The Next Generation: A Look at Formula E’s First Gen 2 Race.
After much anticipation, anxiousness and indeed criticism, The ABB Formula E Championship held it’s first race of the 2018/2019 Season in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday last. This marked a significantly massive range of changes to the all electric championship. For this season, we have seen new faster, more powerful and more efficient cars, new locations, new drivers, new manufacturers and even an all new race format. An almost all new championship from where we left of in New York City last July, but the question is, were these new changes beneficial?
The Generation 2 Cars
Probably one of the most biggest changes to the championship for Season 5 was the much eagerly awaited debut of the beautiful Gen 2 cars. Looking like something out of a Batman movie, these cars wowed fans and spectators alike when they first were unveiled at the start of the year and if the bold futuristic looks were not enough, it was also revealed that the cars would both be much faster and more efficient then their first generation counterparts with the 0-100km/h time coming down to a staggering 2.8 seconds, and the top speed being increased to roughly 280 km/h, an estimated 40 km/h increase. The improved efficiency and batteries meant that the mandatory pitstop to change car was no longer needed as cars will now run to the end of the race.
Often the part where the race was won or lost, I was afraid that the disappearance of the pitstop and new cars meant that cars could no longer properly race each other and that one driver would lead to the end but this was not the case. Thanks to the aerodynamics and that brilliant double diffuser on each car, plenty of racing and passing was attempted to much excitement. The cars have not seemed to have outgrown city tracks either and seem right at home on these street tracks. This season marks also the addition and full support of major manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Nissan and DS Automobiles, with giants Porsche and Mercedes making their debut in Season 6.
As well as much loved locations such as Rome, Paris, Hong Kong and New York confirmed to be returning for Season 5, New cities have also been added such as Sanya in China, Bern in Switzerland and as we saw for the inaugural round, Ad Diriyah in Saudi Arabia. Holding the first major international motorsport event in the middle east, Saudi Arabia was met with much criticism and debate due to their extensively bad human rights record. Now bearing in mind I fully respect all views on this topic and will not argue on what they believe in, but I thoroughly believe that Motorsport should be open to everyone and that Politics or any Countries’ beliefs should not play a part in the organisation of such an event, hence why I was for this race and indeed races like the F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku.
The race itself was fantastic in my opinion. Some criticised the track and I was also in lieu to do so when I saw the layout but when I saw the actual on track action I loved it. The track was fast, narrow, tight and demanded strong focus and concentration, especially in a race scenario and running with other cars. I am really looking forward to what layouts the new cities are willing to offer, as well as the returning Santiago round in Chile hosting a new layout as well.
Take one look at the grid for this season and you cannot deny that there is some amazing talent on there for sure. Known for combining the best from many different forms of top level motorsport, this season is definitely no different. As well as returning champions and WEC veterans Lucas DiGrassi and Sebastien Buemi there’s DTM Champion Gary Paffett, WTCC legend Jose Maria Lopez in his third season of Formula E, former F1 drivers and Formula E champions Jean-Eric Vergne and Nelson Piquet Jr, as well as 11 time race winner and Ferrari frontman Felipe Massa joining champion veterans Sam Bird, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Daniel Abt and Oliver Turvey. Other notable drivers are ex-McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne, Manor and Mercedes’ Pascal Wehrlein and BMW works driver Alexander Sims all making their debut in Season 5 to round off a truly impressive grid.
Eventual race winner Antonio Felix DaCosta leads for BMW i Andretti on the opening lap ahead of Sebastien Buemi and Jose Maria Lopez.
Despite Formula E losing it’s pitstops, it has come up with some very cunning ways to make sure the racing is kept entertaining. As well as the return of the famous “Fanboost” where fans get to vote for their favourite driver to win a power boost during the race (which has now been extended from three drivers to five,) there is also the addition of “Attack Mode.” Each driver gets two attempts to use this throughout the race, and requires the driver to go off the normal line and pass through three sensors, giving their car a special 25 kW boost to use. I initially believed this was only for use in a straight line but became apparent during the race that when drivers collect this, they then have the boost equipped for four minutes at a time, allowing them a brief chance to attack the cars ahead. As mentioned, each driver gets two attempts at this and both must be used before the end of the race. Thanks to a late safety car due to Jose Maria Lopez damaging his rear wheel, it seen a scurry of drivers use their final attempt within the last few moments of the race, giving some great action. However, Lopez himself prior to his accident could not activate his Attack Mode on both his attempts, so maybe this is something that needs to be addressed in time for the next round in Marrakesh.
The major change in the race format itself is that instead of a set number of laps, the races now run on a timer of 45 minutes. When this timer is finished, the next lap the lead driver starts is deemed the final lap and the race will end. 45 minutes plus a lap so to speak. I also feared this would hinder the racing as cars may struggle for battery life towards the end, but definitely deals a great hand for different strategies amongst teams, and despite the late Safety Car, drivers were finishing with roughly 20% charge left, so I believe under normal circumstances this will not be an overly major problem. Despite heavy rain confusing and causing disruptions to earlier practice sessions (Heavy rain in a desert country, I know!) the event itself ran really well and smoothly throughout the day.
Being a fan since the very beginning of the Formula E championship I was excited but very sceptical about so many changes for this season and was worried that it would hinder the great racing and unpredictability we got so used to loving but not at all. I loved Saturday’s race in Ad Diriyah and I think although some major changes such as Attack Mode will take some getting used to and may feel a bit cheesy, it does make the sport fun and engaging to watch as long as you don’t take it too seriously and I am very happy with how unique the championship is becoming.
The next round is on Saturday 12th January in Marrakesh, Morocco. You can watch the ePrix live in the UK on The BBC Red Button, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website as well as live on the Formula E YouTube Channel. For other countries, check the Formula E website for details.