The first Formula E race is due at the weekend. On paper the FIA’s electric series isn’t a match for Formula 1, and the F1 racing has been good at the front. However when Virgin announced their driver line-up for Formula E, it underlined F1’s big problem.
The one on the left is Jaime Alguersuari. He was quite good racing in F1 in Toro Rosso and was sacked at very short notice for two even younger drivers. With a bit more notice he might have found another team and still be racing in F1 today. The driver on the right is Sam Bird. He came second in the GP2 championship, missing out on the title in the last race to Fabio Leimer, who also isn’t in F1. It’s hard to tell if he’s good enough for F1. Marcus Ericsson, 6th last year in GP2, has a seat with Caterham, where he’s doing nothing much — but that could be partly the car.
They are good drivers, and while F1 fans might say they’re not the best in the world, if you were drawing up a list of the best available drivers, these two would be on it. The Formula E teams seem to be hiring the best they can. In contrast if you look at the F1 grid, half the F1 teams have at least one driver who is the most profitable a team can hire, not the best. What keeps Alguersuari and Bird off the F1 grid is a lack of money, not talent.
I’m not sure about the cars. They look the part, but it’s hard to be sure about speed. The times at the first test were slow, but there was almost a roadblock by the Old Hairpin. Buemi finished day five of testing 1m31.792s, and for comparison the lap record for Formula 4 is 1m31.603s. However, the Formula E cars won’t race on GP circuits, so headline speed might not be the issue.