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Formula E Preview: Shanghai

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

The Formula E paddock heads to Shanghai for rounds 11 and 12 of the 2024 Formula E season, making a return to the country for the first time in six years. The centre of action will be the popular Shanghai International Circuit, a track synonymous for hosting 16 Formula One races, the latest of them being just over a month ago.

Shanghai, the most populous Chinese city, is home to as many as 24 million people, and is a major finance and trade hub in the nation. Apart from being a trade centre, Shanghai is also known for its flourishing automobile industry, and remains a major proponent in the country's supply chain. The metropolis is also known for its bustling electric vehicle industry, as it is a major hub for production and sale of electric vehicles.

Speaking of EVs, China's automobile market is dominated by electric vehicles, and the Chinese EV sales figures make up more than half the figure of electric vehicles sold worldwide. Several homegrown brands have brought out various EV models, be it the likes of BYD, Great Wall Motors, Shanghai's own SAIC Motor, Geely, and many more.

In fact, at the most recent Shanghai Auto Show, in 2023, as many as 271 New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) were on display, as many as 186 of them from local manufacturers, while as many as 70 new EVs debuted at the expo. With China continuing to remain committed and firm to producing EVs into the future, it's an exciting market for Formula E to tap into in the future.

However, this is the first time Formula E heads into the "New York of China" for a race weekend, having raced at Beijing, Hong Kong, and on the Hai Nan Island, in the port city of Sanya. The latter was the last city to host a Formula E race, way back in 2019, with Jean-Eric Vergne triumphing on that day from Oliver Rowland.

Beijing holds a special significance in Formula E's hearts, having hosted the opening race of the inaugural season, back in 2014. While Lucas Di Grassi won the race, and Sam Bird finished on the podium, many still remember the scary visuals of Nick Heidfeld's Mahindra going airborne on the final lap, a defining moment from the opening Formula E race.

However, this weekend's running will not be on any city streets, with the double header taking place on a shortened version of the Shanghai International Circuit. This will be a crucial double header in the context of the season, as the championship battle continues to swing back and forth, with only two more race weekends, and four races left for the season's conclusion.

The quartet consisting of Jaguar's Nick Cassidy, Porsche's Pascal Wehrlein, Nissan's Oliver Rowland, and Andretti's Jake Dennis will be gunning for maximum points this weekend, and further stake their place in the battle for the championship.

Apart from the championship-contending quartet, another quartet will be in focus, returning to their full-time Formula E drives, having missed the Berlin E Prix for different reasons. Defending champions Envision Racing will welcome Sebastian Buemi and Robin Frijns back to the series, the duo returning after fulfilling their hypercar commitments at the 6 Hours of Spa endurance race.

Also returning is Mahindra's Nyck de Vries, having fulfilled his hypercar commitments for Toyota GR during the 6 Hours of Spa. Additionally, the paddock will also welcome a veteran, in the form of Sam Bird, the Briton having fully recovered from a surgery he underwent for a broken arm, after a crash in free practice at Monaco.

This is set to be an exciting double header for the series, no doubt, with plenty of racing action expected around the wide expanse of a road course. The championship battle will definitely begin to heat up, and you definitely do not want to miss this weekend.

The Circuit

You've seen this one before, haven't you? A sweeping section consisting of turns one and two, as the track meanders its way along, before passing the slow right-hander of turn six, and then the sweeping turns seven and eight leading into turn nine.

Yes, these turns also make up the layout for the Formula One circuit. However, the full circuit isn't being used for the time being, with drivers speeding along past the kink of turn nine, towards turns 10, 11, and 12, a series of tricky corners set to test the Formula E grid, as they make their way back onto the main straight, to complete a lap of the Formula E circuit.

Plenty of overtaking zones will be available to the drivers, with the sweeping turns one and two serving as an important point for moves during the race, while you do not want to miss the sight of 22 Formula E cars battling into this section on lap one, during both races.

