Formula-e Electric car racing was shown live on ITV4 in the UK, so I decided to give it ago after recently seeing publicity about it. I am a motor racing fan and have watch every F1 race since the mid 1980’s as well as many other motor sports as they come a go on TV. I have also been to see several British Touring car races at Brands Hatch and Thruxton, DTM and many races at small circuits.
After reading about the new formula-e and seeing the driver and team line up it looks interesting with some talented drivers involved.
Practice1 and 2 takes place in the morning of race day, with two sessions totaling 1 hr 15 mins track time. An hour after Practice 2 is qualifying. Qualifying is split into 4 groups of 10 minute sessions where 5 cars try to set the best lap time. This set-up can really mix up the grid if the track conditions change during the sessions. Obviously if it rains during a session then those cars will have no hope of getting a decent time against the dry track runners. I think all cars should be given the chance to qualify in the same conditions. The driver that gets Pole Position will also get three championship points.
Nicolas Prost for e.Dams-renault qualified on pole,
Lucas di Grassi for Audi Sport ABT was second
Danial Abt for Audi Sport ABT was third.
It seems that the gear boxes of these cars are easily damaged as Sabastian Buemi, Jarno Trulli, Michela Cerutti, Stephane Sarrazin and Ho-Pin Tung had to take a 10 place grid penalty for changing the gearbox. Ho-Pin Tung, Jarno Trulli, Bruno Senna and Stephane Sarrazin were all unable to do any laps in qualifying due to their mechanical issues. Senna had previously got the best time in practice 2.
There is a 3 hour gap between qualifying and the Race at 4:00pm local time. In that time the Fan Boost vote takes place via an online voting system. The 3 drivers with the most votes get 5 seconds of extra power for the race giving them a chance at a free overtake. For China the fans voted for Bruno Senna, Lucas di Grassi and Katherine Legge.
The track, being a street track, was tight and twisty but had a couple of corners that were particurlary tight so only 1 car could get through, making overtaking difficult. There was also a little chicane with high kerbs that was barely one car wide.
The cars do a warm-up lap before the start, though they drive round so slow to conserve battery power it’s hard to believe the tyres get much heat in them at all.
The start was as exciting and hectic as any motor race with Heidfeld making a good start from 6th to 3rd. Bruno Senner managed to hit the high kerb on the second corner which broke the front suspension putting him out of the race. Once the cars settled down there was some overtaking taking place. I found ITV4’s coverage a bit difficult to follow in the fact I didn’t know the cars so couldn’t tell who was on screen. The positions were not shown on screen as much as I would like so never really knew how well drivers were progressing through the field. So other than catching what the commentators were saying it was a little slow to follow. To be fair to ITV4 this could be info supplied by the FIA and out of ITV4’s control.
I didn’t get the impression the cars we not on the limit as they kept away from the walls but battery life is obviously a big issue. Like F1 have to race to maintain tyres, formula-e race to conserve the energy. So i would expect that the best racing will take place just before the pit stop and in the last few laps when the drivers aim to use the power less economically.
Pretty much all the cars pitted on the same lap making the pit lane particurlary busy. With a minimum time changing cars of 50 seconds several cars had to wait before they could get on with the race so were unable to take advantage of an efficient car change. Hopefully and area that will be looked at for future races.
The second car didn’t have tyre warmers that i could see before the car change so im not sure that there is any benefit to the very slow warm up lap before the race starts.
The second half of the race had more overtaking as the drivers got into the race. Most notably Nick Heidfeld in second place chasing down Nicolas Prost who was in first. Increasing his lap time due to better battery life. Until the last corner as Heildfeld came up the inside of the last corner Prost swerved left to defend crashing in to Heidfeld. What followed was a nasty accident as Heidfelds damaged car skidded into the high kerbs of the last corner flipping the car high into the air, hitting the crash barrier before rolling to a stop. Amazingly Nick walked away but initially it looked like he had gone into the barrier where his head was. Thankfully he said he was Ok after the race. But was a dramatic end to an otherwise average race with moments of excitement.
Overall the racing was close helped by a safety car in the first few laps. I felt the track didn’t have many overtaking opportunities so hopefully the track in Malaysia will be better. I would expect the racing to get better as the drivers and teams get the hang off what they need to do, so will definitely be watching for a full season before I decide if it is an interesting formula to watch.