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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Formula E Review - Race 1

Turn one of... The Future
Racing cars without engines?! It'll never work! Much has been said and debated about the all-new FIA Formula E Championship, with some elements making it promising and some others perhaps leaving us a little worried. We've seen the cars, we knew that a host of ex-F1 and current sports car drivers would make up the majority of the grid, and we knew that - rather embarrassingly - the drivers would have to swap cars halfway through the roughly-45-minute race because the batteries run flat so quickly. Oh, and Twitter users can bestow extra power on three drivers of their choosing. Could it possibly work?

Today on the streets surrounding the Beijing Olympic Park, we found out.

A quick bluffer's guide for Formula E before we go into the inaugural race itself.
For the first year, FE (cue a million unfunny jokes about iron) is a one-make series with standarised cars. From 2015 onwards, teams can develop or even build their own cars to meet regulations. Every venue is a street circuit. The entire race "weekend" takes place in one day to limit the disruption to each host city, with Free Practice taking place in the morning, followed by a 40-minute qualifying session in which the drivers run in four randomised groups of five to ensure adequate track space (10mins each, of course). Then the cars are recharged over lunch, for two hours. In the late afternoon/evening, a race with a target duration of 45 minutes begins. There are 20 cars from 10 teams on the grid.

There is only one compound of tyre used, which is bespoke Michelin 18" all-weather tyre. Because they have to handle rain, they aren't slicks, so there is no risk of the cars having "too much" grip, which by extension means that they can be a little tricky on the limit and when accelerating out of corners with all that instant electric torque, challenging the drivers. Good. The cars have a low-drag aerodynamics package meant to aid overtaking and help preserve battery life.

During the race there is only one pit stop, so the drivers can change cars. To ensure a safe procedure, this takes a minimum of 50 seconds, meaning drivers who are quick to jump out of their first car and into their second have plenty of time to make sure they're properly secured in their seatbelts. Nick Heidfeld will attest that this is important. After that they head back out again. Despite the short running time and regenerative brakes, drivers still had to do a certain amount of energy saving to reach the end of the race, as is normal in Formula 1, which they can do by turning the power down a little on their steering wheel and by briefly lifting and coasting before each braking zone (or by driving slowly, but come on, this is motor racing - the drivers don't work that way!). The usual flags and penalties apply, with one or more drivers today getting a drive-through for such things as changing cars too quickly and exceeding track limits. The one that finishes first wins! Simple.

Well, almost simple. Fans can vote for their favourite driver at each race before the race happens, and the three highest-voted drivers get a 5-second #Fanboost, temporarily increasing available power in both of their cars by 30kW (40bhp) at the push of a button. During the race, power is limited to conserve battery life. Speaking of which...

Spark-Renault SRT_01E Specifications

Formula E display car at the 2014 Goodwood Festival Of Speed

Chassis: Dallara carbon/aluminium monocoque, carbon-kevlar bodywork. Pushrod double-wishbone front suspension, springs at the rear. Entire suspension system fully adjustable.
Carbon ceramic brakes.
Overall car weight 888kg (1958lbs).
Dimensions (LxWxH) 5000mm x 1800mm x 1250mm.

Battery: Made by Williams F1 Advanced Engineering. Battery consumption limited to 28kW.

Motor: McLaren motor-generator unit from the P1 hypercar (modified for Formula E)
Power outputs vary - Qualifying = 200kW (268bhp), Race = 150kW (201bhp), #Fanboost = 180kW (241bhp)

0-100km/h (62mph) in 3 seconds, limited top speed of 225km/h (140mph)

Gearbox: Hewland 5-speed sequential transmission, no clutch. Gear ratios not adjustable.

Traction Control is banned.


