Formula E is a difficult thing to understand. Not just in the sense it’s a unique series, the one-day format means things happen as fast as the corners around a street circuit.
It’s not just something for viewers (and journalists) to try and contend with, it puts drivers and teams in a constant state of trying to keep up. And sometimes that just doesn’t work – either because they’re well off the pace somehow, on the back foot when they’d been ahead or because everything just gets uncontrollably away from them.
FE’s a world championship. In motorsport, to compete for a world title you try to exploit every area in the rules you can and sometimes, you’ll get that horribly wrong. Let’s all hope Porsche have a strong supply of tequila as we all pour one out for Pascal Wehrlein.
Heaven, hell and the stewards’ office
It’s no secret that Formula E sometimes seems to incur a lot of penalties and they can feel incredibly cruel. Waiting, in 2017, for Daniel Abt’s car to be released from Parc Fermé in Hong Kong and knowing the longer it stayed there, the less likely he was to keep his win, was agonising from outside the team and a nightmare within.
All motorsport has pages and pages of regulations. The reason the people who run and work for multimillion-euro teams are there is because they’re the people who can work out how to interpret them and get the most out of what they’re allowed to do. Sometimes even they get it wrong.
Pascal Wehrlein got a rough hand yestrday, one of four cars disqualified from Puebla’s first race. Today, he becomes the second driver to have their Mexico race result seriously altered by Fanboost.
In 2017 (Season 3) a heavily jetlagged Sebastien Buemi clumsily span his car out of contention trying to activate fanboost. In 2021, Wehrlein was told to activate his much too late – having saved it to conserve energy. Fanboost can’t be used when you’re at the end of the battery’s capacity, essentially for safety reasons.
It’s not that you actually get any extra energy for fanboost; it comes out of what’s remaining in your battery. Within that, it’s that batteries are stressed by the end of a Formula E race and enabling a mode that could even let you draw more power could be a risk, at the screaming limits of regen and with temperatures pushing the ultimate thermal limit of the cells.
He used it too late. And he’s got a 5-second penalty, taking the Porsche off the podium for the second day in a row. Very different errors, both operationally clumsy and showing how much Porsche still have to learn to really be challenging for the title in Formula E – it’s about more than just raw pace, like any sport.
Comparisons between Formula E and Formula One are lazy but: if you broke the equivalent rules there, you’d get the same (or worse) consequences. It’d be silly to think FE shouldn’t hold teams to the same standards; it’s a sport, not a marketing exercise, whatever people say.
Lights to flag
Edoardo Mortara’s win at the second Puebla race is from one of a pretty small number of uninterrupted races in the last few seasons. Formula E’s Gen2 has had a lot of safety cars and red flags, disrupted races and various attempts to fix that or at least the consequences.
That didn’t happen at this race. Although attrition was fairly high, cars managed to crawl off the track as they exited the race (with the exception of Tom Blomqvist, undignifiedly stuck in the barriers at the end of the race) and we got to actually see Gen2 cars run the track from 100% to zero usable energy remaining.
Not that a victory’s any less a victory if it comes from a chaotic race but it is nice to prove, every now and then, that FE is much more than a destruction derby that operates half its race time under caution. The overtakes were on-track and strategic and although plenty of drivers ended up entangled, it didn’t totally disrupt the flow of the race.
One driver who had the full spectrum of highs and lows this weekend was Alex Lynn. He reached Super Pole, got excluded from Super Pole, survived a carnage-strewn race to finish where he started but with a healthy haul of points for Mahindra from sixth.
Breaking up is easy
Here’s a weird thing about Formula E cars: they’ve got a tendency to destroy surfaces. It’s because Formula E’s ridged Michelin all-weather tyres have grooves, Formula E cars are really heavy and often, the tracks they race on aren’t exactly designed for race cars.
Sometimes, even if they are, FE cars can still do a real number on them. It’s happened in Mexico City, at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and it looks like it happened again, at Puebla.
What happens is that the tarmac gets really hot and as the tyres do, too, they start doing weird things. Each individual ridge of the tyre starts moving almost independently, more like one of those spine covered sea cucumber things than the way a slick tyre moves, mostly as one. When it happens, they can start pinching and digging out bits of track.
The combination of a nearly-tonne race car, high track temperatures and maybe non-ideal surfaces has seen FE cars dig deep grooves out of surfaces, when they’re carrying enough lateral load through a corner. We saw it a few years ago during the ludicrously hot Season 5 race in Santiago and if what drivers were saying after the second Puebla race is right, it sounds like turn seven of the fragile, repeatedly repaired track surface there has gone the same way.
That explains some of the really clumsy-looking incidents around that corner because once they start digging out the concrete, you end up with marbles. Not like tyre marbles (which are already not great for a car to run over) but chunks of asphalt that act like actual marbles when you run a race car over them.
It seems turn nine may have had a similar problem, putting cars on rollerskates, effectively, as they tried to make the turn. There’s not a lot a driver can do to either see the problem or avoid it and once you’re surfing on marbles its pretty much a lottery as to whether you keep the grip or go rolling around on it like a Takeshi’s Castle section.