Formula E circuits have been the subject of much criticism over the seven seasons of the championship. The decision to use street tracks in the first place was always at least somewhat strategic, both to cover car limits early in the season and to avoid direct comparisons to Formula 1.
It did, however, exploit the unique opportunities of Formula E to be a lightweight (in terms of build and personnel) and emissions-free championship much more capable of fitting into a city center than its decades-old cousin. The race proved that the series can overcome limits, with low downforce cars able to keep up with each other and an increasingly competitive group of drivers making the show far bigger than its short tracks could. to suggest.
Ironically, Formula 1 and Formula E have had to adapt to become a bit more alike over the past half-decade. The cost of building new complete circuits to top tier standards has pushed Formula 1 to the streets for new venues and Formula E this weekend finds itself on a traditional track, under pressure to operate during Covid- 19.
Formula E has already flirted with the concept; its busiest race is Mexico City, which takes place on a heavily modified version of the Hermano Rodriguez Circuit oval layout. Although much of it shares the main track, some service roads are laid out to keep it strictly improvised and the 41,000 participants who filled the stadium in February 2020, before the pandemic was fully understood, have proven the appeal. of the race.
The race in Valencia is different. It’s a short track and Formula E is more than capable of handling even its 4km grand prix track. We know that, since this has been where pre-season testing has been held for the past four years, most notably with success last December when the track was not hampered by modifications to save on spare parts.
Back to racing here, Formula E has the chance to prove its critics wrong: not only can it race on permanent circuits, without shortening or compromising them, it can also make it look good. Or at least you very much hope that would be the ambition, providing an answer to the seven years of sarcastic tweets and sarcastic looks from the wider racing community.
The track for this weekend has been changed. A colossal chicane steering lock has been added to prevent cars from entering the start / finish straight too quickly, traversing yards of thick paint that would normally separate the race track and the pit entrance. Formula E has no formal requirement for a pit stop during the race, but allows cars to come back during sessions, forcing them to almost cross paths with cars negotiating the tight turn.
When Formula E was first tested in Valencia, the amateur cousin of the current chicane was perched on the line of the checkered flag, roughly made from tire walls. It took a few front fins as victims and a sharp call from Sebastien Buemi to provoke a reinforcement and, somewhat controversially, a twin added at the start of the straight to slow the cars down before they got there. .
The idea that circuit adjustments would be made to slow Formula E cars down may seem baffling, given that the series is often criticized for its relative pace, compared to other single-seaters. There is some justification for saying that the Gen2 cars, which have even less downforce than their predecessors due to the removal of the rear spoiler, are not designed for high-speed cornering. But preventing them from going all the way into a straight line, where no drag would be an advantage, seems too cautious.
Strong braking zones allow Formula E cars to regenerate, but baffles have been a sure-fire recipe for red flags in the past. The extensive runoff from Valencia wouldn’t necessarily avoid this, without modification, as FE cars and gravel don’t play well together; the heavy rears of cars are easy to dig deep into a trap, but Ricardo Tormo has the advantage of traditional track access for recovery.
Formula E has the pressure this season to deliver, having become an official world championship and doing quite a big thing. So far serious accidents have marred Diriyah’s first two events, Edoardo Mortara and Alex Lynn both ended up in hospital for check-ups on the second day of the race after dramatic crashes and both races in Rome must have started under the safety car, with further safety car periods during the 45 minutes (plus one lap) of the race.
It is therefore important that under what the teams describe as the most intense energy management demands of any Formula E race, the Valencia event allows Formula E to prove itself in the- beyond the limits of its own tracks. As Formula E rookie Jake Dennis observed in Rome, at least the Valencia circuit has “less walls to put in [him] in.”