Teams & Drivers

Amlin Aguri
Katherine Legge & Takuma Sato

Andretti Autosport
Franck Montagny & Charles Pic

Audi Sport ABT
Lucas Di Grassi & Daniel Abt

China Racing
Nelson Piquet & Ho-Pin Tung

Dragon Racing
Oriol Servia & Jerome d'Ambrosio

e.dams Renault
Nicolas Prost & Sebastien Buemi

Mahindra Racing
Karun Chandhok & Bruno Senna

Trulli GP
Jarno Trulli & Michela Cerruti

Venturi Grand Prix
Nick Heidfeld & Stephane Sarrazin

Virgin Racing
Jaime Alguersuari & Sam Bird


Points System

25 - 1st
18 - 2nd
15 - 3rd
12 - 4th
10 - 5th
8 -- 6th
6 -- 7th
4 -- 8th
2 -- 9th
1 - 10th

3 - Pole Position
2 - Fastest Lap


Round 1 Report - Beijing ePrix 2014


Track map. The circuit is quite narrow, with the added-in chicanes and the final corner being very tight.
The big blue thing is the "Birdnest" stadium from the 2008 Olympics
So know you know what's going on, let's take a look at what happened at Beijing during the first ever all-electric FIA-sanctioned motor race.

#Fanboost Winners - Bruno Senna, Lucas di Grassi, Katherine Legge

Qualifying Results:

1. Nicolas Prost, e.dams-Renault, 1:42.200s (3 Points)

2. Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT, 1:42.306s

3. Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT, 1:42.454s

4. Karun Chandhok, Mahindra Racing, 1:42.461s

5. Franck Montagny, Andretti, 1:42.530s

6. Nick Heidfeld, Venturi, 1:42.579s

7. Jaime Alguersuari, Virgin Racing, 1:42.683s

8. Charles Pic, Andretti, 1:42. 726s

9. Sebastien Buemi, e.dams-Renault, 1:42.746s

10. Nelson Piquet Jr, China Racing, 1:42.785s

11. Oriol Servia, Dragon Racing, 1:42.847s

12. Sam Bird, Virgin Racing, 1:42.918s

13. Jerome d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing, 1:44.056s

14. Takuma Sato, Amlin Aguri, 1:44.129s

15. Ho-Pin Tung, China Racing, 1:45.282s

16. Katherine Legge, Amlin Aguri, 1:45.369s

17. Michela Cerruti, Trulli, 1:46.170s

- Jarno Trulli, Trulli, no time set (crash)

- Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing, no time set (battery problems)

- Stephane Sarrazin, Venturi, no time set (crash)

The final three were allowed to race despite not setting a qualifying time.

Starting Grid Changes:
Frank Montangy - +3 place penalty for leaving the pit lane early in quali, starts in 8th place as a result.
Trulli Sarrazin Buemi Tung Cerruti - +10 place penalty for needing new gearboxes after accidents.
Bruno Senna rises to 15th place as a result. Legge rises to 14th.

The Race - Highlights

As Trulli and Tung (the latter starting from the pit lane) failed to get away, Nick Heidfeld made a move around the outside of Karun Chandhok at the first corner to take 4th place, while Bruno Senna was taken out by Takuma Sato, retiring after just two corners with broken suspension. Andretti Autosport team mates Frank Montagny and Charles Pic had a little moment together in Turn 2 when the former bullied his way past the latter, much to Pic's disgust. This move bunched up the field behind and allowed Sam Bird to make up tow places, one of which was Pic.

The Safety Car was deployed while marshals collected Senna's car. After the restart, Buemi's rear bodywork was shaken apart when he ran over a tall kerb, forcing him to pit for a new rear wing.

Frank Montagny was on a charge pretty much throughout, working his way up from 8th on the grid to be 4th by the start of the last lap. Nick Heidfeld also had very good pace, managing a faster car-change than the two Audi Sport drivers in front of him to take 2nd place, after which he set about chasing down race leader Nico Prost.

