Formula E’s debut in Saudi Arabia faced an unusual challenge for the desert environment — rain — in practice for today’s season-opening round of the fifth season of the all-electric series.
After heavy rain in the morning and surface water on the track, it was HWA Racelab driver Stoffel Vandoorne — the McLaren F1 veteran who is making his Formula E debut in this event — who led pre-qualifying practice with a lap of 1m18.868s around the 2.495km/1.55-mile Ad Diriyah street circuit.
Second was Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird (1m19.045s) and third fastest was Nissan e.dams Sebastien Buemi with a 1m19.050s lap.
Ten minutes into the session, Venturi Formula E Team’s Edoardo Mortara failed to stop going into Turn 1 and slammed the wall, damaging the front of his car. With all drivers struggling to keep their cars in a straight line in the wet conditions, Felix Rosenqvist also met with the wall close to the end of the session.
Three of the slowest four cars in the session were Venturi powertrains, with the team’s rookie driver Felipe Massa finishing the session in 19th place.
The conditions added to the demands of the Ad Diriyah street course, which skirts the historic town walls. Mahindra Racing’s Jerome d’Ambrosio termed the circuit “the most unforgiving we’ve seen in Formula E,” one that forces drivers to carefully manage risk.
“Now with just one car per driver, you might not even make it to qualifying or to the race, so the risk management will be an important factor here,” noted d’Ambrosio. “You can’t just bin it and then you’ve got a second car. If you bin it badly, you could be compromising your chances of competing.”
The track’s challenge added to the element of uncertainty in how best to implement the new “Attack Mode” power boost. Al 22 drivers will need to pick a time to deviate from the racing line and through the Attack Zone (Turn 17) to collect an extra 25 kW of power for a few laps when they want to race harder or to give them the edge to keep ahead of the competition, with the number of times and duration of the power mode being decided just one hour before the race.
“It’s definitely a tough one,” says DS Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer. “You’ll be in the wall if you try and catch the whole of the Attack Zone but it’s the same for everyone, so we have to deal with it.”