning curve for the paddock. Teams and drivers will attempt to be the quickest to adapt to the 1.53-mile circuit. With just one day of full on-track activity, the organizations that are able to do so will benefit greatly, soaring atop the charts in qualifying and likely contending for the win down the stretch.
With an inaugural race comes heightened challenge and greater prestige for the winner. Expect some unique circumstances and thrills for the Formula E paddock in their first trip to Chile.