Written by Olly Radley, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
Following the opener in Mexico City, we head to the desert to Diriyah for the second and third rounds of the 2023 Formula E season. After a smooth start to season 9 last time out, things are sure to be shaken up under the floodlights in Saudi Arabia, at a track where we’ve been blessed with action in years gone by. With the new generation of cars, we head to Diriyah full of intrigue as to how they (and the drivers) will perform at such a thrilling circuit.
The Riyadh Street Circuit in Diriyah has been a regular fixture on the Formula E calendar since its debut in 2018. Since last season, the race has evolved into a night-time event, powered fully by renewable and green energy. Situated within walking-distance of the At-Turaif World Heritage site, the track winds its way through the streets of central Diriyah, with Turn 1 being a chicane around Diriyah’s flagpole square. After just a few slow-speed corners, the track races down its bobsleigh section down past the citadel through 9 of the trickiest and fastest corners in Formula E. Out of the bobsleigh section, the cars race up towards the wide and open-radius Turn 17, which leads onto the best overtaking opportunity on the track: the 400m dash toward the turn 18 chicane, where drivers will take their attack modes. After that it’s just one more corner to go before they cut the timing beam.
2023 is the 5th edition of the Diriyah E-Prix, but the 8th and 9th races. Jaguar’s Sam Bird is the only man on the grid to have won more than 1 of these 7 events, having won in 2019 and 2021. Nyck De Vries also achieved this feat, but with his move to F1, it is only Sam Bird’s Diriyah CV that’s of relevance. Other than Bird, only two other previous winners are still on the grid. Inaugural 2018 winner Antonio Felix da Costa arrives in Diriyah this year off the back of a strong display from his team Porsche in Mexico, and last year’s winner Edoardo Mortara arrives with a lot to make up for after a crash in Mexico City.
Stories from Mexico City
Not only did Mexico City kick off Gen3 with a great race, it provided lots of stories for us to talk about after. The biggest talking point has to be the reassurance that these cars wouldn't be dangerous or prone to failures. A driveshaft failure put a premature end to Sam Bird’s race, but those are amongst the most common of mechanical issues in any racing car. Bird was the only retirement of the lot as well. Frijns, Nato, Mortara, and Rast also retired, but all four of those retirements were self-induced. Diriyah will of course be a bigger challenge for the new cars with the walls in much closer proximity than Mexico and little to no runoff at every corner.
In terms of the teams’ performances, the big winners were obviously Andretti and Porsche. Both teams are powered by the German outfit that performed exceptionally in Mexico last year as well. Come the chequered flag, all 4 of the Porsche-powered cars finished in the top 7, with 2 on the podium in 1st and 2nd. Porsche’s Mexico performances in 2022 were a one-off, but with their performances this year being in the season opener, we have no idea whether or not they can replicate that Mexico performance in the next two rounds in Diriyah.
On the other hand, some of the biggest losers from Mexico were expected to be the frontrunners, so we head to Diriyah with no indication as to who will reign supreme. Maserati, DS Penske, and Jaguar all fought for the title last season in their previous forms, but all three had very little to show for in Mexico. Between the three of them, they scored just 5 points. To put that into perspective, the Jaguar-powered Envision team scored double that with ten points and four fewer drivers. DS especially were predicted champions for many, and Formula E experts are still putting their money on the black and gold squad to turn it around and lead the way in Diriyah. Mortara performed brilliantly for Venturi last year in Diriyah,and a good result this weekend would certainly make up for his turn 1 blunder in the season opener.
In my opinion, DS will bounce back to the top of the timesheets and the front of the grid. As much as we all love the underdog, I also think that Andretti won’t be able to replicate the magic they produced with Dennis’ win in Mexico, although Jake Dennis is never one to count out. As for their suppliers Porsche, they just might be able to nab a podium from under the noses of a bigger team. Talking Maserati and Jaguar, it’s important that they make a swift return to where they’ve spent recent years; as we all know, a slow start is what cost Jaguar’s Mitch Evans the title last year. For the midfield teams, it’s important for one of them to get a really big points score. Lucas di Grassi’s 18 points in Mexico propelled his Mahindra team to 3rd in the Teams’ Championship, and the lasting effect of that will be Mahindra remaining above their midfield rivals. If another midfield team can replicate di Grassi’s efforts, it could see them reaping the rewards for some time.
That’s it from me, though, so goodbye for now.