Condensed matter: 2015 preseason testing day four

Another day, another fastest-ever Formula E lap.

Records continued to be shattered on the fourth day of preseason testing at Donington Park. ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport went fastest on both days of testing this week, culminating in Lucas di Grassi becoming the first driver to dip under a 1min30 lap time.

After a sunny start to the week, Tuesday’s running took place amidst cooler and more changeable conditions. The majority of the rain fell during the lunchtime break, however, which meant there was little to dampen the lap time competition hotting up on track.

There was another resounding hole where Trulli should have been conducting shakedown testing with its new powertrains, while Amlin Andretti managed to at least make it further than the pit lane exit.

Even as times tumbled, ‘reliability’ was very much the word on everyone’s lips. The front running teams continue to look very strong and Mahindra Racing in particular looks like a new team.

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

Continuing with its approach of using a single driver per day, the German team put Lucas di Grassi on cockpit duties.

The Brazilian used his 200kW qualifying-trim lap to good effect, beating the fastest time of Monday which had been set by his team mate, Daniel Abt.

Commenting on the team’s  preseason testing performance, di Grassi said: “Going for the time is not as important as working on the reliability of the car. Of course working on the performance is important, but we know that performance here doesn’t necessarily translate to what we will see at the other tracks. I think the lap time shows promise and it’s good to know that our package is running well at 200kW.”

Close collaboration between the team’s drivers continues, with the pair sharing development information and strategies. On that subject, Abt told us: “As a team you have to work together if you want to succeed, and that’s been the approach since the very beginning. Me and Lucas get along very well – he’s a very clever guy and good team mate to have. We’re both trying to provide our input when we’re in the car and I think this is really helping to push us forward. Our set-up isn’t completely the same, but we’re pretty close. We are trying to get a solid base so that we can make our own small adjustments.”

Renault e.dams

Following a day of interrupted running on Monday, when Nico Prost suffered gearbox issues and Sebastian Buemi’s car was afflicted by electrical malfunctions, the reigning teams’ champions enjoyed a more consistent day of running.

Buemi clocked a total of 38 laps on day four, with the second fastest time of the day, albeit some 0.462s off di Grassi’s benchmark lap. Frenchman Prost had some catching up to do after an early stop on track due to technical issues but recovered well to record the fifth fastest time of the day and 36 laps.

The team has yet to confirm its driver line up, but sources close to the team told us that an announcement is expected imminently and that we’re unlikely to see any changes.

Mahindra Racing

There’s a marked difference in atmosphere in this garage. Season one turned into a recurring nightmare for a team that started brightly, lost its way and then stayed lost.

That’s all totally changed. The team is confident and comfortable. The drivers are happy in the car and that’s showing in presseason performance: the Indian squad clocked the third and fourth fastest times of day four, having placed highly in the morning session, and completed a total of 91 laps.

Bruno Senna ended the day third fastest: “The new package seems good and most of all has been reliable, although we’re perhaps not the quickest out there at the moment. Next week we need to focus on maximising our efficiency and it will be interesting to see where everyone is in the final session.”

The team tried out some new  wheels for Senna’s car during his 200kW qualifying simulation run in the afternoon session. While the team only recorded limited running on the new wheels, which replace the Oz Racing round bits which are stock on the Spark chassis, it is expected that they will help retain heat in the brakes and are marginally more lightweight.  

DS Virgin

Sam Bird handed over the driving duties to Jean-Eric Vergne today, having recorded the third fastest time on the third day of testing.

The Frenchman, who replaces Jaime Alguersuari, has reported that he feels settled in his new team and has found this year’s car easier to drive. He has completed a total of 120 laps during the four days of testing so far, with 44 laps banked today.

JEV didn’t struggle for pace in the first season but he did seem to have more thermal management problems than most. We’ll have to wait until Beijing to see whether a better-cooled powertrain will negate that or whether he has learned to adapt his driving style over the summer.

Dragon Racing

Building on Loic Duval’s strong drive yesterday, Jerome D’Ambrosio clocked an impressive total of 71 laps for the team today – the second highest achieved by a single driver thus far in pre-season testing, and just seven laps short of Team Aguri and Tom Dillman’s record set using a gremlin-free S1 car.

A time of 1:31.144s placed the Belgian driver in seventh place overall today.

The team is running a powertrain developed and also run by Venturi. The American team, which finished second in the teams’ title, told us that the new powertrain has proved a big step forward.

Team Aguri

GP2 racer Nathaniel Berthon took the wheel of the car and completed 68 laps. The common approach of using one driver per day continued here. Reliability continues to be strong, with 273 laps notched up over the first four days of Donington Park testing: that’s more than 1000km so far.

Salvador Duran, who started with the team at the third race of the maiden season, had looked set for a season two seat but the situation may not be quite as clear cut as it had previously seemed. We’ve heard that the team has new investors who are keen to see a French driver on board, which may have implications for the second seat too.

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston told us that the drivers running next week will be those that line up for the team in Beijing, with an announcement expected to be made early on Monday.

 Venturi

While one part of the company is out in the US gearing up to break its own land speed record for an electric vehicle, back in Blighty the black-and-red cars racked up another 90 laps of running on Tuesday.

Season one stalwart Stephane Sarrazin finished faster than new boy Jacques Villeneuve again, with lap times far more comparable to those set by Dragon this time out.

We had a chat with Villeneuve, who told us: “We have been having a lot of issues in getting the ball rolling, but driving the car, it’s a race car, so there’s no issues there. It gets a little bit complicated with energy regeneration and stuff like that, but we’re not working on that yet. I’ve been driving a lot of weird cars over the years, while most of the other drivers come from open wheel series, so they’re used to having a very light car that reacts instinctively to and these cars do not act the same. So the adjustment is not an issue.”

The team has managed to complete a total of 298 laps during preseason testing so far, but the car’s outright pace (which is also dictated by conventional chassis set-up as well as powertrain success) and the team’s ability to extract it are still subject to debate.

 NextEV TCR

The team seems to have got back in the driving seat after a terrible first two days. The Chinese team managed 73 laps on Tuesday, following a combined total of just 62 laps over the previous three days.

NextEV has gone with a single-gear system for its car. The approach may mean less work for the drivers on the tight street circuits but might impact how quickly the car accelerates on Formula E’s twisty road courses. Nelson Piquet told us: “I don’t think it will make any difference at all for me, although maybe we can focus a little on driving. But we didn’t make the changes to make the car easier to drive: the single gear has been adopted for efficiency reasons.”

The first Formula E drivers’ champion has now completed 63 laps in preseason testing and ended the fourth day in eleventh place, 1.637s ahead of Oliver Turvey. Turvey would be a strong choice for season two but the team hasn’t yet confirmed he’ll be racing there.

Amlin Andretti

Tuesday finally brought signs of progress for the blue-liveried cars; we even spotted a few smiles spotted in the garage at the end of the day.

While Simona de Silvestro did not set a representative time, she did put in track time over the course of the day with a handful of installation laps. No word yet on a second driver.

Trulli Formula E

Work continued today at the team’s Donington workshop even if the cars weren’t seen in their natural habitat (the track). While members of the crew were spotted in the team’s pit garage early in the morning, the shutters remained closed all day.

The team is yet to provide comment on its lack of running or its plans for next week’s final test sessions. With just two days of preseason testing remaining before the Beijing race, things are looking tough for the Italian team.

Rumours continue to circulate about the team’s drivers, with only Tonio Luizzi confirmed. Trulli himself has repeatedly said that he wanted to run the team, not race for it, but it might the most prudent and cost-effective solution to put the former F1 star and Formula E pole sitter back in the car for season two. Duran, however, was spotted wandering in and around the Trulli premises a few times. Time for rumours?

Day four stats

  1. Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, 1:29.920s (45 laps)
  2. Sebastien Buemi, Renualt e.dams, 1:30.382s (38)
  3. Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing, 1:30.670s (46)
  4. Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing, 1:30.674s (45)
  5. Nicolas Prost, Renault e.dams, 1:30.677s (36)
  6. Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Virgin Racing, 1:30.925s (44)
  7. Jerome D’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing, 1:31.144s (71)
  8. Nathanael Berthon, Team Aguri, 1:31.185s (68)
  9. Stephane Sarrazin, Venturi, 1:31.241s (45)
  10. Jacques Villeneuve, Venturi, 1:31.489s (45)
  11. Nelson Piquet, NextEV TCR, 1:34.133s (33)
  12. Oliver Turvey, NextEV TCR, 1:35.770s (40)
  13. Simona de Silvestro, Amlin Andretti, no time set (10)
  14. Jarno Trulli, Trulli, no time set (0)

 Tom Spencer

Leave a Reply

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