Almost everyone pitted to switch cars on Lap 13 of 25. Sam Bird tried staying out a lap longer to make some places, but stayed in 6th place. Perhaps battery life limited any potential for a blindingly fast lap. Montagny got past one Audi Sport driver in the pits, Heidfeld out-pitted both. Sebastien Buemi and Katherine Legge crossed the white pit exit line and got drive-through penalties.

Buemi held the fastest lap until he pulled into the pits again and retired. Sato beat his time on Lap 23 of 25, earning him two points before he too retired.

While Montagny couldn't find a way past Di Grassi for 3rd, Heidfeld piled the pressure onto Prost for the lead in the closing stages. As everyone else fell back to conserve battery, Heidfeld finally had his chance to strike into the final corner... but Prost had other ideas, darting across and causing a collision that saw Heidfeld launch off a tall kerb and into the barriers, somersaulting a few times before landing upside down. He was unharmed, but unamused. The incident took both of them out and handed Lucas di Grassi the victory. This is probably not how he envisioned winning the first ever all-electric single seater race, but I'm sure he won't complain for long. Video and pictures below.

A controversial and spectacular end to an intriguing, if not particularly thrilling, inaugural Formula E race. Battery life being an obvious concern doesn't do anything to raise the image of electric cars, but the long pit stops and driver strategy it creates have the potential to add to the racing. The drivers are clearly talented, which always helps make a series look better, but if all the circuits are this narrow and tight, we may not see a huge amount of overtaking as the 2014/15 season progresses (even with #Fanboost, which didn't really seem to make a difference). The next race is a whole two months away, at Malaysia on 22nd November. Hopefully ITV4 can sneak it in before qualifying for the F1 finale starts...

Results (and more) are below the full race report.


The Race in Full (25 Laps)

After an almost painfully slow formation lap - must conserve battery life! - the grid lined up. Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung had to start in the pit lane after changing the gearbox he damaged in qualifying. When the five red lights went out, Prost pulled away well, but not as well as Nick Heidfeld in the black Venturi car, who managed to pass around the outside of Karun Chandhok into the first corner. A penalised Montagny tried passing his team mate Charles Pic to no avail, so he darted to the inside of Turn 2 and squeezed Pic to snatch 7th place. Pic lost momentum and bunched up a few of the cars behind him, allowing Virgin Racing's Sam Bird to sneak past China Racing's Nelson Piquet Jr as well as Pic to take 8th place. Pic was not amused. Bruno Senna was taken out going into Turn 2 when the two Amlin cars squeezed him out and broke his front suspension. The chicane at Turn 3/4/5 singled out the grid. Hometown hero Ho Pin Tung failed to get away at all, as did Jarno Trulli...

Order after Lap 1:
Prost - di Grassi - Abt - Heidfeld - Chandhok - Alguersuari - Montagny - Bird - Pic - Piquet Jr. - Servia - Sato - D'Ambrosio - Sarrazin - Legge - Buemi - Cerruti - [Senna DNF] - [Trulli DNS] - [Tung in pits]

Due to Senna's car being stranded by the side of the track, the Safety Car was called out during the second lap (it's a BMW i8 hybrid supercar, by the way). Of course, cruising around at lower speed allowed everyone to save battery life, not to mention tyres. Ho Pin Tung eventually managed to get his car going, but rather awkwardly ended up ahead of Nick Heidfeld on track behind the Safety Car. At the end of Lap 4, the racing resumed. Tung moved aside for Heidfeld out of the last corner, but Heidfeld used Tung's slipstream for a moment first. The rest of the drivers remained close together but essentially in single file, with Montagny looking feisty behind Jaime Alguersuari. At Turn 19 Montagny dived down the inside and muscled his way through to 6th place, with Alguersuari's team mate Sam Bird capitalising and getting alongside him into the last corner, where having the inside line allowed him to get past for 7th place. Further back, Dragon Racing's Oriol Servier out-braked Nelson Piquet Jr. into Turn 1 of Lap 6 to take 10th place. Again, the car being overtaken lost momentum and allowed another car to have a look. This time Amlin's Takuma Sato tried around the ouside of Piquet in Turn 2, compromising Piquet's exit and staying alongside into the fist chicane to get past.

