Local heroes and learning points

Current E Miami 2015 race day Scott Speed after the race

The Miami race showed that, as a spectacle and as a breeding ground for engineering talent, Formula E is proving to be without equal, says Marc Priestley, technical analyst for ITV’s Formula E coverage.

“Formula E has had some wonderful backdrops so far and Miami was no exception. Look at any other conventional racing circuit: they’re often in the middle of nowhere, which can rob them of interesting backgrounds. Racing in the city centre is brilliant for TV, for the sponsors and for the fans.  

In fact, the whole concept is proving to be brilliant. It’s really gaining traction. We had the Formula E race on Saturday night in the UK, and very early on Sunday we had the first F1 race of the season. That race was not the most inspiring grand prix we’ve ever seen. As a spectacle, Formula E won that one hands down.

There were a lot of new drivers this weekend but no one embarrassed themselves. It was all handled very well. That’s all credit to the teams for doing such a good job. Look at Scott Speed, who finished second in the race. Although he hasn’t raced in the car before, he is working with a very experienced team which has one of the most scientific approaches of the paddock. It wasn’t a huge surprise to me that he did well: he did what the team told him to do.

Although we’re all British in the ITV studio, we found ourselves cheering on the American. He’s a local hero. A Formula E cockpit is a pretty quiet place to be too, so he must have heard the crowds cheering him on. It’s rare that you see a driver so happy after the race.

I was pleased to see Prost get the win. We all had visions of Beijing in those closing laps, with him leading and being hunted down. This time, he managed to hold on to the place. That’s great for the team too. They’re getting the rewards they deserve for putting in such consistent performances.

Abt was another guy who was really pleased to get on the podium. He’s had a frustrating start to the season and he’s been outshone by his team mate more often than not. In Miami, however, he outqualified di Grassi and finished on the podium too.

We’re seeing a pattern emerging of the teams and drivers who are favourites, but the weekend is so chaotic that the grid order is often shaken up. That can make for a really good race.

Miami threw up a few odd technical issues. We saw more overheating and energy management problems. Powertrain temperature is directly related to speed with these cars. If you go flat out for three laps, you’re going to start to overcook things. If you’re leading, you’ve got a better chance of cooling the car. If you’re in a chain of cars, you’ve got more of a chance to be careful with energy management. If you’re comfortable enough that you can’t be overtaken, you can ease off for a lap.

Sam Bird mentioned that he had no idea how they had been caught out so much – going from leading the race to dropping all the way down to the middle of the pack over the pit stop period. The team had apparently done all the things they normally do but they suffered at this race. Perhaps there was something at this track that affected cooling.

We’re still nowhere reaching the potential of our learning about energy and temperature management, but this will accelerate next year when teams can build their own powertrains and therefore have a much better understanding of all the components.

We also saw a lot of pretty poor pit stops. I have no idea why, but several of the times were really slow. That’s something teams will be looking to address at the next race. A few seconds lost in the pits can cost a whole handful of places on the track.

This circuit was particularly bumpy. From a driver’s point of view, that’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare from a team’s point of view, too. For speed, you need to set the car up to be very stiff, so it doesn’t move around in the corners. At a street circuit, you need to compromise on damping and ride height settings. But Miami was something else. You very rarely see single seat cars racing on a surface like that.

We saw a couple of spins, drivers going off into the escape areas and Senna locking up both wheels – all almost certainly as a result of those bumps. When you lock up the front wheels, you’re suddenly a passenger. It’s like trying to steer a boat. This weekend, with the vastly reduced practice time, there wasn’t enough time to try changing set ups to find a better approach.

I’m not sure that the suspension updates have necessarily worked. Senna had two failures in the day. Every driver will take his own line, use the kerbs differently and have his own preference for suspension set up. The fact that Senna had those failures means we need to wait until Long Beach to see if the problem really has been fixed or not.

One of the things that makes Formula E exciting right now is that the performance levels are so similar, but of course the major point of the sport is to develop technology. The big benefits will come when big manufacturers come on board. That will create a proper development race. Yes, it will increase spending. But that spending will be directly relevant to their core businesses, rather than left in the racing itself. That’s not dead money. It’s money being well spent.

Formula E is a breeding ground for engineers as well as the technology. No one else is doing this. The people who are leading the way in Formula E in an engineering sense will have huge value. That knowledge will be valuable in F1, endurance racing and the wider automotive world. If the series is successful in the longer term, those young engineers and mechanics involved now will find themselves at the forefront of racing and automotive development. They’ll find themselves in great demand, and with as bright a future as the sport itself.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *