until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Five reasons why Portland's final Formula E round is so crucial

by Sam Smith
9 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The penultimate event of the 2024 Formula E season will take place for a second and final time (for now) at Portland International Raceway, with multiple critical storylines to play out this weekend.

There will be almost as much action off-track as on it amid a combination of circuit configuration sagas and the ongoing driver market.

But perhaps most crucial is what two extreme-energy-saving pack races might mean for where title silverware goes and what the points tables will look like heading to the London finale next month.

Here are five reasons this event will prove decisive.

Points buffers needed

Portland and London will be polar opposite races. The former will be a wild three or even four wide peloton race that could feature multiple instances of contact, accordion style incidents and title challenges potentially made or broken.

Nick Cassidy’s 25-point advantage over Pascal Wehrlein feels significant already, especially in light of Cassidy’s adeptness in gathering big points from such structured races as Portland.

The Jaguar driver won exquisitely on the first visit to Portland last June (above) and there is no reason to doubt that he could add to that success this time around.

Should he do so, and therefore head to London with a similar gap to his chasers as he arrived at Portland with, then he will have the luxury of being able to do what Jake Dennis could last year by playing the percentage game in the final two races to some degree.

But that will not be as simple as it sounds.

On one level Jaguar is a proven quantity in London having won both races there last season with Evans and Cassidy (then at its customer Envision).

But on another, the field has closed up this season with qualifying in the top eight - something crucially important at the ExCeL due to its sprint race characteristics - meaning that it could be much easier to have non-score races due to getting stuck behind cars not usually in the mix that have delivered a ‘hang it all out’ qualifying lap.

Cassidy and Jaguar will know that Portland is vital to keep or preferably extend the points gap. But an added complication could be how pliable his team-mate Mitch Evans is about assisting his fellow Kiwi.

Last month The Race pontificated on what such a scenario might look like and how it may play out. Part of that theory will likely be conducted if Jaguar wins or at least makes the teams' title all but mathematically out of reach at Portland.

Jaguar has a very useful 73-point lead in the teams' points table. It will require a 94-point lead to make the title its own.

Already on 299 points, the ‘Big Cat’ is set for an all-time record haul, easily surpassing Envision Racing’s 304 tally last year.

In reality, barring disaster, Jaguar will take its first championship this season and it could do it with a race or two to spare. That will be well deserved, all being considered.

But most eyes, as they were in London last year when Cassidy had a faint sniff of the title, will be in the race for drivers' championship glory.

It’s not exactly Cassidy’s to lose, yet. But with 25 points between the Kiwi and his nearest pursuer Wehrlein, and then a further 10 to team-mate Evans, it’s hard to see how over four races it can be lost, especially bearing in mind Cassidy’s form since the second Misano race in April where he has been off the podium only once in the subsequent six races.

There are 116 points available over the final four races.

The significance of Da Costa’s future

With the on-track action, the hobby mathematicians will start to flex their numerical muscles but a series of mind games, strategic pressure drops and the sometimes deliberate spread of information will have many attempting to find out what is going on in this season's fevered driver market.

As The Race reported earlier this month it burst into life quickly, centred around the future of Porsche’s Antonio Felix da Costa.

After his second win of the season (third morally) the feeling had been that da Costa would see out the third year of his contract at Porsche. But there is no guarantee this will happen and the saga is still believed to be ongoing as negotiations between the two parties continue.

He has been linked to a return to his old sportscar team, Jota, which has been in turn linked with a switch from Porsche to Cadillac in the World Endurance Championship for next season.

Should da Costa and Porsche remain together there could be little move in the marketplace beyond one or two changes and the potential of WEC and Formula E twin-programmed drivers having to either negotiate new deals or finally submit to the increasing reality of choosing just one of the two world championships because of the threat of clashing races.

It could well be that some of the pieces fall this week ahead of Portland but will not be announced publicly. Whatever happens it will keep driver managers, drivers and journalists on the balls of their feet this weekend and probably well into July.

DS Penske seeks revenge

The black and golds are in a high state of transition right now.

Since the arrival of Phil Charles in March much has changed. Several personnel have moved on from the team and Charles has brought in some ex-colleagues from Jaguar, among them being highly rated simulation and performance guru, Julian Garcia Grajales.

