Formula E confirmed months of rumors on Friday when the all-electric series announced the cancellation of an upcoming second season race in Moscow. For fans of the young series, it sounds like bad news, especially because there are only 11 races in a season. But it likely won't hurt the series for a few reasons.
The biggest is that, before the cancellation, the series' second season has been fantastic. It's featured some incredible races, wonderful drama, and even some controversy. (And nothing legitimizes a racing series like controversy.) But the best part is that losing Moscow turns an already good championship race into an even greater one.
There's a silver lining here
Axing the race in Russia has all but assured that each of the title competitions (driver and team) will be a two-horse race. And at first glance that seems bad for business. Who wouldn't want multiple competitors in the running going into the final race?
But even before before Moscow was dropped, the Dragon Racing (3rd place) and DS Virgin (4th place) teams needed nothing short of a miracle to erase their respective 53- and 59-point deficits. The same goes for the individual championship: Virgin's Sam Bird sits third in the drivers' standings, and is 44 points back of the lead and 33 behind second place. Shortening the remaining schedule seals those fates. But it also turns the heat way up on the heavyweight fights happening between the top two contenders for each trophy; contenders that all happen to be connected.
In the team championship fight, the Renault e.Dams team absolutely dominated in the first half of the season after winning the season one trophy. Between its two drivers, Renault captured two poles, two wins, and six top-five finishes in the first five races alone. Some of this domination seemed to come from the cars themselves — after forcing the teams to run the same spec car in season one, the series allowed teams to develop their own drivetrains for the second season. Renault reportedly dumped around $10 million into its two-gear solution, including the development of a carbon fiber gearbox that helps make the teams' cars the lightest on the grid.
Renault and Buemi dominated early, but ABT and di Grassi caught back up
But Renault ran into troubles in the last few races, especially in qualifying. Issues with the brake systems forced the team to strip the cars down before the most recent race in Paris so they could diagnose what was going wrong. In the meantime, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport has pulled within seven points. That should (and likely does) have Renault worried, because ABT has what is probably the second-best car and maybe the fastest driver: Lucas di Grassi.
Renault also owes its good start to driver Sebastian Buemi, who was running away with the points through the first five races, but now finds himself 11 points behind — you guessed it — di Grassi.
The two men now appear destined for a spectacular race to the finish, and the added pressure of one less race makes it all the more interesting — not just because of how close they are in the points, or because they're often the fastest drivers on the track, but because drama has followed both of them in the early going of Formula E.
Buemi lost last season's drivers championship by a single point and, after dominating earlier this season, has seen his luck turn sour once again. The aforementioned brake issues, along with whatever mental games they might have played with his head, have plagued his recent qualifying efforts. That was fine in Buenos Aires, where Buemi started in the back but fought all the way up through the field to finish second — a feat that made for the best race of the season so far. But he finished outside the points in Long Beach after wrecking during a similar charge through the field, and in Paris he settled for a third-place finish after starting eighth.
Meanwhile, di Grassi won both of those last two races. The win in Long Beach moved di Grassi past Buemi into the championship lead, and the win in Paris extended his lead to 11 points. But he's had to fight a fair share of turmoil, too. Di Grassi also fell just shy of last year's drivers championship, losing by just 11 points and finishing third. And while he's won three races this season, he should have won a fourth — he actually took the checkered flag in Mexico City but was disqualified after the race because his car was 1.8kg under the 888kg minimum. Amazingly, that wasn't even the first time di Grassi was stripped of a win — the same thing happened to him last season in Berlin when he was found running a modified front wing.
Both drivers narrowly missed winning the trophy last season
Excellent season aside, Formula E fans shouldn't read too much into losing the race in Russia. Cancellations happen, especially when you're dealing with races on street circuits in city centers. There are so many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to making them happen — series organizers, promoters, representatives for the city, the contractors that build the course, and more — that it's hard to make everyone happy.
This is partly why other open-wheel series like IndyCar and Formula One fill out their schedules with races at purpose-built race tracks. But even established series like those aren't immune to cancellations — IndyCar, for example, recently had to cancel this year's Labor Day race in Boston, and last year the season opener in Brazil was axed at the last minute.
A replacement race would have been welcome, and Formula E was apparently working very hard at securing one. The series' organizers reportedly met a couple of times with Prince Albert II and the Automobile Club de Monaco to try to move the race to Monte Carlo. (Formula E raced there last year in its inaugural season, but a major crash on the first lap wiped out most of the field, resulting in a particularly dull race.)
Unfortunately there was not enough time to pull all the strings required to make something like that happen. For one, other events have apparently left the principality's hotels booked up. But the biggest barrier may be Formula E's own doing — in the name of keeping things green, the series meticulously plans out its calendar in order to keep the shipping routes of the cars and equipment as short as possible between races.
With the news of the Moscow cancellation now behind it, the series heads to Berlin — the site of di Grassi's season one disqualification — for a race on May 21st. After that, the battle between Buemi, di Grassi, and their respective teams will reach its conclusion during two races on July 2nd and 3rd at London's Battersea Park, where the trophies will be waiting.