Piquet, Prost, Senna & now Villeneuve.
It’s an illustrious set of names from motor racing history, evoking memories of multiple titles and glorious battles, and yet last week in the pitlane of Donington they waited to enter a new era. Piquet the defending champion from the inaugural Formula E championship.
The Prost stare from inside the Renault e.dams is reassuringly familiar. The famous Senna colours surrounded by bright red and white is striking, almost haunting. There’s something about the Mahindra. Be it the flash of red and white or the low lying engine cover, with its prominent roll bar, that evokes memories of my favourite era of F1 car. The latest name to enter to enter the Formula E fold is former Formula 1 World Champion, and Eau Rouge test pilot, Jacques Villeneuve.
The man himself says he’s not here on holiday:
“I got in the car and immediately enjoyed it,” he said. “It drove like a proper single-seater and I was happily surprised by the feeling in the car and the team atmosphere was great. So it was an easy decision to do the full season. It’s a series that will keep getting faster and if you look at the rest of the racing world they try to make them slower, so that’s definitely a positive.”
“The aim is to be competitive and we’ll see where we are in Beijing. Some guys look quite quick already with the new technology but this is not a holiday, I’m here to compete.”
Season 2 marks a new generation of Formula E. The Williams supplied, 200Kw, 28KWH Lithium-Ion power cell remains. Team Aguri have chosen to remain with a variant of the McLaren P1 e Motor and improve on aspects of cooling and efficiency. Most other teams have undertaken the task of manufacturing or taking supply of new powertrains. This includes electric motor invertor gearbox and cooling.
Last season saw the teams use a 5 speed sequential box from Hewland based on an F3 unit. An interview with Nick Heidfeld gave some insight into the varying approaches this season. Mahindra is using a four-speed Hewland gearbox, but this season will see a large range of transmission types utilised.“I think we have everything from no gears up to four gears and some people have two engines and some have one,” said Heidfeld. “When the regulations are opened it’s very interesting – unlike other series where the regulations are the same for a long time and everybody arrives at the perfect solution. Here it’s open and it’s new and it’s cool to see so many different approaches.”
The increase in the maximum race power for the second season of the championship from 150kW to 170kW is also set to be reflected in the new FanBoost regulations.
The FanBoost power level is set to rise from 180kW to 200kW, the same limit as in qualifying, and the time of the boost reduced from five to three seconds.
Donington Park saw the first truest sign of what was to come this season. Refreshingly it also saw a continuation of the openness and transparency that gained Formula E plaudits last season. Free admission was available to all the test days and provided you register on http://www.fiaformulae.com/en/guide/testing.aspx it will be available for the final two tests days on 24th & 25th of August. Pit Walk access is granted at £5 for adults and children are free.
When it got down to business it became clear that, in qualifying certainly this second generation of Formula E will be much faster. It will remain to be seen how the retention of the Williams Power Cell ultimately influences pace on race day. Chasing performance for qualifying might impact reliability when it matters, and in testing Trulli (Motomatica) and Andretti have already had disastrous starts. The former sitting in the garage while the latter failed to set a representative laptime. While reigning champions NEXTEV and Piquet were restricted in their running time.
At the front. It was left to Renault e.dams and ABT Sportline to chase the lap records, and the headlines.
Having gone fastest on the first day, Buemi claimed that a 1:29 was possible. Comfortably inside the unofficial Lap Record. It seemed to spur on the ABT pair, especially Daniel Abt.
“When Buemi said that a 1:29s was possible last week that really motivated me,” he said. “It was a positive day. There was no stopping on track and that’s the main thing. That meant I could just drive and performance-wise we were really good.”
While the pace was obvious from the front runners they were also well aware of the need to run race simulations and ensure reliability. Both di Grassi and Buemi sang from the same hymn sheet in that regard.
“I have to say that going for the time is not as important as working on the reliability of the car,” said di Grassi. “Of course working on the performance is important, but we know that performance here doesn’t necessarily translate to what we will see at the other tracks. I think the lap time shows promise and it’s good to know that our package is running well at 200kw.”
Buemi too was well aware of the bigger picture that was race pace: “To be honest we focussed on race simulations or at least 150kw stints and we learned a lot of things. We feel like there are things we can still improve on the car in terms of performance and reliability. We trust our people and our system and we will work hard to get the most out of the car for the rest of testing. Clearly we don’t want to show our hand but you also need to experience what you are capable of doing. You try to play the game and see what happens. Abt look strong which is good but I’m confident with the people we have we can do a good job.”
With two days of testing left ABT and Renault e.dams have set the pace, but Mahindra and their vastly experienced pairing have been quietly going about testing parts for efficiency and carrying out simulations. Splitting the Renault e.dams pair in the process. It should not be forgotten that Mahindra have swapped from Carlin to Campos, who helped guide Piquet and NEXTEV to the inaugural title, and as Buemi knows all too well it is consistency not outright pace that will win the Formula E title.
|Driver||Team||1st Day||2nd Day||3rd Day||4th Day|
|Lucas di Grassi||ABT||1:32.158||–||–||1:29.920|
|Sebastien Buemi||Renault e.dams||1:32.095||1:31.05||1:35.318||1:30.382|
|Nicolas Prost||Renault e.dams||1:32.286||1:31.592||1:31.021||1:30.677|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||DS Virgin||1:36.704||1:32.033||–||1:30.925|
|Sam Bird||DS Virgin||1:32.523||1:31.469||1:31.023||–|
|Nathanaél Barthon||Team Aguri||–||–||–||1:31.185|
|Tom Dillman||Team Aguri||1:36.329||1:32.369||–||–|
|Salvador Duran||Team Aguri||1:32.549||–||–||–|
|Nelson Piquet||NEXTEV||NO TIME||NO TIME||1:37.46||1:34.133|
|Oliver Turvey||NEXTEV||1:38.052||NO TIME||1:36.773||1:35.770|
|Jarno Trulli||Trulli||NO TIME||NO TIME||NO TIME||NO TIME|
|Simona De Silvestro||Andretti||NO TIME||NO TIME||NO TIME||NO TIME|