8 things you need to know from the first Formula E race of the season
In the DriveTribe office, I'm seen as the Formula E fanboy and, if I'm honest, I wear that badge with pride. That's why I'm more than happy to try and create some in-office hype when there's a race at the weekend. And considering this was the first race of a pivotal new season for the sport, Friday was spent asking everyone to reserve a couple of hours of their weekend for what was setting up to be a tantalising entry into Season 5 action.
It was the first time Formula E had made it to Ad Diriyah in Saudi Arabia but as ever the circuit was full of tight bends, frighteningly skittish sweepers and frantic braking zones which made for far more action in one lap than an entire race of Formula 1.
Antonio Felix da Costa is well known for his frankly unbelievable static jump. He could be in the NFL
The main thing to look forward to however was the battle of the new big constructors now filling up the Formula E grid, and it would be BMW – the behemoths from Munich – that would take the first chequered flag of the season.
Anyway, here's everything you need to know from a cracking start to the season.
It was strangely wet for being in the desert
When you think of Saudi Arabia, you probably imagine endless baking sand dunes and temperatures north of 35 degrees centigrade. Well that wasn’t quite the case as the practice and qualifying sessions were interspersed with showers that made for some challenging conditions for the drivers in the new, more powerful Season 5 machinery.
Tom Dillmann was the first driver to take to the track in qualifying whilst everyone waited for the track to dry out a bit, but the Frenchman's engineer made a cracking call, putting in plenty laps to get used to the surface and set a solid time to beat. He’d end up taking second on the grid behind the eventual race winner Antonio Felix da Costa, with the rest of the field struggling to master the damp track with 250kW at their disposal.
Antonio Felix da Costa can’t park in a straight line
Racing drivers at this level have the talent needed to place their inside wheel on a nickel. Ask BMW Andretti’s Felix da Costa to park his car on a yellow line for the start of the race however and his strange Achilles heel suddenly becomes apparent.
While lining up for the race after taking pole position, good old Antonio ended up initially overshooting his marker, stopping not just in front but also askew from the painted line on the starting grid. He thankfully managed to reverse the car but still sat slightly facing the outside wall for the race start, making for a nervous kick-off for BMW’s first Formula E race.
Stoffel Vandoorne had all the ups and downs
The ex-McLaren man joined eight other ex-F1 drivers in this weekend’s field and showed some serious pace in qualifying. The Belgian put his HWA fifth on the grid, putting him ahead of Brit Sam Bird and last year’s champion Jean-Eric Vergne.
All of that hard work would go down the drain however, with Stoffel being simply bullied by the field early in the race.
With drivers more experienced in the sport flying past him at every braking zone, Vandoorne ended up plummeting to 17th, only beating BMW Andretti’s Alexander Sims who experienced drive-through penalties and Eduardo Mortara who had a shunt on the first lap that left him a lap down.
All-in-all, the new kid has a bit of work to do to back-up his pace before the next race weekend swings around. Either that or his engineers need to get stuck into that car to get some race pace going.
Attack mode was… interesting
Skimming over Twitter during the race, I saw a fair amount of criticism from motorsport people surrounding ‘Attack Mode’, a race mode that gives a driver a strategic power boost which is triggered by driving over a gridded surface at a specific point around the lap.
I liked it, as it ramped up the unpredictability and underlying tactics of the race, especially with these more aerodynamically efficient, more powerful cars. It introduces another level to a racing mindset other that hitting the racing line and slipstreaming the car in front, adding a slightly more ‘arcade’ feel to top level racing.
These new cars are going virtually flat out now
Bigger batteries have negated the need for a car swap mid-race and the potential to output 250kW to the rear wheels has really amped up the sense of speed when you see the cars tearing around the streets. In Saudi, it just so happened that there was a period of full course yellow flags, meaning that everyone had to put their pit lane speed limiters on and trundle around in single file until the track was cleared of a broken car.
That one stoppage meant that the cars had enough energy to essentially go flat-out to the end of the race, where before the drivers were constantly worrying about power saving and feathering the throttle to not come up short of range in the final few laps. That made for a proper banzai finish and one which allowed guys like Mitch Evans and André Lotterer to scamper up into solid points finishes.
The organisers don’t know their national anthems
After an emotional Felix da Costa emerged spritely from his BMW Andretti and took to the podium alongside JEV and Jérôme d’Ambrosio, the band struck up to play the Portuguese national anthem for the winner. They then transitioned to the anthem for the constructor. So you’d think it would either be the German or American anthem, right?
Nope, for some reason, the British national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ was pumped out, much to the bemusement of the drivers, teams and onlookers in the crowd. It was all a bit awkward really.
The coverage was a little scrappy
There seemed to be a bit of 'first day back at school' syndrome with the commentary and presenting in this initial outing. There were numerous mistakes and uncertain moments from the commentary team and they talked over each other at pivotal moments in the race, leading to the whole thing seeming a tad messy.
It is absolutely fantastic that the series is now being broadcasted free and live on television and especially YouTube but things seemed a bit slack for what is now a fully fledged racing series with tens of thousands of people tuning in.
Formula E Voltage was slightly frustrating
I'll admit that I was a massive fan of Formula E's decision to bring in influencers from far and wide to feature on a new livestream format called 'Formula E Voltage', the aim being to bring an all-new audience into a more digestible, studio-orientated insight into Formula E.
Sadly, it was the stars that made the show one big frustration for me, with Becky Evans doing her best to keep the show on track and talking about relevant topics throughout the race while KSI and Zerkaa were pratting about with RC cars and talking mostly about themselves.
I really like the format as a template and I think that the presenting duo is promising, but I sincerely hope that the guests for the rest of the season are a bit more respectful to the audience and the racing that they're there to enjoy and chat about.
What an epic first race it was in Saudi Arabia; I genuinely can't wait to see how this season unfolds with the likes of DS Cheetah and BMW Andretti looking strong and Audi Sport looking like it has some serious work to do to emulate the team win from last season.
Anyway, if you didn't manage to catch the race, here are some highlights:
Did you watch the action from Saudi Arabia? If so, drop us a comment as to what you thought of the first race of Formula E Season 5!