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Formula E preview: Tokyo

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

A new dawn awaits Formula E — quite literally, as the electric racing series makes its way into the Land of the Rising Sun, for the much-anticipated Tokyo E Prix.

The idea of a Formula E race in Tokyo has always been on the cards, with the series founders initially eyeing up racing at Tokyo in the inaugural 2014-15 Formula E season. The possibility of racing in the world's most populous city, with a staggering 37 million inhabitants spread across the megalopolis, is always a prospective offer.

A tremendous market for the all-electric racing series to tap into, and one could only imagine the avenues it would open up for Formula E.

Plans for a race in Tokyo were first set in stone in 2022, when the top brass reached an agreement to begin planning for a race in the city, with a track layout fronting the Tokyo Bay, and traversing some famous attractions of the Japanese capital.

Plans were on to host a race in spring 2024, during the busiest travel seasons, when the famous sakura (cherry blossoms) begin to bloom, drawing tourists from across the world. Now, the residents of Tokyo can enjoy the experience of Formula E cars racing along their dazzling streets, in one of Formula E's most sought-after racing destinations.

The Tokyo E Prix is yet another advancement in Japan's plans to go all-electric in 2030, with the country known to be at the forefront of developing new technologies, and paving the way for the world to follow. According to Tokyo's governor Yuriko Koike, the championship will induce momentum towards Japan's achieving its goal of going all-electric.

The Japanese have always been known as avid automobile enthusiasts, often known for their contraptions and being at the forefront of novelty in the automobile sector. From kei cars to the popular practice of drifting emerging from the Japanese touge (mountain pass), and locally-produced supercars being a hit amongst automobile enthusiasts, the Japanese have truly expressed their desire for speed and innovation in varying forms and guises.

Racetracks in the country speak the language of auto enthusiasts, revered for their sweeping corners, unorthodox designs, and the ultimate dream for racing drivers and fans of the sport. The Tokyo E Prix track layout draws qualities of some Japanese racetracks, featuring a tricky infield section, and challenging corners linked by straights, expected to play host to an exciting race.

The excitement is bubbling, the hype is inevitable. A momentous occasion for the series and motorsport enthusiasts, indeed, as one of Formula E's long-standing dreams is finally set to become a reality.

With electric vehicles sales starting to pick up in the country, Formula E's arrival into the Land of the Rising Sun is an important shot in the arm, for the motorsport fans in the country, as well as the government's long-term goals. There is no doubt this is set to be one of Formula E's biggest race weekends in the history of the series.

The drivers' standings heading into round five at Tokyo are as follows:

  1. Nick Cassidy (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 57 points

  2. Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) - 53 points

  3. Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 39 points

  4. Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Penske) - 39 points

  5. Jake Dennis (Andretti) - 38 points

The teams' standings ahead of round five at Tokyo are as follows:

  1. Jaguar TCS Racing - 96 points

  2. TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team - 61 points

  3. DS Penske - 57 points

  4. NEOM McLaren Formula E Team - 55 points

  5. Andretti Formula E - 47 points

The track layout for the Tokyo E Prix

A tricky, technical 2.582 km (1.604 mi) 20-turn track awaits the 22 drivers and 11 teams set to take part in the Tokyo E Prix this weekend. Initially set to consist of 18 corners, a chicane consisting of turns 16-17-18 has been added as a precautionary measure, anticipating high speeds in this section of the circuit.

Set in the backdrop of the Tokyo metropolitan area, the circuit winds around the Tokyo Big Sight Convention Centre, with the start/finish circuit situated next to the Tokyo Bay.

The tight, technical series of corners spanning turns three to eight is set to give the drivers a workover, and with attack zone situated on the outside of the challenging left-hander of turn four, expect some side-by-side action going into the next series of corners too, when drivers begin to activate attack modes during the race.

Major overtaking spots for the drivers include the entry of the turn 10-11 chicane, or the chicane consisting of turns 16, 17, and 18. An unorthodox overtaking spot can also be the quick left-hander of turn 15, should a driver set up the overtake in the previous chicane, and tail his rival along the ensuing speed section.

Despite the circuit running entirely outdoors, the vibe of racing indoor will definitely be felt, due to the proximity of racetrack to the Big Sight Convention Centre, a similar case to the ExCel Arena in London, which hosts the London E Prix.

While drivers will have opportunities to overtake, the Tokyo E Prix is set to be more straightforward compared to the previous round in Sao Paulo, with less of peloton style racing expected, and a tricky section in the lap limiting overtaking opportunities to the latter sectors of the track.

Drivers to watch out for

With narrower confines set for the race, and fewer overtaking opportunities, the race is set to be more plain sailing for the drivers. However, track position will be key for the race. The emphasis turns to the best qualifiers on the grid — how much can they extract from the machinery at their disposal, and get higher up the starting grid?

The spotlight turns to Pascal Wehrlein, the Porsche driver having taken two pole positions in 2024, including the latest one at São Paulo by the slender margin of two milliseconds. The German has displayed exceptional race pace in the past, and can pull away from his rivals from pole, as evidenced by him in the season opener at Mexico City in January.

Jean-Eric Vergne is another pole-sitter in 2024, the Frenchman having claimed pole at Diriyah earlier this season. The most successful driver on the grid, and the only double world champion in Formula E, he sure knows a thing or two about defensive driving.