The slow right hander of turn six is another important point on the circuit, with drivers looking to set up a move from turn three, going past turns four and five, before reaching turn six.

Similarly, turn 10 will be another hotspot, coming off two fast corners, and a short straight, and will provide opportunities for a last-gasp overtake, late in the race.

Will we witness another peloton style race this weekend? Looking at the speedy nature of the circuit, we can definitely expect such a race, with drivers looking to drop back and conserve energy, whilst smartly utilising six minutes of attack mode at their disposal for the weekend.

Schedule for the weekend (times in BST)

Round 11:

Free practice one: Friday, 24th May: 10:00 - 10:30

Free practice two: Saturday, 25th May: 01:00 - 01:30

Qualifying: Saturday, 25th May: 03:20 - 05:43

Main race (29 laps): Saturday, 25th May: 8:03 - 09:00

Round 12:

Free practice three: Sunday, 26th May: 01:00 - 01:30

Qualifying: Sunday, 26th May: 03:20 - 05:43

Main race (28 laps): Sunday, 26th May: 8:03 - 09:00

Drivers to watch out for

There's no form guide heading into the weekend, as we're heading to a new circuit in Shanghai, but there's still a few drivers you would definitely want to focus on, over the weekend.

Championship leader Nick Cassidy will definitely be in the spotlight, following his heroics in a chaotic round nine at Berlin, coming through from the rear of the field to win the race, more so by a margin of over four seconds to his closest competitor. The Kiwi is definitely looking ominous now, having finished first and second at Berlin, and only a stellar showing from his competitors will be able to stop Cassidy's purple patch in 2024.

But who can stop him? The Porsche duo of Pascal Wehrlein and Antonio Felix Da Costa certainly could be his closest competitors on race day, The latter has displayed an impressive uptick in form over the past few rounds, taking victory in Misano before being stripped of his points later, but he made up for it with victory in round 10.

While Wehrlein has consistently kept close to Cassidy all through the season, he needs to up his game to stop Cassidy from sprinting clear with the championship. Da Costa will be looking to continue his new-found form and reel in Jaguar in the constructors. On the weekend of the team announcing their commitment to the series until 2030, can their drivers give the team even more reason to cheer?

It's hard to go by this section of the preview without a mention of Oliver Rowland, the Nissan racer having found his mojo upon returning to his former team. Six podium finishes in 2024, including one victory, the Briton has put himself firmly in the fight for the championship.

Having taken a brace of podiums at Berlin, charging through the field on both occasions, expect him to be in contention for victory once again in China.

Reigning champion Jake Dennis is another championship contender in question, however, the Briton is not in the best of form, having failed to score in two of his last three races. Pole and fifth in round 10 would be welcomed warmly, but Dennis faces an uphill task if he wants to keep his chances of winning back to back titles alive.

Finally, Sam Bird will be returning to the cockpit in Shanghai for NEOM McLaren, having missed the last three rounds due to a broken hand, after a crash in free practice at Monaco. It will definitely be interesting to see how he fares on returning to the series, and if he can score points on return, or go even better and get a podium for the team.

The championship standings heading into Shanghai are as follows:

Drivers' standings:

  1. Nick Cassidy (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 140 points

  2. Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) - 124 points

  3. Oliver Rowland (Nissan Formula E Team) - 118 points

  4. Jake Dennis (Andretti Formula E Team) - 102 points

  5. Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 97 points

Constructors' standings:

  1. Jaguar TCS Racing - 237 points

  2. TAG Heuer Porsche - 183 points

  3. Nissan Formula E Team - 144 points

  4. DS Penske - 127 points

  5. Andretti Formula E Team - 126 points

There's definitely plenty on the line for our 22 drivers and 11 teams as they take to the Shanghai International Circuit for two crucial races this weekend, as the championship battle continues to heat up with every passing round.

Will Cassidy pull out an even bigger lead leaving Shanghai, or do his opponents have anything in store to stop the Kiwi? Do tune in this weekend to find out the tale of the 2024 Formula E season.


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