With the Formula E paddock enjoying a brief week of respite before returning to Donington Park for the second collective preseason test next Monday, there’s no better time to do some number crunching to make some sense of the first three-day stint. Beware: numerical geekery of unparalleled proportions coming up.
Last week, I had a chat with team principals up and down the pitlane. It was their first time to see how they measure up against each other with their new machinery, don’t forget. Two had drivers well up the timesheets. One downplayed it, saying: “It’s just testing”. The other, with a wry smile, said: “It’s just testing, but…” Perspective, eh?
Anyhow, we’ve run the numbers on mileage and lap time and whipped up some tables. The results are surprising.
Mileage is an important stat when it comes to looking at preseason testing to get a feel for just how reliable the new tech is and how comfortable the drivers are in the cars. Fewer laps usually means more time spent in the garage for software or mechanical tweaks; more laps probably indicates all is well.
This is a rule of thumb, of course, and is also affected by charging strategies and run programmes (qualifying simulations versus race pace, for example).
Remember, too, that all teams bar Techeetah were allocated 15 days of private running. As such, this test was less about nailing down lap after lap and more about ensuring all systems and processes are working as they should when we hit Hong Kong.
In terms of laps, here’s what was racked up over the three days last week:
|FORMULA E DONINGTON PARK TEST 1 – MOST LAPS|
|1||Antonio Felix da Costa||Andretti||130||324.74|
|2||Nico Prost||Renault e.dams||119||297.262|
|4||Sebastien Buemi||Renault e.dams||115||287.27|
|5||Lucas di Grassi||ABT||111||277.278|
|8||Sam Bird||DS Virgin||104||259.792|
|9||Jose Maria Lopez||DS Virgin||101||252.298|
|20||Nelson Piquet Jr.||NextEV||40||99.92|
It’s a pleasant surprise to to see an Andretti driver racking up the most laps, given the struggle the outfit faced this time last year, when it was eventually forced to abandon its season two powertrain. That meant a “double step” is required for season three to keep pace with development elsewhere in the pit lane. Antonio Felix da Costa spent enough time in the car that he may as well have brought a sleeping bag and a pack of sausages. On the other side of that garage, Robin Frijns was hamstrung by battery issues early in his running and had to miss the final session to catch a plane to Hungary for his GT racing commitments.
Otherwise, the majority of teams laid down roughly similar lap figures. NextEV’s running was split with just one car on each day, hence its rather low figure, while Jaguar similarly shared its second car between the bottom three drivers on the list.
|FORMULA E DONINGTON PARK TEST 1 – MOST LAPS (TEAMS)|
|2||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||227||567.046|
|4||DS Virgin Racing||205||512.09|
This “team by team” breakdown is perhaps a little more useful given the drivers swapping in and out (athough, again, the decision by a couple of teams to run a single driver at a time does affect this picture slightly).
Renault and ABT, the two most well-oiled operations from season two, lead the way with around 10% more laps than any other team. Jaguar will be happy to have racked up 200 laps during its first public running, given that Adam Carroll was the only driver to complete all three days. Techeetah also impressed given it ran one car for four of the six sessions. Andretti, Dragon and Venturi encountered the most issues over the three days but Venturi still managed to finish fifth overall.
Boiling the numbers down into mileage, it’s clear that NextEV ran significantly fewer miles than last season’s leading teams; whether or not that will hinder their progress when we reach Hong Kong is hard to say.
Does lots of testing translate to reliability in races? Not necessarily. Renault had a few software issues which cost them dearly in the early part of the second season despite a strong showing in preseason testing; it was a similar story for now-defunct Team Aguri. Still, the more miles racked up, the more data is available to analyse and use as a baseline for development. And with very little practice at race weekends, the more miles drivers can get under their belts in preseason testing, the more chance they have of getting to grips properly with the unique characteristics and operating parameters of their cars before the heat of battle.
Besides mileage, the other big marker in preseason testing is, naturally, lap time. Jean-Eric Vergne finished the test at the head of the timesheets for Techeetah, but how did the rest of the pack shape up?
Besides the times and gap, we’ve also noted which session the fastest lap was set in, something that may help when it comes to trying to define a pecking order. The number after D stands for which day; the number after S stands for which session on that day.
|FORMULA E DONINGTON PARK TEST 1 – FASTEST LAPS|
|1||Jean-Eric Vergne||Techeetah||1:29.634||D2 S1|
|2||Felix Rosenqvist||Mahindra||1:29.719||+0.085||D2 S1|
|3||Sebastien Buemi||Renault e.dams||1:29.765||+0.131||D2 S1|
|4||Daniel Abt||ABT||1:30.073||+0.439||D3 S1|
|5||Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra||1:30.095||+0.461||D3 S1|
|6||Nico Prost||Renault e.dams||1:30.237||+0.603||D3 S1|
|7||Lucas di Grassi||ABT||1:30.252||+0.618||D3 S1|
|8||Sam Bird||DSVR||1:30.294||+0.660||D2 S2|
|9||Loic Duval||Dragon||1:30.542||+0.908||D2 S2|
|10||Jerome d’Ambrosio||Dragon||1:30.553||+0.919||D3 S1|
|11||Oliver Turvey||NextEV||1:30.693||+1.059||D2 S2|
|12||Antonio Felix da Costa||Andretti||1:30.769||+1.135||D3 S1|
|13||Maro Engel||Venturi||1:31.093||+1.459||D3 S2|
|14||Jose Maria Lopez||DSVR||1:31.159||+1.525||D2 S2|
|15||Robin Frijns||Andretti||1:31.183||+1.549||D2 S2|
|16||Stephane Sarrazin||Venturi||1:31.221||+1.587||D3 S2|
|17||Mitch Evans||Jaguar||1:31.267||+1.633||D2 S2|
|18||Adam Carroll||Jaguar||1:31.376||+1.742||D2 S2|
|19||Alex Lynn||Jaguar||1:31.409||+1.775||D1 S2|
|20||Ma Qinghua||Techeetah||1:32.838||+3.204||D3 S1|
|21||Nelson Piquet Jr.||NextEV||1:33.284||+3.650||D1 S2|
|22||Dean Stoneman||NextEV||1:33.389||+3.755||D3 S1|
|23||Harry Tincknell||Jaguar||1:33.927||+4.293||D3 S1|
The spread of teams towards the top end of the timesheets is encouraging for the season ahead. It’s interesting to see the different blocks that are present, with the timesheets roughly split depending on which day the fastest time was posted. The fastest times came in the first session of day two; the next fastest session was the first session of day three. Times set in other sessions are unlikely to be wholly representative of what the driver was capable of on a level playing field.
