Given the history of motor racing stretches back to the 1890s, finding any new ‘firsts’ in the sport is rare.
But Formula E has made its name by breaking the mold.
Approaching the opening race of its sixth season – a double header Ad Diriyah ePrix on November 22 and 23 – racing fans can look forward to something never previously seen before in motorsport: Germany’s ‘Big Four’ competing against each other.
For the first time ever, Mercedes, Porsche, BMW and Audi will have cars racing in the same single-seater championship.
Mercedes and Porsche will be making their Formula E debuts in the 2019-20 season, while BMW enters its second season as a full manufacturer after partnering with Andretti in 2018-19.
Audi is one of just five teams on the expanded grid of 12 to have been in the championship since its inaugural season, which could be a crucial factor in its battle against the other German manufacturers.
“It’s going to be very exciting to see, because obviously these four are going to be trying to show the other who’s boss,” Nicki Shields told CNN ahead of the return of Supercharged.
“So to have those big four competing together I think is going to be absolutely incredible – and obviously they’re all going to be there trying to own this championship.”
From F1 to FE
Perhaps the most mouth-watering prospect ahead of the new season is Mercedes’ introduction into the championship, with many pondering whether the Silver Arrows can emulate their total dominance in Formula One over the past six seasons.
But Formula E is vastly different to any other racing championship and teams with a rich history in motorsport have previously struggled to make their mark.
The tight, winding street circuits make overtaking opportunities scarce and the one-day format for qualifying and racing is a brutal test of mental and physical endurance for the drivers.
However, Mercedes is likely to enjoy a smoother entry into electric racing than most after dipping its toes in the water last season with affiliate team HWA Racelab.
“I’m sure that’s what Mercedes are hoping!” Shields says. “Eventually, I am sure they will be (dominant).
“However, I think you do have to keep in mind that just because you know you’re at the pinnacle of motorsport in Formula One, doesn’t mean you’re going to be the pinnacle in electric racing because it is a very different sport.
“They do have, obviously, an incredible team. They’ve got all the skills, but it’s going to take a little bit of time for them to embed in Formula E. I don’t think they’re going to come and win their first race – I mean, who knows?
“But I think it is going to take them a few races to actually get to grips with Formula E – it’s very unforgiving and there isn’t really much time to learn.”
Mercedes has also retained former Formula One driver Stoffel Vandoorne from his spell with HWA last season in the hope the Belgian can provide vital direction and assistance to new teammate Nyck de Vries, last season’s Formula 2 champion and one of the most highly regarded youngsters in motorsport.
Bye to the bromance
Porsche’s introduction means there will now be 12 teams and 24 drivers jostling for position on the grid, with Andre Lotterer – part of last season’s championship-winning team at DS Techeetah – joined by Swiss driver Neel Jani.
Jean-Eric Vergne, Lotterer’s former teammate and the other half of one of sport’s greatest bromances, remains at DS Techeetah and will be bidding to win his third Formula E title.
The Frenchman made history last season by becoming the sport’s first two-time winner and he’ll be joined in the team garage by Antonio Felix da Costa, who moves from BMW Andretti.
“DS Techeetah have done incredibly well considering they are a very new team and they’re battling it out against some of the world’s biggest manufacturers,” Shields says.
“Obviously the competition is going to be high but I think Jean-Eric Vergne is still, in terms of his driver capability, one of the best on the grid.
“But it’s goodbye to his old partner … he was best mates with, Andre Lotterer … the bromance, they used to call themselves ‘Jandre.’ But his new teammate, Antonio Felix da Costa, is a phenomenal driver. He has raced in Formula E since the very beginning and they get on really, really well.
“So it’s going to be tough given that the competition is the likes of Porsche and Mercedes, but I think DS Techeetah, having seen what they’ve already done in testing, are still going to be very competitive.”
‘The dark side … the green side’
Off the track, Formula E continues to enjoy a rapid rise in both audience and revenue growth.
Before the final two races of last season, Formula E said that an average of 32.6 million people tuned in to watch each individual race, a huge increase on the 27.1 million in 2017-18 and 18.6 million during the 2016-17 season.
That means around 400 million people watched at least one race last season, a jump of 100 million in just two years.
Race day attendances are also booming, with more than 400,000 fans coming through the gates in each of the last two seasons.
Though the sport continues to make losses, which are now more than $160 million, year-on-year revenue has continued to increase.
Formula E’s green, environmentally friendly image and message make it an attractive proposition for sponsors, led by Swiss technology organization ABB as the sport’s first title sponsor.
“If we look back to that first race in Beijing in September 2014, we all arrived thinking: ‘Is this first race even going to happen?’” Shields recalls. “There were so many things that had to go right – fortunately they did.
“So the championship has grown hugely – not only are there more manufacturers on board, the caliber of drivers has massively increased, the number of fans as has dramatically grown. It’s a very different world.
“Initially, the purists motorsport fans watching it thought: ‘Oh, what are we going to do? We can’t watch racing, they’re electric cars!’
“But actually they’ve come to realize that these cars are super quick, they have incredible acceleration and the racing is so fantastic because it is this wheel to wheel competitive nature on very tight unforgiving street circuits.
“And there is never a race without drama. So I think we’ve persuaded quite a few of them to come to the other side, the dark side – the greener side!”