It’s a brand new era of Formula E, with a brand new Gen2 set to shake the order up but luckily after testing it looks like the same old competitive field.
The classic close grid doesn’t seem to have gone far, despite fears that the introduction of a whole new car and battery would hand an advantage to the larger manufacturers with bigger resources. The majority of the field looks to still be covered by one second, with the outliers having a good enough reason to not be alarmed.
Of course the first caveat is that it’s only testing. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo does not resemble the street circuits that FE races on, so no set-up work was completed during the three days running.
“This track is one per cent representative to the kind of tracks we have in FE,” said Antonio Felix da Costa, who set the headline-grabbing fastest lap of the week of 1:16.977 for BMW Andretti.
“So we’ll use this to test our reliability, software and things that we want to improve.
“But I’m having balance issues in certain corners here that I don’t want to address because I’m just going to be fixing the car for this track but maybe taking performance away for the kind of corners that they have in Paris or Rome. We know what needs to be done.”
Pre-Season Testing Ultimate Performance
- Andretti Antonio Felix da Costa – 1:16.977
- Techeetah Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:17.342
- Mahindra Jerome d’Ambrosio – 1:17.431
- Nissan e.dams Sebastien Buemi – 1:17.743
- Audi Sport Lucas di Grassi – 1:17.535
- Venturi Felipe Massa – 1:17.696
- Dragon Jose Maria Lopez – 1:17.830
- Jaguar Mitch Evans – 1:17.864
- HWA Gary Paffett – 1:18.032
- Virgin Robin Frijns – 1:18.088
- NIO Tom Dillmann – 1:18.217
With that said BMW didn’t just set the fastest lap of the week, it was the session-topper at the end of each of the three days, with Alexander Sims quickest on days one and three. It was even at the head of the field in the wet morning session on Friday, so it looks good in multiple conditions.
It is unsurprising to see DS Techeetah’s name close to the top given the extra resources behind it that comes with its new manufacturer status.
Jaguar and Virgin’s pace is an eyebrow-raiser at first glance. However their times, set by Mitch Evans and Robin Frijns respectively, were set on Friday afternoon. Although the track had dried by that point, drivers were clearly taking fewer liberties with the track limits as the painted lines and kerbs retained some moisture still.
It shows in the sector one times, the benchmark for which were mid-to-low 26 seconds. With the exception of HWA and NIO, Evans and Frijns were the only ones with times above the 27-second mark, which is considered the most FE circuit-like as it contained the makeshift chicane put in on the pit straight.
Frijns’ time also came at the end of a four-lap qualifying run. After running at 250kW for this long, he will have had less energy, therefore marginally less performance, than those who did their best times on the first or second lap of a stint.
It is a similar case for Tom Dillmann who completed a three-lap run, as his best first sector time was actually 0.1 seconds quicker than what he managed on his overall best lap.
Long run averages
- Jaguar – 1:23.0 (12 laps)
- NIO – 1:23.3 (7 laps)
- Dragon – 1:23.6 (7 laps)
- Audi – 1:23.8 (26 laps)
- Mahindra – 1:23.8 (11 laps)
- BMW – 1:24.1 (28 laps)
- Virgin – 1:24.7 (27 laps)
- Nissan – 1:24.7 (17 laps)
- Venturi – 1:24.7 (16 laps)
- Techeetah – 1:25.3 (23 laps)
- HWA – 1:26.3 (10 laps)
The long run analysis tell a different story. Jaguar set the benchmark here with the best average lap time but its run was considerably shorter than what other teams managed, even though it clocked the most laps of the week on 442. It is understood the team was deliverately shortening its run to hide its true pace.
NIO and Dragon also completed very short runs, only doing seven laps apiece. Dragon’s pace is particularly tough to dissect as Jose Maria Lopez’s run was wildly inconsistent.
Audi is the first team on the list that completed a more representative run of 26 laps with BMW on a similarly long run only 0.3 seconds behind.
This showed on track during the Attack Mode simulation, where di Grassi and Sims were the ‘lead’ contenders in the fake race which the Audi driver ‘won’ in the dying stages as Sims battled an overheating battery.
It could therefore be a worry for Virgin who were some way off Audi using the same powertrain. The team were struggling more the with balance of its car more than most so this could be a case of set-up.
On the evidence of last season, Virgin has proved itself to be a well-run team despite not having as competitive package as Audi did, so it shouldn’t be ruled out.
Neither should Nissan e.dams, which was heavily compromised by only have one driver for two days of the test. Felipe Massa’s run was of similar pace and mileage which is also encouraging for Venturi.
Venturi’s final session was heavily compromised though, with Edoardo Mortara losing most of the day to a terminal inverter issue and then the same problem interrupted Massa’s final long run.
Although we do not know what state of charge the teams were left with after these runs, the runs look close and competitive. With it being the fourth consecutive year of the same powertrain regulations, manufacturers have naturally converged on similar designs.
All teams are now believed to be using a single-speed gearbox, mainly to keep the weight down as the overall weight of the car has gone up by 20kg thanks to the slightly heavier McLaren Applied Technologies battery.
Despite the convergence, Head of DS Performance Xavier Mestelan Pinon is unsure it is the best solution.
“Single-speed is maybe because of the weight. Maybe [it’s more efficient] but it’s because of the weight target, the rule is like that,” he told FormulaSpy.
“A few months ago when we designed the car if we were sure to get the right weight, with one gear it’s easier. Maybe not the best way to achieve it but it’s easier.
“I’m not convinced that one gear will be the best solution to be honest.”
But that’s what we have. The difference between the cars now come down to the packaging of the powertrain, weight distribution and set-up, with the potential exception of Nissan which is believed to be running a twin-motor set-up as NIO has done for the previous three seasons.
That adds up to a close field and so far the lap time data has backed up that claim.