until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Five Formula E drivers with the most to prove this season

by Sam Smith
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E heads into 2023 with most of the attention on the state of preparedness (or lack of) it – and, by extension, its teams – finds itself in ahead of the start of the Gen3 era.

But much like the championship, some of its drivers will be hoping to kick the campaign off in Mexico either by silencing the critics or by proving the chances they’ve been given were justified.

With the first round of the season only a week and a half away, Sam Smith has picked out five drivers who’ll be looking to make a mark this year.

Sam Bird

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An abject season in 2022 was something of a new Formula E experience for Bird to deal with.

Never before had he endured such a torrid time in a campaign that never got going. It then came crashing down, quite literally, through a painful end at what should have been a positive home event in London.

It was instead the nadir of a desperate season, one in which only a fourth place at the opening round in Diriyah stood as any kind of reward for his efforts.

What rubbed a large amount of salt into the 2022 wound was Jaguar team-mate Mitch Evans revelling and delivering. Four wins and taking the title to the wire with Stoffel Vandoorne must have depressed Bird somewhat.

Bird raced in two E-Prixs fewer than Evans last season but even so a deficit to the tune of 129 points stood quite simply as a chasm between the team-mates.

The frustration sometimes boiled over for Bird and it became a kind of self-perpetuating nightmare of exasperation.

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He wasn’t happy and it showed. But to his credit he never felt sorry for himself and he has regrouped for the Gen3 era, which he believes can trigger a renaissance.

“I will admit that last year was a massive disappointment for me personally,” Bird told The Race at the Jaguar Gen3 launch in November. “It was a very challenging year for me, professionally, and emotionally outside of motorsport, as well. I don’t need to go into it but it was a tough year.

“Now things have settled down, and I’m super excited to get my teeth stuck into the Gen3 car. We’ve done extensive testing, I’m very happy with where I’m at with the car and my confidence within it is good. I’m just looking forward to getting going.”

The Valencia test was mixed for Bird (who two months before had been unhurt in a private testing crash) but traces of the old flair were well in evidence. He’s exuding much more confidence already.

He has the strength of character, experience, belief and tenacity to bounce back strongly in 2023 to add to his tally of 10 wins and end a drought that now stretches back to over 18 months.

Sergio Sette Camara

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Sette Camara arrives at NIO 333 hungry to prove that the paddock buzz about his talents can be translated into hard results.

A test of endurance played out painfully at Dragon Penske from his 2020 debut to the end of the 2022 season and frankly it was a testament to his strength of character that he came through it all in one piece.

Now, he has a much more realistic opportunity of becoming a regular points scorer, and perhaps a little bit more, with a team that appears, from the outside at least, to be on the up.

NIO 333 looks buoyant but a difficult Valencia test might have added a layer of realism and doubt to its ambitions for 2023.

Sette Camara told The Race last month he believed those points-finishing aims were realistic and that he could thrive in a more structured environment at NIO 333.

“Judging just from pure team size, I think we maybe won’t be winning races,” he said. “But I think we’ll have opportunities to be competitive and fighting for good results in a competitive way, which many times in Dragon was not possible due to the resources we had and the size of the team.”

Rene Rast

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Despite his age, 36-year-old Rast has already given off the impression of a fresh-faced charger intent on being a thorn in the sides of the DS-powered favourites from DS Penske and Maserati this season.

Rast already has a season and a quarter of Formula E racing behind him, yet to contextualise that experience you have to sift through what he had at his disposal in that time.

The first six races were at Berlin Tempelhof, one of Formula E’s quirkiest tracks, and in a less than stellar Audi at that time. He initially struggled but then thrived to score a brilliant podium.

That underlined his contract for 2021 but Audi then gave notice of its decision to withdraw from Formula E.

Rast was still quick and should have scored many more than the 78 points he mustered for 13th place in the championship.

Audi’s bizarre motorsport strategy then consigned him to DTM for another season, where he fought for a fourth title in 2022 but came up just short in the now GT3-flavoured series, finishing third.

By this time, he knew he would be back in Formula E with McLaren and he is already targeting getting onto the top step of the podium after casting off the Audi shackles.

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“I haven’t won a race [still] until today, so that’s for sure something which is still on my bucket list,” Rast told The Race.

“I don’t want to talk about winning the championship because it’s too far away. But winning a single race would already feel like I’m fulfilling my unfinished business. That’s something I want to achieve this year.

“The last time I was driving informally for sure. I did some rookie mistakes, which we need to avoid this year.”

Sebastien Buemi

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A Sebastien Buemi win famine is a very rare thing.

Buemi lives to win races and luckily for him (and all those he works with) he has at least continued to taste remarkable success with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship.

That though has been diluted slightly by a dearth of positives in Formula E that now stretches back almost three years.

Two rotten seasons with Nissan e.dams in 2021 and 2022 were bruising. But to Buemi’s credit he never gave in, with epic drives last season that included coming from last to eighth in Monaco and 19th to ninth at the Seoul season finale.

That fortitude paid off to some extent last season especially because it sent a message loud and clear to anyone who would listen that he was no washed up driver about to fall off the cliff of pace and skill.

One of those with an ear to the ground was Envision Racing boss Sylvain Filippi.

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He recognised that Buemi still had much to give. Not only that, but he also invested in young engineering talent, as Connor Summerville moved from Dragon Penske to work with Buemi last summer.

Buemi couldn’t have had a tougher start to Gen3 life than a shunt at Valencia and compromised running before and after that episode.

But even if it ends up taking Envision time to see the fruits of their signing from a results perspective, Buemi should be a huge asset over the duration of a season in which he can set himself and Envision up for a big 2024.

Maximilian Guenther

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Guenther has ‘darkhorse’ written all over him in 2023 and, now at Maserati, will be out to prove several people wrong and bust just as many myths about his perceived on/off consistency.

Beaten by Jake Dennis and Buemi in the last two seasons, Guenther is a dangerous predator in waiting for the 2023 season.

That in itself is somewhat amusing as the scrupulously polite German is one of the more pleasant people you’ll meet in any racing pitlane.

Yet when the visor is down this is no meek and mild proposition. On several occasions he has wound his rivals up with often pitilessly robust tactics, reducing Dennis at Monaco last season to incredulous mirth on how desperate Guenther was to scrap.

On his day Guenther though is irresistible. In Santiago in 2020 and New York a year later he vanquished all before him.

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What’s most impressive though is that Guenther appears to have come to terms with the failed Nissan encounter very quickly. Yes, there was some fortune in him getting the Maserati seat after Nyck de Vries vacated it for a Formula 1 drive, but Guenther has seized the opportunity with both hands knowing that he should have a winning proposition beneath him once again.

Quietly and efficiently, Guenther might just become the team-mate that long-time team incumbent Edoardo Mortara finds the toughest to crack in his six seasons with the team.

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