Written by: Olly Radley Edited by: Daniel Yi
With the 5th and 6th rounds of the 2020/21 in Valencia fast approaching, I got thinking about who the best driver of the series’ history is. In the 6 full seasons of Formula E, there have been 5 champions, over 70 drivers (including 25 ex-F1 drivers), and 18 race winners. It is one of the most competitive open-wheel series in the world and I will go through the best of the bunch from this series.
When I asked around who people thought the best driver was, most of them answered with Jean-Eric Vergne. The former Toro Rosso F1 driver is the only 2-time champion in Formula E history. He currently drives for DS Techeetah and is in 8th in the championship having taken victory at the first of two races in Rome. The fabulous Frenchman has won 10 races in 71, having competed in every season since the birth of the series. On top of that he has got 11 poles to his name, as well as 24 podiums, 4 fastest laps, and 688 career points. To put that into perspective, that’s the 3rd highest amount of podiums and points in all of Formula E’s drivers. Jean-Eric Vergne or ‘JEV’ won his first championship in 2017/18 and followed it up with another championship in 2018/19, both with his current team, DS Techeetah. JEV’s road to glory from 7th in his first season to back to back championships is better than any other champions’ as he went from a mid-table finisher to a serial winner in Formula E. He won 2018 by 17 points and by 54 in 2019, a considerable margin over Macau grand prix winner, Lucas di Grassi. All in all, a very successful driver in the series who is widely regarded as the best of all time in Formula E.
Lucas di Grassi
As mentioned before, Lucas di Grassi is a former Macau Grand Prix winner, and the winner of the 2016/17 Formula E Championship. Like JEV, di Grassi was a former F1 driver for regular backmarkers, Virgin Racing, in 2010. The Brazilian also has 3 podium finishes at the 24 hours of Le Mans, as well 2 wins in the World Endurance Championship with Audi, the manufacturer he races for in Formula E. Di Grassi is one of 2 drivers to have raced in every single Formula E race in history, with more career points than anyone else at 802 points. Lucas di Grassi has 10 wins, 3 poles, and 32 podiums in his Formula E career all with the Audi Sport Team Abt team, which is pulling out of the series at the end of this season. In 2021, however things aren’t going as well as his 6th previous seasons, as he sits in 18th in the standings with only 6 points to his name. For his first 5 seasons though, he did better than anyone else coming: 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in those 5 seasons with a 6th place finish in 2020. Despite not having the same number of championships as Vergne, he certainly is in the running for being the best driver of all time.
The only person in this group without a championship, Sam Bird still is worthy of a shout for the best of all time. The Brit flirted with F1 in the early 2010s as a test driver for the rising Mercedes team in 2012 but instead entered the realm of Endurance and Sports car racing before joining Formula E in 2014/15. He is the only other driver to have raced in every single Formula E race in history and has taken 10 wins and 3 poles, as well as 21 podiums in his 73 to date races. From 2014/15 to 2019/20, he raced for the Virgin team, until a 10th place finish last season would be his last for the Virgin team as going into 2021, he switched to the Jaguar team that are most definitely on the rise. In the 4 races this season, he’s had an accident with another drive in 2, resulting in a retirement and in the 2 he has finished in 1st and 2nd placing him 1st in the championship ahead of teammate, Mitch Evans. His best championship finish to date is 3rd which he achieved in 2017/18. He may not have had the most victorious FE career, but he’s asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with.
One of my early picks for the best of all time, Buemi is most definitely someone to talk about. Sébastien Buemi is quite similar to Vergne, a former Toro Rosso F1 driver and a Formula E champion in the 2015/16 season. Similar to every other driver on this list, he has driven in every season but unlike the rest, he has stuck with 1 team for his entire Formula E career with e.DAMS. As well as 1st, Buemi has placed 2nd in the Formula E standings an astonishing 3 times! In his entire time in Formula E, he has amazingly never finished below 4th place in the driver’s standings, with his worst finish of 4th in 2017/18 and 2019/20. The Swiss driver has won the Le Mans 24 hours 3 consecutive times in the past 3 years along with 2 Endurance championships, a series which he continues with as well as Formula E in 2021. Buemi holds the Formula E record for most wins, at 13; most poles, at 14; and in terms of career points, he is only 9 off of the ongoing record held by di Grassi. Plus you can’t help but love whenever he comes over the team radio, overcome with fury as he screams in French to his team. All jokes aside, Buemi is one of the greats, despite the struggle he’s facing this season as he languishes down in 16th.
Nelson Piquet Jr.
The son of 3-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet Sr, Nelson Piquet Jr. was the first ever Formula E champion as he won in the inaugural 2014/15 season. Piquet has competed in several series including F1 and NASCAR but has only found success in Formula E. The Brazilian retired from FE mid-2018/19 having not found the success he had in his first year of the series. Now, at the age of 35, Nelson races in series like Stock Car Brazil, a fall from grace if you ask me.
Antonio Felix da Costa
The most recent Formula E champion, Portugal’s Antonio ‘Tonio’ Felix da Costa was on my mind as someone to consider but not as prominent as the rest due to his lack of achievement in his 5 other seasons. Nevertheless, Tonio is a fan-favourite and a saucy hotshot on the track. He has been on the grid since Day 1, originally with Aguri, then Andretti, and now Techeetah, the team that delivered him his first title. He is currently 10th in the 2021 standings having taken a podium in the second round in Diriyah.
Finally then, my verdict. In terms of consistent success, nothing tops what Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi have achieved in their Formula E years. Bird is good but without a title I don’t think he has made a solid case to prove himself as the best yet. As for JEV, he has had more championship success but his 3 seasons before that weren’t exactly consistent. So then, it comes down to Audi’s Brilliant Brazilian, Lucas di Grassi, and Nissan’s super Swiss, Sébastien Buemi. For me though, the greatest Formula E driver of all time has to be Buemi. His consistency has not been seen from any other drivers, managing to come either 1st or 2nd 4 years out of his 5 years in Formula E. Plus his success in Endurance racing just proves to me the sheer amount of talent and ability he has. For me, that is the hallmark to show that he is the best Formula E driver of all time.