It’s been another middling season for DS Penske. The relationship between the Penske and DS Performance elements has been strained and continues to be. What it might mean for the future is still being sorted out but the assumption right now is that there might not be much of one.

Charles, who is employed by Penske directly, has been tasked with creating a new structure and that is being done ruthlessly. Such is the way in top-line motorsport that visions of individuals with the backing of well-resourced enablers shake-up entities quickly. This is what is happening at DS Penske, and whether you get a positive or negative assessment of it depends on who you speak to.

For now, DS Penske is aiming to get an element of compensation from a season of few genuine highs. It arrives at Portland with a bit of revenge in the air too after the extraordinary developments there 12 months ago.

That was when the team was caught red-handed using RFID scanning equipment in the pitlane. This was, in the eyes of the stewards, a "huge and unfair advantage". The team, including its drivers, vehemently denied the accusation of collecting live data from all cars.

Another bizarre knock-on of it was that Jean-Eric Vergne, after venting his spleen on the subject to The Race after the event, was then fined, albeit in a suspended motion, for his opinions. It was messy all around.

The level of understanding of the Gen3 cars and the honing of the packages by teams makes the overall set-up and the way teams get the cars prepped for pack-racing now much more nuanced than it was a year ago.

Qualifying has been strong from DS Penske but its Achilles' Heel this season appears to have been a lack of race strategy nous, certainly from Vergne’s side. He was left furious after Monaco and Shanghai race two when he felt team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne should have cleared the way for him to attack the Jaguar-run cars.

Safety under scrutiny

After The Race revealed the laborious detail of the FIA’s ill-thought out move to implement a chicane at Portland, teams have been adjusting preparation time accordingly.

It is not a simple scenario of reverting to 2023-spec preparation for the Portland races after most drivers simulated the chicane-included version of the circuit that will now never be used.

That is because the level of understanding of the Gen3 cars and the honing of the packages by teams has progressed so much since 2023.

One of the biggest questions this weekend will be regarding the level of holding back that will play out in the two races.

The Race can reveal that Saturday’s race distance will be 27 laps, one shorter than last season, while the second race on Sunday will run to 26 laps. The usable energy will be 38kWh, exactly the same as last season.

What will all this mean for the races? They will be just as nuts as last season. And whereas at Misano, Berlin and Shanghai there were wide open spaces, there are areas at Portland, notably the back straight, where things can go very wrong indeed.

Nico Mueller found this out to his cost last season, while Vergne was within five centimetres of vaulting off the back of Edoardo Mortara’s slowing Maserati. With lifting being so prevalent in these races, contact already feels inevitable.

One other aspect to keep an eye on is everyone using their attack modes earlier than usual in both races.

This is because running it at a low SOC (state of charge) will cause derating and spiralling contactor temperatures in the RESS battery. But don’t be fooled that everyone will follow this diktat. Some, that have little to lose, may chance their arms by going deep and risking late race difficulties to get track position.

Interestingly, this may have been alleviated to some degree had the FIA managed to include a suitable chicane within the track configuration so there would be more regeneration and less coasting.

Whatever the conditions, all eyes will be on Jaguar and Porsche drivers as they start to have one eye on the bigger picture prizes.

Fenestraz under pressure

Several drivers are in danger of losing their seats next season after lacklustre displays so far.

Nissan has been actively putting out feelers to see what might be available to replace Sacha Fenestraz -who has scored a whopping 105 points fewer than new team-mate Oliver Rowland so far. That is a chasm that cannot be hidden or glossed over.

Fenestraz is popular in the Nissan team and brings a great deal to its development. He is also excellent in the simulator but on track it just hasn’t happened for him this year.

Even if he had been able to collate an additional 25 points, Nissan would have a decent lead over third place pursuers Andretti and DS Penske, with the three covered by just four points, in Nissan’s favour.

That will be playing on boss Tommaso Volpe’s mind heading into the crunch point of the season and should Fenestraz’s poor form continue and Andretti and DS Penske usurp Nissan and relegate it to fifth, it will be an uneasy debrief at the end of July.

The feeling is that a decision will have been taken by then. Which way it will swing may possibly depend on how the dominos fall in other areas of the marketplace in the coming days and weeks.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks