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Formula E driver Nick Cassidy, Jaguar TCS Racing, Jaguar I-TYPE 6

Formula E Testing: Five things we learned on day three

Pre-season testing is all wrapped up — take a look at the key talking points

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Formula E pre-season testing has come to an end after a trying week for the electric racing series.

Formula E Gen3 car of Jake Dennis on track at Valencia
Season 9 World Champion Jake Dennis finished ninth fastest on Friday. (Image: Simon Galloway / Formula E)

In a week marred by unforeseeable circumstances, uncertainty, and delays upon delays, the Formula E paddock rallied round to see pre-season testing through to the end.

Teams, press, and personnel arrived at the track on Thursday, unsure as to whether the remaining days of testing would go ahead, or whether the week might be called off altogether. Uncertainty persisted throughout Thursday morning, until it was confirmed in the early afternoon that testing would recommence at 2 pm.

The test session was extended until 6.30 pm, granting the drivers with four and a half hours of track time, as opposed to the originally scheduled three. Following this, it was also confirmed that Friday’s session would run from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, giving teams 10 hours of uninterrupted testing. Thanks to the extended session times, only half an hour of testing time was lost to the fire.

Thursday recap

Thursday’s test session saw Mitch Evans set the fastest time — a continuation of form from his performance on Tuesday morning. Also echoing Tuesday’s results was António Félix da Costa, who logged the second fastest lap though was a mere 0.023 seconds off of Evans’ time. Da Costa experienced limited running on Thursday, as Porsche allowed Gabriela Jílková to complete her rookie test session. The decision to allow Jílková to participate in the test session was made despite the mandatory rookie test rule being scrapped in the face of the week’s disruption.

The power output of the Gen3 cars was restricted to 300 kW, amidst safety concerns following Tuesday’s fire. Lower power meant that the fastest lap logged on Thursday wasn’t quite as quick as the fastest lap on Tuesday. Evans was about three-tenths off of the time he set on Tuesday, which had been set at an output of 350 kW.

Five things we learned on Friday

With ten hours of testing, it felt as if testing commenced in earnest on Friday.

Let’s get into a couple of paddock talking points:

Well done, Robin

Friday kicked off bright and early with a race simulation. The sun had just about risen in Valencia when the drivers began lining up in the pit lane, ready to take to the track for an hour of simulated racing conditions. The drivers rehearsed a Full Course Yellow and a safety car restart in a session that saw genuine on-track action. 

Victory went the way of Robin Frijns after he took Attack Mode in the late stages of the race, allowing him to get past the Porsche of Antonio Felix da Costa. Although a lot of fun, not too much can be taken from the race simulation. With only seven cars finishing out on track, it wasn’t the most representative of sessions.

The cause of Tuesday’s fire

It was the conclusion of the FIA’s investigation into the WAE pit garage fire that enabled testing to get back underway. With the source identified but the cause unknown, there’d been concerns within the FIA that we could face a repeat of Tuesday’s incident.

The FIA published its findings on Friday, revealing that it was an arc flash that had led to the blaze in the garage. The battery had been taken from the DS Penske driven by Robert Schwartzman on Tuesday morning. Schwartzman had come to a stop on track in the late stages of the session.

Per the FIA’s statement, “while being manually inspected by the battery single supplier team, there was an arc flash and some sparking, that resulted in a localised fire”.

Black smoke coming from a garage in the Formula E paddock
The fire started in the pit garage occupied by WAE.

Following the incident, all batteries used by teams across the grid were inspected. Once confirmed that none of the batteries shared the same fault as the battery from the DS Penske, it was decided that pre-season testing could resume.

While the fire derailed testing – particularly for Mahindra, though we’ll touch upon that in a moment – it bears reiterating that the most important point of all is that no one was harmed. Motorsports is dangerous, and it’s important that this incident is not used to disparage Formula E and the technology surrounding electric cars more widely. Certainly some questions ought to be raised, especially as regards the lack of fire alarm in the main paddock building, but all in all, the FIA and Formula E took great measures to ensure the safety of every single individual in the paddock.

Edoardo sits Friday out

Edoardo Mortara and Nyck de Vries were forced to take it in turns to run in the test sessions after Mahindra’s equipment suffered damage as a result of the WAE garage fire. De Vries’ side of the garage took the greatest hit, leaving Mahindra with little choice but to have both drivers share Mortara’s car. 

With Mortara taking the car on Thursday, it was De Vries’ go to participate in testing on Friday. The Dutchman was given the full ten hour session to familiarise himself with the car. It was much needed practice time for De Vries, who is still a Gen3 newcomer, but Mortara has been left with a ten hour deficit to the rest of the grid. Mahindra expects to be given additional private testing time to make up for time lost across the week. 

Close running

Nick Cassidy claimed the fastest lap of the day, clinching the top spot in the final minutes of the session. This cemented Jaguar as the indisputable pace setters across all three sessions. The Maseratis of Max Günther and rookie Jehan Daruvala looked pace throughout the day, occupying the upper end of the timesheets for much of the lengthy test session. Season 9 World Champ Jake Dennis was quick too, for a time keeping hold of the top spot. Mitch Evans kept up the trend he’d established so far this week, and looked as if he might finish the day as overall fastest once again. He was bested in the end by his new teammate, instead coming third fastest overall, second to Max Günther.

Formula E driver Maximilian Gunther, Maserati MSG Racing
Max Günther showed pace throughout the week. (Image: Sam Bagnall / Formula E)

Friday’s final times suggest that we could be in for a season of close racing. All 21 drivers finished within seven-tenths of Cassidy’s time. Of course, track conditions and various external factors will impact the field spread on race day, but it bodes well for the state of the championship.

Competition is alive and well in Formula E. Could fans get a repeat of the exciting championship battle they were treated to last season? 

Mixed emotions

Friday morning’s race simulation saw the drivers go through the motions of an Attack Charge, without carrying out the actual fast charge. It gave us an idea of what an Attack Charge pitstop might look like during an E-Prix, and how it could be used from a strategic point of view. 

Speaking to drivers and teams, there seemed to be varying opinions on the new concept. Everyone on the grid is in agreement that Attack Charge is important as regards road relevance. It serves as proof that fast-charging is a possibility for electric cars, and could play a role in ushering in a new era for electric vehicles.

However, there was some uncertainty – and some hesitancy – when it came to of how it might be used in a race. Pascal Wehrlein and Norman Nato were among two of the drivers to raise the question of strategy. Neither driver seemed fond of the idea that Attack Charge could end up deciding the race winner. In particular, Nato was wary of the thought that an issue with an Attack Charge stop could cost someone a race win or championship.

From an observer’s point of view, a thirty-second pitstop looks long. There’s certainly questions to be had about which tracks Attack Charge will and won’t be suited to. Perhaps the main takeaway from Formula E’s first foray into Attack Charge is that it’s a sporting concept that’s still in its infancy. Formula E are yet to release further details about it. Limited track time and the restriction in power means that Attack Charge hasn’t been widely tested by the teams. There’s a lot we don’t know.

What next?

With pre-season testing wrapped up, Formula E bunkers back down for off-season. Season 10 commences in January next year, with the first E-Prix taking place in Mexico City. Until then, the manufacturers (Jaguar, Porsche, Nissan, etc) head to Mallorca in November to complete further testing. Mahindra will also use the off-season to find further testing time.

For now, the countdown begins: it’s not long until we go green in Mexico.

Featured Image Credit: Malcolm Griffiths / Formula E

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