Following an at-times fraught pre-season, in which as many fresh questions were asked as answered, the 2023 Formula E season and the Gen3 era dawns this weekend in Mexico.
Reliability issues in testing plus major team upheaval up and down the grid makes what’s already a highly unpredictable championship even harder to call. It’d be foolish to make predictions then, right?
Our team of writers have attempted to do just that before we get our first proper indications of what the 2023 pecking order will look like, using their judgement and the impressions they got from testing to foresee the final reckoning come the season-ending London double-header in July.
Who will be champion?
Sam Smith: Stoffel Vandoorne will match team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne as a double champion by just beating his opposite number in a tight and tetchy title finale in London.
Mitch Evans, Sam Bird and Edoardo Mortara will go in to the last event mathematically able to nick it but the DS Penske drivers will win out and also take the teams’ title.
Jack Nicholls: I’m backing Vandoorne for back-to-back titles. The DS powertrain is looking strong, and once Vandoorne gets to grips with his new team, and the new-ish team get its head round things, I think we are in for an incredible fight between Vandoorne and Vergne.
Josh Suttill: Vandoorne. It looks like he’s going to have the best powertrain and he was probably the most effective driver in 2022, so this feels like a safe prediction to make after a very unpredictable pre-season.
Last year was the first time since his stupendously good title-winning GP2 campaign and subsequent solid one-off F1 debut (that was in no way indicative of what was to come for him in F1) that I thought he looked world-class. If he can continue to be that in 2023, he’ll be the next two-time champion.
Jack Cozens: I can’t see past a DS-powered title and I can’t quite see it coming from a Maserati driver in the brand’s first year, despite the obvious credentials both Mortara and Maximilian Guenther offer. That leaves two drivers to choose from.
Vergne gets the nod over Vandoorne for me by virtue of his DS experience, despite the reset the Gen3 era and the new DS-Penske alliance offers.
Glenn Freeman: Evans. He’s been knocking on the door for a while now, and I think his time has come.
Scott Mitchell-Malm: Absolutely no idea because car competitiveness is so hard to judge, but I’ll go Vandoorne. He’s the best driver in FE and while I have misgivings about his new team I think the package could be decent.
How many cars will finish the first race?
Josh Suttill: 13 cars. Mexico is pretty brutal at the best of times so I think it will claim a few victims. But it’s not going to be the reliability Armageddon that some fear – or at least I hope it won’t be for Formula E’s sake.
Sam Smith: I suspect it will be around the 14 or 15 mark, which will be deemed a success under the circumstances of the reliability issues in testing. Races such as Diriyah and Rome though may dip below that, especially as direct car-to-car contact brings more jeopardy in 2023.
Later in the season could be the time for the real attritional races as RESS duty cycles run on and tracks become more brutal, in parallel with drivers knowing where the real sensitive parts are on cars and their competitors’ cars.
Glenn Freeman: More than you’d expect based on the off-season. Race teams always find a way when it really counts.
Jack Nicholls: Every the optimist, I think 18 cars will finish the first race. A couple of mechanicals, and a couple of collisions.
Scott Mitchell-Malm: 16. There’ll be a mix of contact-related and reliability-related DNFs. And more cars will limp home managing problems because more problems feel inevitable, but teams will want to get to the finish and in testing you’re always more conservative at stopping cars early.
Jack Cozens: It’s Formula E. There’s bound to be contact. But I feel like the final number of finishers is going to be influenced more highly by how conservatively or otherwise teams approach round one, given the obvious reliability concerns – and the lingering safety ones – over the winter.
With that in mind, I’m going for 15 finishers in Mexico.
How many teams will win races?
Jack Nicholls: I cant decide whether we will have lots of teams winning because of the new cars, or only a handful for the same reason. I’m leaning towards four. DS Penske, Maserati, Jaguar and one other!
Scott Michell-Malm: Seven. FE is still a bit random and a new-look set of regulations is a great opportunity to mix things up further.
Sam Smith: Six – DS Penske, Maserati, Jaguar, Porsche, Andretti and Envision.
There is potential for a seventh, possibly McLaren in the second half of the season, or a mad Oliver Rowland sleeves-rolled-up drive for Mahindra, probably in the wet somewhere.
Jack Cozens: Six. I think that while both DS-powered teams are nailed on to win races they won’t be invincible, and both Porsche and customer Andretti should join the winners’ circle. So too will McLaren, while Evans – and hopefully Bird – will surely be there or thereabouts often enough for Jaguar to pounce.
Glenn Freeman: Eight. This number is always pretty high in Formula E because of how close the competition is.
Josh Suttill: DS Penske and Maserati are nailed-on winners from the evidence of pre-season testing. Then you’d probably expect Jaguar and Porsche to win and one of the other teams to join them – most likely one of their customers, Envision or Andretti. So, five different teams.
Where will McLaren finish?
Jack Cozens: Sixth. But it’s indicative of how close the field is (and, admittedly, how much we know about the Gen3 order) that I had McLaren seventh at one point and also as high as fourth while deliberating.
Rene Rast’s wealth of tin-top (and GT3) success still feels underrated to me, and Jake Hughes had enough about him in the junior ranks to say he’ll swim in Formula E. Operationally the team’s among the best, too – but I reckon that adds up to a front-of-the-midfield season.
Jack Nicholls: McLaren will finish fourth in the teams’ championship. A few podiums, maybe a win, but I’m not sure the Nissan powertrain will quite be good enough for a title push.
Glenn Freeman: Sixth. This season has the potential to be so chaotic – at least in the beginning – that you could predict a somewhere-in-the-middle position for every team on the grid.
Scott Michell-Malm: Respectably midfield, but maybe in the lower parts. The team is good, the powertrain could be good, but the drivers need to adjust.