Still on Lap 6, e.Dams-Renault driver Sebastien Buemi bounced over the second of the tight chicanes only for his rear bodywork to fail, letting the rear wing collapse and right-rear air guide to fall off from behind the rear wheel. The debris thankfully wasn't a big enough deal to warrant another Safety Car period, but Buemi had to pit for new body parts, putting him in last. Why continue? There are two points on offer for setting the fastest lap. Heading into the seventh lap, Tung was still trying to get out of everyone's way, bunching up Sato and his team mate Piquet at the last corner which allowed Piquet to get alongside on corner exit and out-brake Sato into Turn 1, eventually getting ahead in Turn 2. Sato didn't let his compromised corner exit turn into further position losses. Piquet went on to outbrake Servier into the last corner of Lap 8, going around the outside to take 10th place and make it into the points.

At this point in the race, the cars had dropped to roughly half their battery life (obviously it varied from car to car based on how they're driven, like fuel consumption). On lap 10 Frank Montagny had caught up to Mahindra Racing's Karun Chandhok and passed him on the inside for 5th place in the last corner. Immediately on Chandhok's tail was Sam Bird for Virgin Racing, but not quite close enough to make a move. Takuma Sato ground to a halt on Lap 11, bringing out yellow flags for a couple of laps until he managed to coax some life back into his car.

Montagny's charge put him in the trail of Nick Heidfeld on Lap 12, while Stephane Sarrazin and Jaime Alguersuari pitted for their second cars before anyone else. A lap later he tried going around the outside, only to follow Heidfeld and everyone ahead into the pits. The only front-runner to stay out was Sam Bird, who did an extra lap in an attempt to leapfrog a few cars. It was during the pit stops that the Audi Sport ABT drivers fell back, with Lucas di Grassi being beaten out of the pits by Nick Heidfeld and Daniel Abt dropping behind Andretti Autosport's Frank Montagny. Bird's leapfrog tactic didn't work as he maintained 6th position after pitting. Buemi's day went from bad to worse when he was slapped with a drive-through penalty for crossing the white line while rejoining the circuit from the pit lane (Katherine Legge got the same penalty on Lap 22). What more could go wrong for the Swiss driver? On lap 19, he retired from the race while his team mate Nico Prost continued to control the race out in front. Oh, and his Fastest Lap got beaten by Takuma Sato late in the race.

Running Order after Pits:
Prost - Heidfeld - di Grassi - Montagny - Abt - Bird - Chandhok - Pic - Piquet Jr - Servia
Sarrazin - D'Ambrosio - Alguersuari - Cerruti - Legge - Buemi - Tung - Sato

On the 15th lap, Piquet Jr. was hunting down Charles Pic, carrying much more speed through the last of the chicanes to get right onto Pic's gearbox. Alas, going into Turn 19 he locked a front wheel and fell back again. Meanwhile, Montagny continued to pressure di Grassi for 3rd place despite having to lift and coast before some of the corners to save battery. Prost's lead at this point was around three seconds, but it soon started diminishing as the race entered the closing stages.

Also doing the chasing was Karun Chandhok, who got alongside Sam Bird in the penultimate corner of Lap 19 and passed him 6th place in the last corner. Prost's lead was down to less than a second by Lap 20. With five laps to go, the top four were almost nose-to-tail. By this point, many of the front runners had to start worrying about battery life a lot more, but Heidfeld clearly had plenty of punch to spare. Having already been passed by Seriver, Nelson Piquet Jr. had more than batteries to worry about on Lap 22, when oversteer out of Turn 18 allowed Stephane Sarrazin to pull out and pass him. Jerome D'Ambrosio followed Sarrazin through and tried the inside line into Turn 20 to no avail.

