Audi driver Daniel Abt has accused his Formula E rivals of cheating the series’ FanBoost voting system, believing it is a “catastrophe” that drivers are able to win it through unfair means.

FanBoost is a concept that has been around in Formula E since the all-electric series’ inception, providing an extra 100kJ of energy that can be used strategically by drivers, whether it be attacking or defending position, in a power window for 190kW to 200kW - an increase on the regular race output of 180kW. It is awarded to the three drivers who receive the most votes on the Formula E official app and via Twitter by using the appropriate hashtag.

The idea of being able to vote to give your favourite driver an additional power boost divides opinion among fans.  There are the purists who feel it is nothing more than an unnecessary gimmick, and then there are those who support Formula E’s efforts to increase fan interaction.

But Abt - one of Formula E’s most socially active drivers - is convinced something is amiss with the voting process, and has threatened to stop working for FanBoost votes in future.

"I know you work your asses off to vote for me, and I'm working my ass off to get you involved. But then there are some drivers who manage to cheat a bit,” he said in a video blog addressing his fans.

"I'm not saying it because I'm a sore loser, I'm saying it because I know it - somebody told me about it. Definitely there's something wrong. We were in front [with the votes for last week's Santiago race] the whole time, but suddenly some drivers get a lot of votes overnight.

"Strangely, all the votes are from 12 cities in China. They must have an awesome fanbase there. Formula E knows about it, but they can't do anything because they cannot prove it properly. This is a catastrophe. I was getting really upset about it.

"I'm feeling cheated. I know we would win this thing every time, if it was fair. I'm fighting for a fair treatment.”

Doubts over the voting process are nothing new in Formula E. Lucas di Grassi threw his hat into the ring with a series of tweets in 2015 that questioned discrepancies in the system, adding there was no correlation between the hashtags used to vote on Twitter and the final position on the FanBoost leaderboard.

Formula E has pushed to ensure that votes cast are genuine and has a partnership with a third-party real-time voting company called Telescope, which has worked with American TV shows including American Idol, The Voice and Dancing With The Stars, to validate the process. 

The series has also reduced the number of days before the event that voting opens from 12 to six, as well as removing the ability to vote via Instagram and disabling email-only sign-ups to the Formula E app in a bid to beat the ‘bots’ that could automatically vote and give drivers an advantage.

Abt’s comments followed last weekend’s Santiago E-Prix, which marked the first occasion this season he had failed to secure one of the three FanBoost votes, with the slots instead being filled by di Grassi, Jose Maria Lopez and Sebastien Buemi. Abt had been leading the way with 25 percent of the votes two days before the race, only for Lopez and Buemi to surge and shuffle him out of the top three late on.

"It’s not surprising the drivers with the most FanBoost votes are some of the better-known names, or those fighting for wins and championships. Fans usually tend to vote for the drivers in the fight at the front, wanting to influence the podium picture," said Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag.

"It’s also interesting how voting changes between drivers when visiting the different countries we race in. Lopez was the star in Santiago because of his South American origin, as much as Filippi was in Hong Kong for its ties with the Chinese NIO team. Other drivers with a following and who’re also active on social media pick-up the award regularly too."

A quick look at the figures reveals an interesting pattern. Abt, who was stripped of his first Formula E victory in Hong Kong, is actually one of the most regular winners of the FanBoost system. 

Not only did he receive FanBoost in Hong Kong and Marrakesh, but he also ranked in the vote’s top three positions at nine of the 12 races during the 2016/17 campaign.

In fact, of the 24 drivers who raced in Formula E through Season 3, just six ever received FanBoost after ranking in the top three. Title fighters di Grassi and Buemi both had FanBoost for every single race they contested.

The only other drivers to get FanBoost were Abt, Jean-Eric Vergne (two races), Jose Maria Lopez and Alex Lynn (one race each). Vergne and Lynn each secured one FanBoost vote in New York when Buemi was absent.

Were FanBoost to be awarded completely randomly, each driver should have a 15 percent chance of getting it at a race. Season 3 was by far the most one-sided campaign so far for the system in Formula E, though, with Buemi, di Grassi and Abt accounting for a whopping 86 percent of all FanBoost rewards.

One of the big factors potentially working in their favour is that they race for manufacturers (Renault and Audi), who, with wider employment bases than smaller operations on the grid, may be able to garner in-house support to boost votes - which is entirely fair.

Nevertheless, the changes put in place for Season 4 do appear to be having the desired effect, even after only four races. Six different drivers have already won FanBoost - just as many as in all of Season 3 - and while the usual suspects of Abt, di Grassi and Buemi may be among them, newcomers such as Kamui Kobayashi and Luca Filippi (both from countries with strong Formula E fanbases) plus the returning Lopez have changed things up.

Along with the drivers, team PR teams work hard on FanBoost campaigns through social media to not only try and gain a competitive advantage but also to raise the profiles of all parties involved.

To pour a significant amount of time and effort into trying to win FanBoost only for bots to undo all of that hard work is a tough pill to swallow, particularly when paddock sentiment is that there are still loopholes that can be exploited to win votes, even if the results are yet to make it obvious.

And the longer they remain, the greater the temptation will grow for drivers to think ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

So Abt’s frustration is understandable. He has been one of the most prolific Formula E figures on social media and, in particular, YouTube. He works hard to bring the series closer to fans and offer an insight into a racing driver’s life, hitting the tone the series is looking to convey.

"Abt is setting an example to others with his enthusiastic approach and constant engagement with fans, which is key to obtaining more votes," acknowledged Agag.

"He’s had a little outburst recently criticising the system as his efforts weren’t rewarded in Santiago, but he called me to apologise, so no hard feelings there.

"The FanBoost voting system is constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure user verification and credible results. We’ve continued to improve the system since it was implemented in the first-ever season of Formula E, adding further layers of authentication to the voting process following suggestions from the teams.

"Well over a million fans have voted for their favourite driver and we see this number growing as the popularity of the series increases.

"The system is very reliable and drivers shouldn’t waste time in questioning the validity of FanBoost."

Proof of whether Formula E’s new efforts to fix the system will come in the final figures at the end of the year. There are encouraging signs of greater variation - but it needs to be sustained through the year and reward savvy, engaging social media efforts that will help achieve Formula E’s goal of becoming one of the most fan-friendly championships around.

Luke Smith contributed to this feature.