However, perhaps a more representative table comes with the fastest ‘ideal’ laps for each driver, worked out by taking their fastest sectors throughout the test and putting them together. Some of the drivers’ ideal laps are the same as their fastest times, but not all…
|FORMULA E DONINGTON PARK TEST 1 – FASTEST IDEAL LAPS|
|2||Sebastien Buemi||Renault e.dams||1:29.638||+0.004|
|6||Nico Prost||Renault e.dams||1:30.166||+0.532|
|8||Lucas di Grassi||ABT||1:30.213||+0.579|
|11||Jose Maria Lopez||DSVR||1:30.544||+0.910|
|13||Antonio Felix da Costa||Andretti||1:30.728||+1.094|
|21||Nelson Piquet Jr.||NextEV||1:33.083||+3.449|
Viewed this way, just four-thousandths of a second separate Vergne and Buemi. The standings do become more delineated when set out like this, the rough pecking order of teams visible to see. Once again though, just a second separates the top 11: good news for the coming season.
But we can get an even better idea of what the forthcoming season may hold if we boil the lap times down to just the first and third sectors at Donington Park, which are the most representative of the street circuits teams will face throughout the season. The fast-flowing second sector features corners unlike any on the calendar. Admittedly, Turn 1 is a little different, perhaps most like part of the Buenos Aires circuit, but sector three is perfect: a chicane, a straight, a hairpin, a straight, another hairpin, and the finish line. So what do the times look like if we stick sector one and sector three together?
|FORMULA E DONINGTON PARK TEST 1 – SECTOR 1 + 3 LAP|
|2||Sebastien Buemi||Renault e.dams||54.485||+0.027|
|6||Nico Prost||Renault e.dams||54.726||+0.268|
|8||Jose Maria Lopez||DSVR||54.814||+0.356|
|11||Lucas di Grassi||ABT||54.915||+0.457|
|15||Antonio Felix da Costa||Andretti||55.212||+0.754|
|21||Nelson Piquet Jr.||NextEV||56.660||+2.202|
Well, well. Viewing the data like this leads us to the following conclusions:
- This season should start out much, much closer than last year (when Renault was several seconds per lap clear of the rest in Beijing). These times won’t give us the full story over the course of a season, however, where the bigger teams can pile resources into software enhancements and simulations between races.
- The battle for the drivers’ title could be wide open but it’ll be hard to look away from Buemi and di Grassi again. Vergne looks like he’s on a mission and, finally equipped with competitive machinery, he won’t be hanging around. Bird will be right there in the mix again, along with debutants Rosenqvist and Lopez. Could Piquet be back with a bang? We need to see a little more of NextEV’s performance to say for sure, but season three is shaping up to be a real corker.
- Rosenqvist is very, very quick. That’s something the F3 and Indy Lights paddocks have seen quite a bit of already, of course. The Swede’s arrival has been relatively quietly-received but we see it as a real coup for Mahindra. Formula E veteran Nick Heidfeld doesn’t far too badly either. In fact, Mahindra has both drivers in the top five fastest times when measured via our “sector one plus three” method.
- Evans and Carroll emerge as the leading candidates for permanent Jaguar Racing seats. On the evidence of the numbers, Jaguar seems to be behind the leading contenders on outright pace, however, which we find surprising. We expected to see them at the front of the pack. They could be playing a steady game however (and they may not show us at all what they have before Hong Kong) and these numbers don’t tell us much about efficiency, which we expect to be Jag’s trump card with the underpinning Williams expertise.
- Abt and di Grassi are the wrong way round based on their title performances. Of course, speed has never been Abt’s issue; his results have been undermined more by his decisions during races. If he can keep a clear head for qualifying and the races, he could well become a title contender.
- Andretti is a little way behind where we’d expect them to be given the calibre and speed of their drivers. It’ll be interesting to see whether the second test brings any more pace.
- When examining the individual sectors, NextEV seems to be stronger on the twisty stuff than they are on the flowing bits, which would mean they ought to be better on tighter tracks than, say, Buenos Aires or Mexico. This is pretty similar to the first season and being competitive when the going gets twisty is a vast improvement over last season, when the car was busy flolloping around all over the place (memories of that last-gasp crash in Punta, anyone?).
That’s a lot of numbers but they all point to one thing: Formula E will be back with a bang for season three. We’ll be back at track next week for the second collective test so make sure to bookmark Current E.