There’s a lot to dissect from the Valencia double-header: battery dramas, an unexpected rookie winner, oh and racing on a permanent circuit. Here are five big stories that we learnt from Formula E’s first races in Spain.
Energy management calculations resulted in one of Formula E’s darkest days
We’ve seen cars run out of energy at the end of races before. Queue the flashbacks to the 2019 Mexico E-Prix when Pascal Wehlein lost out on a victory during the final seconds of the race as his car’s battery hit 0%. It’s savage, but it happens.
However, during a rain-affected Race 1, Formula E experienced one of the biggest farces in its seven seasons. As a result of five safety cars, and rules on energy management, a huge majority of cars were left with an empty ‘tank’ come the final lap of the race.
With the rule that each driver has 1kWh of power deducted for every minute under a safety car, a total of 19kWh was removed out of a possible 52kWh. Reigning Formula E world champion Antonio Felix da Costa – who led every lap of the race until the final lap – was left with two decisions.
As each Formula E race is 45 minutes and one lap, da Costa could either slow the pack down and cross the line leaving one lap left or stretching it into a two-lap fight to the chequered flag. The latter was the unfortunate decision.
What unfolded to audiences around the world was an embarrassment.
Cars, such as race leader da Costa, were forced to slow or stop entirely as their energy had hit zero. Then there was panic that the entire grid might not even make it back, or at least complete the slowest lap in Formula E’s history, to cross the finish line.
Fortunately, a few drivers on the grid had enough energy to sensibly reach the end of the race, with the Mercedes of Nyck de Vries being the victor from the whole situation. De Vries, who had started the race in 7th, cruised past the slowing da Costa to inherit the race win – his second of the 2020/21 season.
He was joined on the podium by Nico Müller of Dragon Racing and his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne who started the race from the back of the grid.
Vandoorne looked set for another dominant weekend when he placed his Silver Arrow on pole position for Race 1, but an error on the technical documentation of his qualifying tyres resulted in a disqualification and all his times deleted. He started P24 yet managed to finish the race in 3rd. Don’t ever say Formula E isn’t unpredictable.
Valencia delivered some really unexpected results
As just mentioned, Saturday’s Valencia E-Prix provided us with an utterly bonkers podium trio. Okay, so two Mercedes on the top step might not come as a shock to many, but it’s more how Vandoorne fought his way from the back of the pack that’s impressive.
But first, let’s talk about the 2nd place finish from Nico Müller of Dragon Racing. It is a totally insane result for a team with its fair share of struggles over the past few seasons. Things have seemed stronger for the team this season, with both drivers finishing in P4 and P5 in the second race of the Diriyah E-Prix earlier this year.
Müller started the race from P22 and still managed to achieve the team’s best result since Jérôme d’Ambrosio won the 2016 Mexico City E-Prix over five years ago. It should be noted it wasn’t an easy race for Müller either.
As well as starting near the back of the pack, he severed a drive-through and was sent off the track twice during the race. In the end though, Müller credited the team’s fast pace in the wet conditions and the ‘right calls’, which meant they had the extra energy at the end of the race to bring home the P2 result.
Sunday’s race also crowned a new Formula E winner.
BMW’s Jake Dennis put his car on pole position for Race 2, however with only a limited amount of experience compared to the field behind him and having to defend the lead, many expected Dennis to fall back down the grid as soon as the race began.
He didn’t. In fact, he put on one of the most impressive displays of excellent energy management, keeping a cool head and mature decision making we have seen from a Formula E rookie in quite some time. A very deserved victory indeed.
Is BMW back in the game?
Jake Dennis’ victory in Race 2 has left many asking questions about BMW’s performance this year. It’s been a strange season for the team, who usually start each Formula E season strong.
Antonio Felix da Costa took the first victory of the 2018–19 season for the team back in Diriyah. They then delivered back to back wins the following year thanks to Alexander Sims in Diriyah and Maximilian Günther in Santiago.
However, at the start of the 2020–21 season, the team has visibly struggled.
BMW failed to pick up any points at the opening two races of the season and sat bottom of the teams’ standings after the eventful Rome E-Prix weekend. Thanks to pole position and victory from Dennis, and other solid results over the weekend, the team have moved up to 7th in the standings.
It remains to be seen if this pace can remain consistent or just a one-off for the team.
For Dennis’ teammate, Günther, his start to the season has been far from ideal. He’s retired from 50% of the races so far and only picked up 12 points during the Rome weekend earlier this month.
There’s also the question, could this be the last victory for BMW in Formula E?
With BMW announcing their departure from the all-electric Formula E championship at the end of the season, and their very disappointing results from the first five races so far, honestly, it seems a high possibility.
The perils of a permanent race track
Another big talking point from this weekend’s races was the fact Formula E was embarking on a total first: racing on a permanent circuit. We’ve come close before, racing at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico, but this was the first time the electric championship had run on an actual pre-built and existing circuit.
Of course, Valencia is no stranger to Formula E. We’ve had pre-season testing here since 2017, but it was the first time the championship was to race at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
There were several adaptations put in place due to racing on the track, including relaxation on the tyre limit for teams. Drivers were given six fresh front and rear tyres compared to the four they’re typically presented over a two-day race weekend.
Gravel traps were also something that added extra dilemmas to both the races over the Valencia weekend. With Formula E almost always being held on street circuits, all this extra run-off space seemed alien and resulted in several safety cars to recover beached vehicles.
Everyone gets themselves a championship point
That’s right. Every single driver competing in Formula E has earned themselves championship points so far this season. What a neat statistic.
Thanks to his 2nd place finish in Race 2, Andre Lotterer has brought an end to his zero-points tally and now sits P16 in the drivers’ standings. His teammate, Wehlein, had his consecutive points haul brought to an end in Valencia when he failed to score any points this weekend. Before this weekend, Pascal Wehlein had been the only driver to score points in every race this season.
Nyck de Vries leaves Valencia top of the drivers’ standings, being the only driver to have secured two victories so far this season. He leads with 57 points, followed by his teammate Vandoorne who has 48 points. Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing drops down to the P3 slot after failing to score in the last three races.
In fact, Jaguar had an utterly pointless weekend in more ways than one. Neither Mitch Evans nor Sam Bird picked up any points over the two races. The team has lost their top spot on the teams’ standings as a result, with Mercedes surpassing them by 23 points.