What a setting and what a track for round three. Punta del Este is gorgeous. It’s a triangle-shaped outcrop that narrows to a tiny waist before flaring into a small peninsula, as shapely as the South American beauties that the country is famous for.
The track is to the eastern side of the triangle, next to a beach called Playa Brava, and it stretches up along the coastline. The pit garages back directly onto the beach, much to the delight of the teams. The yacht-filled harbour is located on the peninsula itself, south-west of the beach. The skies are deep blue, the sun is strong, the sand is perfect. It’s a long way from December in London.
Today was a chance for teams to start assembling their cars, and for the drivers who have arrived to have an initial recce of the track. Here’s what we’ve picked up on so far:
- The track is stretched out and narrow, like a piece of looped string. There are lots of long, slightly curved sections which promise to be fast, and some very tight corners and chicanes. A couple of the walls look to be very aggressively placed, the pit lane is extremely narrow and the pit out lane is right on the racing line exiting the chicane that follows the start/finish straight, which could prove hair raising. The pit entrance is also very narrow, and currently marked with a big red tecpro barrier. It almost looked too narrow for the cars. As one driver put it: “They’re officially trying to kill us.”
- Unsurprisingly this close to the beach, there is a lot of sand on the tarmac. An oversized roadsweeper was doing the rounds today, kicking up a huge amount of dust. Workers were also busy around the sausage kerbs marking out that first chicane, so the track may evolve over the next day or so.
- The Emotion VIP club is huge. It towers over the other temporary structures and splits the media centre from the pit garages. Locating the media centre so far from the pit lane isn’t particularly helpful but it looks like we’ll all lose some weight through dashing about.
- To recap on the driver line up, there have been three changes for this event: Antonio Garcia in for Ho-Pin Tung at China Racing; Salvador Duran for Katherine Legge at Amlin Aguri; and Jean-Eric Vergne for Charles Pic at Andretti.
- Katherine Legge is definitely out for the next two races. A schedule clash with the Buenos Aires round next month prompted the team to find a replacement sooner rather than later, but we’re told that she’s expected back in time for the US stint in March. Last week, before the change of driver was announced, Legge told us: “I met with my engineer after the Putrajaya race and we reviewed all of the issues we had. We’ve got a plan. I’ve looked at data between myself and Antonio. We’ve found a few things that we can do better. We have the test to look forward to, which for us is huge. We have a whole long list of things we want to get through.”
- Legge’s replacement is a chap called Salvador Duran (despite Sato having driven for the team and Leimer chalked up as the official reserve driver), who was in early today and looking very keen. He says his goal is “to get the best out of the weekend and to learn on every single lap. Our goal is to be in front but we have to realistic for the first time in the car.” Duran has had zero time in the Spark-Renault so the race will be tough. He says: “I’ve spoken to a couple of drivers. Everyone says it’s more about the efficiency of the batteries and how to manage the consumption. About handling, they say it’s just a normal car.” Duran says this weekend is designed to be fairly relaxed and that he’s not expected to hit the podium on his first outing: “We’re not even thinking about results. We’re thinking about being better every time. Getting the best out of ourselves. It’s a new project and a great challenge. The series looks good in a lot of ways. I’m looking forward to it. It’s about being consistent and being smart all the way through the weekend.”
- It looks likely that JEV will do at least the next couple of races. Pic seems to be out of the frame completely. That narrows the chances of seeing a member of the Andretti family in the Andretti car for the US rounds. Eyes peeled, people.
- While a general air of confusion still seems reign over who can be constructors next year and what they’ll be allowed to build, motors and gearboxes seems to be the consensus for 2015-16 season, followed by batteries the season after that. We understand that Amlin Aguri and China Racing are serious about building their own components, along with Mahindra and Venturi. It looks likely that Williams will supply all the batteries next year. One expert that we spoke to thinks that developing the motors and gearboxes, even without altering the permitted battery energy limits, will allow for a big step forward in performance gains.
- The series is still aiming for 10 races, albeit at nine venues. The intention is to have two races at the London round in June 2015 – one each on Saturday and Sunday. The track is still a few months from final planning permission and there is a lot to get sorted before a double header can be talked about in more finite detail. A Sunday race on that weekend would pose problems for the Audi Sport ABT team, which has to be at a DTM race that day.
- Testing this Sunday will be important for the new drivers and for the teams, who’ll hope to learn more about their cars. Track time is so limited on Formula E race days that a whole day of testing on the type of street circuit that the car is designed for – not to mention an extra day by the beach – will be invaluable.