Tension rose at the front of the grid with three laps to go, as Nick Heidfeld remained less than a second behind race leader Nico Prost. Seven tenths, then nine, then eight, Heidfeld kept pushing, using every inch of the circuit in his Venturi GP car. Prost needed only to hold on and not let his LMP2 co-driver find a way past. Heidfeld caught the grass through the second chicane and lost a little ground, but the gap soon closed back up again as the German kept the pressure on the Frenchman. 0.6 seconds separated them as they started the final lap. Prost was starting to wear his tyres out, let alone battery (3rd and 4th had dropped far back by this point). Out of the penultimate corner, Heidfeld got a good run, caught right up and pulled out of Prost's slipstream to have a look down the inside into the final corner of the race. Prost, who only looked in his right-hand mirror, darted left across the track to cover the inside at the last moment......

......and then this happened:


Prost hit Heidfeld, breaking his own front suspension or steering arm as well as both right-hand suspension arms on Heidfeld's car, pitching the German's car into a spin which ultimately saw him launch over the tall kerb on the inside of Turn 20 and go barrel-rolling into and over the "Tek-Pro" soft barriers before landing upside down. Prost's erratic defending put both drivers out of the race at the last possible moment, handing victory to Audi Sport's Lucas di Grassi. Both drivers are fine, but things will probably be a bit frosty in the Rebellion Racing garage at the next WEC event......


Full Results:

1 - Lucas Di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT)
2 - Frank Montagny (Andretti Autosport)
3 - Daniel Abt (Audi Sport ABT)**
4 - Sam Bird (Virgin Racing)
5 - Charles Pic (Andretti Autosport)
6 - Karun Chandhok (Mahindra Racing)
7 - Jerome D'Ambrosio (Dragon Racing)
8 - Oriol Servia (Dragon Racing)
9 - Nelson Piquet Jr. (China Racing)
10-Stephane Sarrazin (Venturi GP)
11-Jaime Alguersuari (Virgin Racing)**
12-Nicolas Prost [+1 Lap*] (e.DAMS Renault)
13-Nick Heidfeld [+1 Lap*] (Venturi GP)
14-Katherine Legge [+1 Lap] (Amlin Aguri)**
15-Michela Cerruti [+1 Lap] (Trulli)
16-Ho Pin Tung [+2 Laps] (China Racing)
--------
17 - Takuma Sato (Amlin Aguri) - DNF
18 - S├ębastien Buemi (e.DAMS Renault) - DNF
19 - Jarno Trulli (Trulli) - DNF
20 - Bruno Senna (Mahindra Racing) - DNF

Fastest Lap: Takuma Sato, 1:45.101

*Prost and Heidfeld were officially classified as finishing a lap down, probably due to them being in the final sector of the final lap when they retired.

**TIME PENALTY GIVEN to Daniel Abt, Jaime Alguersuari and Katherine Legge for exceeding the 28kW battery consumption limit. Abt (who did so by just 0.2kW) dropped from 3rd to 10th position. The other two were already out of the points anyway so their championship positions are unaffected.

Driver's Championship Standings:
1. Lucas di Grassi - 25
2. Franck Montagny - 18
3. Sam Bird - 15
4. Charles Pic - 12
5. Karun Chandhok - 10
6. Jerome d’Ambrosio - 8
7. Oriol Servia - 6
8. Nelson Piquer Jr – 4
9. Nicolas Prost - 3
10. Stephane Sarrazin – 2
11. Takuma Sato - 2
12. Daniel Abt - 1
13. Jaime Alguersuari – 0
14. Nick Heidfeld – 0
15. Michela Cerruti – 0
16. Katherine Legge – 0
17. Ho-Pin Tung – 0
18. Sebastien Buemi – 0
19. Jarno Trulli - 0
20. Bruno Senna – 0

Last Corner Crash Video:



If you still feel you need moving pictures and sounds, the race is - for now - on YouTube here. I'd imagine it'll get taken down for copyright before too long. Yes, there is backing music on the world feed. It's meant to be a 'feature...'

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