Josh Suttill: McLaren can finish inside the top six and beat the Nissan factory team. There’s enough of Mercedes leftovers and a solid returning driver in Rast to sneak a race win and some top results.
Sam Smith: A very credible sixth just ahead of its factory Nissan powertrain providers. Rast and Hughes will each score a couple of podiums.
Who or what will be the surprise of the season?
Josh Suttill: Keep an eye on Sacha Fenestraz. He displayed some serious untapped potential in Europe before he made a fruitful switch to Japan and looked just as competitive as fellow European converts Alex Palou and Pierre Gasly before him. Expect him to lead Nissan once he gets up to speed, despite Norman Nato’s extra year of FE experience.
Glenn Freeman: I’m going optimistic: after a few rounds, the Gen3 cars will be pretty reliable and everyone can get on with going racing as normal.
Sam Smith: Team-wise it will be Porsche.
It might have a slow start, even though the opener is Mexico City where it tends to go well, and occasionally it will be embarrassed by customer Andretti. But Porsche will come on strong with more testing and finish third in the teams’ standings with Antonio Felix da Costa and Pascal Wehrlein each winning at least one race.
Driver-wise, possibly Guenther, who is showing every sign of grabbing the opportunity tossed his way by Nyck de Vries.
Scott Mitchell-Malm: NIO getting a podium. If it’s done as good a job with the new package as suggested, then Sette Camara and Ticktum have the pace to surprise.
Jack Cozens: I almost went for NIO 333, but although a decent competitive step is on the cards for 2023 I still think it ends up ninth or 10th in the championship.
So I’m going for Guenther instead. Yes, we’ve been here before where his table-topping testing form has ultimately flattered to deceive, but he’s capable of incredible turns of speed, and he has what he seemed to be missing at Nissan: a package that for all the world appears to be the benchmark.
Jack Nicholls: I’m hoping for NIO 333. It’s finished bottom of the standings in three of the last four seasons (the year it didn’t, it was second from bottom), but it looked moderately quick at Valencia, so hopefully can haul itself into the midfield.
Who’ll have the better year in new surroundings – di Grassi or Buemi?
Jack Nicholls: I think both are up against the toughest team-mates they’ve had in their Formula E career in Rowland and Nick Cassidy, especially over one lap. I think Buemi will have a stronger season with the Jaguar powertrain in the back of the Envision.
Josh Suttill: Buemi is the logical pick purely because of what’s in the back of his car. I’m not convinced Mahindra is going to be able to live with the other manufacturers at the start of the Gen3 era, while Jaguar is a safer bet to deliver a frontrunning powertrain. Don’t be surprised if that accelerates di Grassi’s post-racing management plans.
Sam Smith: I think ultimately it’ll be Buemi, although the Mahindra looked reasonable and better than expected in testing. Di Grassi and Rowland could surprise on occasions, much as Alex Lynn and Rowland did in 2021 and 2022.
But I think Buemi will have the better package beneath him and will be decent in the second half of the season once he’s got some proper running under his belt after a disastrous Valencia test. He’ll return to the podium for the first time since August 2020.
Scott Mitchell-Malm: Buemi. I think his team’s in better shape.
Jack Cozens: This season feels like it’s more of a test of where Buemi is, given the famine of the past couple of campaigns he had at Nissan e.dams, than of di Grassi.
Though I think Buemi will end up ahead in the points table, I think we’ll reflect on 2023 by saying di Grassi had the better year. But I’ll happily eat my words if the Envision-Jaguar package is potent enough to return Buemi to the front.
Glenn Freeman: Buemi, mainly because of how far he’d fallen. He’ll have the easier climb and it will feel more noteworthy.
What will a successful 2023 look like for Formula E?
Glenn Freeman: I’d love to say a consistent, predictable and reliable TV presence (in the UK at least) that makes it easy to find and stay connected to. But as someone who knows how much effort it takes to make sure you never miss a race broadcast, I’m not expecting that to change this season.
With how chaotic this winter has been, I’d say getting to the end of the season with no event cancellations and having had a bunch of ‘normal’ races will be a success.
Sam Smith: On-track: No ‘free-wheeling’ shunts at Mexico this Saturday and a successful implementation of the secondary (emergency) brake system for Diriyah.
Decent battery reliability that doesn’t impinge on the title fight aiding a close battle involving four drivers like in 2022.
Additionally, mega new events at Hyderabad, Sao Paulo and Cape Town. A strong, quirky one-off in Portland before Formula E announces a long-term home in either San Francisco or Miami for 2024 and beyond.
Then an epic grand finale in Docklands with a ludicrous dry (inside) and wet (outside) final race.
Off-track: No civil war!
Jack Nicholls: The same close racing we’ve seen for eight years, combined with a title fight that truly goes down to the wire, combined with a reliable new car.
Jack Cozens: I desperately want the Mexico season-opener to be a smooth weekend. The same fierce racing as normal – yes, please, but no spate of technical incidents.
But if that’s what we get, Formula E can’t be high and mighty. The concerns heading into the season obviously have foundation and while the Gen3 concept is bold, enough has been suboptimal so far that a successful year means being humble and realistic. The end of the season’s the time for any ‘told you sos’.
Josh Suttill: More eyeballs on it. It doesn’t matter how good the Gen3 racing is or how many different teams are winning. All that matters for the long-term health of the championship is that Gen3 recaptures the imagination of motorsport fans. Interest dwindled away in Gen2 and it must be rebuilt during Gen3, or I fear the start of FE’s eventual permanent unplugging will begin in 2023.
Scott Mitchell-Malm: No cancelled races, a good title battle, sensible championship narrative with a consistent batch of drivers in the mix – and no embarrassing technical problems early on.