Here at DT towers, we have a number of fans of Formula E. While I admit to catching an occasional race on TV, to date I have yet to be fully converted to this fledgling race series.
To attempt to fully convince me, the very nice people at Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler invited me to Rome for race day giving me full access to the team and garage. They also chauffeured us around the Eternal City in new Audi Q7 E-Tron which is the only way to travel. We also had full VIP access to watch the race from one of the best viewing spots in town located at the start/finish straight.
On the Friday before race day, we were allowed a taste of what was to come with the shakedown testing and a tour of the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler garage along with exclusive access to the cars (more to come on that later) and team drivers Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi. On race day, some 30,000 people showed up for a race that had everything from crashes to heroic overtakes and breathtaking fight back’s all the way to the chequered flag.
Having spent two days on the ground with Formula E, here are five reasons why it is the racing series you need to watch.
Battery management adds to the thrill factor
As you may or may not be aware, the current generation of Formula E cars cannot last the race distance due to the limitations of the battery setup. With the only way to last the distance meaning a car swap at the midway point of the race.
I found that this akin to the likes of the F1 of old; in as that the Formula E drivers literally hang it all out there running down their power reserves to virtually nothing to gain an advantage. On race day both Audi drivers bravely pitted an entire lap later than the rest of the field. With di Grassi showing zero range anxiety by running his battery down to minimal percentage before finally coming in for a car change.
City circuits leave no margin for error at all
This inaugural Rome ePrix was based on the closed streets of the EUR neighbourhood of Rome in what is a super tight and technical circuit featuring some 21 turns through its 1.77-mile distance.
When walking the circuit, it seems fairly wide as you’d expect of any other racetrack. But when twenty Formula E cars wail around it at high speed, it becomes a very small place very quickly.
Here in Rome, get it wrong even by a few inches and your pretty much done for as there is nowhere to go with no real run-off space to speak of on track. From my lofty viewing position, the sight of the cars literally grazing the walls while exiting the corners is the type of on the raggedy edge racing you want to see.
Spectacular overtaking and heartbreak aplenty
Overtaking in racing has always been a bit of a tense subject; some racing series introduce gimmicks to try to force it to happen, whereas in others it occurs naturally.
In the Formula E Rome ePrix though, aside from the Fanboost induced moment where di Grassi passed Buemi on his way to second place, the race was packed with brave overtaking moves throughout.
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From Techeetah driver Jean-Eric Vergne passing early front-runner Renault E.Dams driver Sebastian Buemi in the final stages, all the way to Audi’s di Grassi pressurising Panasonic Jaguar’s Mitch Evans before finally passing him in Turn 9 with two laps to go, the Rome ePrix had it all.
The heartbreak factor though was a different story though for Mitch Evans, who after holding second place behind race leader Sam Bird in the final stages somehow managed to exhaust his car’s battery to the point where he dropped down the field, finally finishing in ninth position.
EV racing has all of the thrills and spills you’d ever want
For those of you that are thinking ‘Formula E cannot be thrilling to watch when the circuit band is louder than the cars’ here is why you're wrong. From the sight of DS Racing driver Sam Bird exiting the chicane slightly sideways with an obligatory brush of the wall, to Mahindra Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist being forced to retire while leading the race, it just had all of the excitement you’d ever want.
On the flipside of all of the position swapping came the four-car incident at the turn 13 hairpin involving Oliver Turvey, Nick Heidfeld, Luca Filippi and Edoardo Mortara resulting a stricken-looking cluster of Formula E cars coming together to partially block the track.
Thrilling comebacks throughout
Both Audi team drivers Abt and di Grassi skilfully saved energy in the first half of the race enabling them to complete a late pitstop, the result of which saw them claw back a 10-second deficit on the race leaders while battling their way forward through the chasing pack.
Using the additional power from his Fanboost selection, di Grassi provided a thrilling late fightback passing Sebastian Buemi before being mere inches from race leader Sam Bird in the final stages, the sight of these two drivers battling it out in the final moments of the race was brilliant to watch from my position on the start/finish straight.
With di Grassi starting the race in sixth and Abt in ninth, both drivers dug deep to complete a massive fightback with Abt bringing his car home in fourth place gaining the fastest lap in the process. With the main event being di Grassi, who fought through the pack to take second in a much-deserved podium finish.
Rome ePrix – Race Report
As an introduction to the Formula E series, the Rome race had it all. From the sight of the cars skipping over the kerbs through the tight apex’s, to the all out wheel to wheel action, it was a full bloodied racing at its finest.
What are your thoughts on Formula E? Get in on the comments and let us know.