With the narrow confines of the circuit, Vergne can use his street smarts to manage energy effectively, and keep quicker and more efficient cars at bay, as he displayed at Diriyah this year, on his way to second place in round two.

As always, the usual bigwigs in the form of the two Jaguar drivers Mitch Evans and championship leader Nick Cassidy will be in the spotlight. Cassidy has shown his ability to bounce back from poor qualifying sessions, with three of his four victories last season coming from outside the top five.

Hungry to bounce back from his São Paulo non-finish, the Kiwi has a chance to add to his achievements in the nation, in what is practically his 'home' race, given his achievements from racing in the nation, being the only one to have won the Japanese Triple Crown (Super GT, Japanese F3, and the Super Formula).

As for Evans, he is coming off an excellent second-place at São Paulo, and he would be hungry to add to his tally at Tokyo, and continue his strong form heading into the heart of the Formula E season.

Do keep an eye on Sam Bird, our most-recent race winner, his last-lap overtake on Evans earning plaudits from all corners. The experienced Briton can pull off astounding drives, as evidenced by his São Paulo showing, and with the improving efficiency of the Nissan powertrain beneath his McLaren, he will definitely be one to watch out for.

As for Nissan, their duo Oliver Rowland and Sacha Fenestraz can be marked as favourites for the weekend — their first home race too. It's great timing for the Japanese outfit too, with times on the up and up, and improved efficiency of their powertrain paving the way for Rowland's podium finishes at Diriyah and São Paulo.

Often known to pull out stunning qualifying performances, Rowland even has a pole to his name in 2024, and coming off a rich vein of form, with back-to-back podiums, he will be looking to impress in his team's home race, and make it a hat trick of podium appearances.

Fenestraz is no stranger to great qualifying performances, having taken pole at Cape Town last season, and would be looking to step on the podium for the first time as a Formula E racer, perhaps even as a race winner. Much like Cassidy, he too possesses experience racing in the country, having raced in the Super Formula series before his Formula E debut in 2021.

A grand homecoming for Nissan

Speaking of Nissan, the team will officially get a home race in 2024, with their headquarters only an hour's drive from the venue of the event.

While the team could claim to have a home race of sorts in the past, the Paris E Prix, this was in the team's debut Formula E season, when they were racing in collaboration with French outfit DAMS.

Having raced as an independent outfit in the Gen3 era, the team's fortunes have changed, with an improvement from ninth in 2022 to seventh in 2023, with both Nissan cars looking more competitive as the season went on.

The team have improved by leaps and bounds in 2024, with their fortunes buoyed by the return of Oliver Rowland to their fold. Rejuvenated after sitting out the final seven rounds of 2023, the man from Barnsley has taken a pole position, and back-to-back podium finishes, displaying excellent racecraft to finish third at São Paulo, including a last-corner switchback overtake to snatch the final podium spot.

The Japanese outfit have also continued to work on the efficiency of their powertrain, and the hard work has paid off in the form of Rowland's podiums at Diriyah and São Paulo, giving the team a significant boost heading into their home race.

To commemorate their home race, the team have teased a new livery inspired by the sakura (cherry blossom) flower, a popular Japanese tourist attraction. Nissan has also been announced as the official sponsor of the Tokyo E Prix.

In addition, on the eve of the weekend, the team have also become the first to confirm their commitment to race in the upcoming Gen4 era, which commences in 2026, and runs until 2030. This will mark 12 years since the team started out in Formula E, having debuted in 2018 as the Nissan e-DAMS outfit.

It truly is a special moment for the team, and as said by Fenestraz during his interview with DIVEBOMB before the season started, 'one he is really looking forward to'. Could Nissan deliver at home with a thrilling victory, and put themselves in prime form for the European stretch of the Formula E season? Only time will be able to tell us the tale.

Timings for the weekend

Free practice 1: Friday, 29th March, 2024 — 16:30 local time (7:30 UTC)

Free practice 2: Saturday, 30th March, 2024 — 08:00 local time (23:00 UTC on Friday)

Qualifying: Saturday, 30th March, 2024 — 10:20 local time (1:20 UTC)

Race: Saturday, 30th March, 2024 — 15:00 local time (6:00 UTC)

The race is set to run for a minimum of 33 laps, before taking into account any extra laps due to safety car periods in the race.

The weather forecast for race day is set to be relatively warm and sunny, and temperatures expected to reach upto 21 degrees Celsius.

Vyas's predictions for the race

With the race expected to be a relatively less chaotic one than the peloton style race we had at São Paulo, track position will be key for the race.

I would predict a pole position for home favourites Nissan, with Oliver Rowland pulling out a special lap, as he has shown earlier this year at Diriyah. With Nissan's powertrain delivering improved efficiency, Rowland will control the race, and bring home a special victory for the Nissan team, a much-awaited maiden victory ever since the team's existence as an independent manufacturer in the Gen3 era.

The other podium spots would be filled by Nick Cassidy and Sam Bird, after a multi-car battle among drivers from different teams, with the former rebounding from a tough exit at São Paulo, and the latter continuing his impressive form, and consolidate his position in the top ten, heading into the rest of the season.

All in all, Formula E's debut weekend in Tokyo is set to be electrifying, with the much-awaited weekend finally set to kick off on Friday, when drivers take to the streets of the Japanese capital. Do make sure to tune in to proceedings, according to your respective time zones, for a thrilling race weekend!


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