A short time ago in a country far, far away (from Ireland).
Things change very quickly in Motorsport. Formula E has proven to be no exception to that. The 15/16 season is exciting for several reasons. Opening up of the Powertrain regulations has begun the movement away from a spec series. While it is impressive to witness the different development paths teams have tried, it has also revealed one of motorsport’s Dark Sides.
On the Tuesday before Punta E Prix, the Trulli Formula E team announced that it would withdraw from the series with immediate effect. The season had already been an unmitigated disaster. First missing out on vital testing at Donington and then missing both the Beijing and Putrajaya rounds before, finally, the Trulli Train derailed. Many bemoaned the fact that the championship would now be an 18 car grid, but the truth is that nothing changed from the opening rounds, as the Trulli cars never made it past scrutineering at either event. While Renault e.dams has shown the way in terms of new development avenues, Trulli becomes the first example in Formula E of how quickly it can sour if you get it wrong.
With the demise of Trulli comes a New Hope in the shape of Jaguar. What Formula E is perhaps best at is keeping the focus on the positives, and on the same day that Trulli exited the series came the news that Jaguar was to make its motorsport return in 2016/2017.
— Jaguar (@Jaguar) December 15, 2015
Season 3 of Formula E will see a new Jaguar E type, as the manufacturer enters the Electric Championship, with Williams Advanced Engineering confirmed as technical partner.
Craig Wilson, Managing Director of Williams Advanced Engineering, said; “There is a saying that racing improves the breed and Jaguar’s entry into Formula E will be a powerful way of honing a new generation of EV technologies for its products. We are delighted that they have chosen Williams Advanced Engineering as their technical partner in this new and high profile chapter in Jaguar’s racing history. Williams has extensive knowledge of EV technology, racing car design and the logistics of running a successful racing team so we are well set to support Jaguar in what promises to be an exciting new challenge for both parties.”
Maybe more interesting were the statements from Jaguar:
Nick Rogers: Over the next five years we will see more changes in the automotive world than in the last three decades. The future is more about being connected, electrification and lightweight architectures. Formula e enables us to engineer and test advanced technologies under extreme conditions.
James Barclay’s statement: With our future EV plans, Formula E was the obvious choice and we believe that the benefits are enormous. The FIA and the promotor have exciting plans for the future of the championship. We hope that we can welcome a new generation of fans to Jaguar through this exciting programme.
There is a message there. If you want to test EV technology and at the same time attract a younger generation of fan then Formula E is the place to be, and having the likes of Jaguar come on-board could very well accelerate things for Formula E. It’s important to get Manufacturer’s involved. Jaguar will join Renault and DS Automobiles (Citroen) in season 3, and damn will it look good.
Renders via Stephen Cumming (@F1XL_Punisher77)
Back on track, Renault e.dams were looking to Strike Back after their cars ground to a halt in Putrajaya. Pole and fastest lap no consolation for the electrical gremlins that snatched victory away from the French team as the heat took its toll.
Buemi always seemed to have a few tenths in the bag during practice and qualifying for the Punta E Prix. His 1:15.1 set in both P1 and Q4 would have been good enough for the pole. As the top drivers headed into Super Pole it was the Renault e.dams driver’s to lose, and that’s what he did.
The Dragon Racing pair of Jerome d’Ambrosio and Loic Duval were once again impressive but it was a scruffy early sector followed by running straight on at the hairpin that cost Buemi pole and saw him start 5th on the grid. Interestingly Current-e ran a piece showing how Renault e.dams uses a manual gear shift. The theory being that 1st is used for the start and then 2nd for the race. The abundance of torque allowing for such a massive shift in how motorsport is being approached. A gearshift less lap certainly offers some efficiency gains to the team, but 1st would still be required for hairpins and whether he left it in 2nd or got the downshift wrong the result was the same. Buemi made a mistake, Dragon Racing locked out the front row. D’Ambrosio snatched pole from Duval. Sam Bird and Lucas Di Grassi were 3rd and 4th respectively.
With the sand blowing in from the beach the was very much a clean and dirty side to the track with those lining up on the right hand side, behind pole, the ones that would benefit. Buemi was one such driver and away from the line he passed di Grassi.
While Bruno Senna picked up the dubious record of being the first Formula E driver to pit for a tyre change, Buemi charged to the front of the grid. Bird and Duval were quickly dispatched and on lap 8 the Renault e.dams pilot forced his way passed d’Ambrosio.
Meanwhile Lucas di Grassi took a different approach as he attempted to keep Buemi honest. Having overtaken Bird for P4, the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport man would time his pit stop perfectly. Exactly on the 59 second limit he emerged ahead of both Dragon Racing cars as they both lost time in the pits. Worse was to come for Sam Bird. As he emerged from the pits on an out lap it was clear he had a problem. The team took out the IT Manual, but turning it off and back on again wouldn’t work this time. Bird, wings clipped, parked it up.
This triggered the full course yellow and in the confusion that followed Buemi lost 3 seconds to di Grassi. This was as close as it got for di Grassi. When racing got back underway normal service resumed for the Frenchman and he pushed on to a much deserved victory.
The force is strong with Buemi and Renault e.dams, but it also serves a warning to both rival teams and the organisers. There have been two distinctly different philosophies evident on the grid this season, aside from those who have stuck with systems similar to Season 1.
1) Those who chose the path to weight reduction and efficiency.
2) Those who chose the path to twin motors at the cost of extra weight.
Formula E cars already weight in the region of 800kg.
That’s 200 – 300kg heavier than you’d find in a comparative single seater.
Those who have stuck with last season’s tech have found themselves ahead of the likes of NEXTEV, not because the Season 1 tech is better but because the skewed weight distribution on the twin motor cars has made finding a set up and balance to be almost impossible. Watch Nelson Piquet’s spectacular crash on the last lap, while fighting with Vergne on the last couple of laps. Once the back end gets loose on them it’s very difficult to correct. Compare that to the Renault e.dams car of Buemi which looks lighter and better balanced.
One idea always rises to the top, and so it seems with Renault e.dams that they have gone down the right path. The question is will those who have chosen twin motors now have to switch to single motor systems and approach the same weight saving and efficiency philosophy to compete. A fascinating prospect it is. No better way to learn then to test these theories in the arena of Motorsport. Maybe this is why Jaguar enters the fray with Williams next season. It will have seen what has worked and, maybe more importantly, what hasn’t. It is also refreshing to see the organisers have put the introduction of new battery packs on hold until season 5, containing some of the cost in the process. Why? Because while I love that manufacturers are getting on-board I also love the openness and interaction found in the more independent teams on the grid. Losing more of those colourful teams would be a loss to Formula E both on and off the track. Interesting times these are.
May the downforce be with you.