Say what you will about Formula E, but the energy management portion of each event provides a special form of strategy that you don’t see anywhere else. Each driver has a certain amount of battery power that he can use. Use too much, and you’ll either be stranded on the track or disqualified after the race. And that’s exactly what happened this morning during FE’s first-ever race on a proper circuit in Valencia.
But there’s an added monkey wrench in this whole situation, too: when a safety car comes out, the FIA automatically subtracts a preset amount of energy from each battery so that no one ends up with a surplus of power. And with four safety cars during this event, any small error on the part of the FIA could result in a seriously disastrous race finish from teams who didn’t calculate their power strategy properly.
At least, that’s what the teams who ran out of power are saying. I don’t think Mercedes, who managed to finish first and third after taking into account the lack of power, are complaining. Stoffel Vandoorne, who started dead last due to a typo in his technical passport, nabbed that final podium position. In second was Dragon Penske Autosport driver Nico Muller, who started back in 22nd place.
Only 12 of the 24 cars were classified at the end of the race. Everyone else was disqualified.
To say it was a bit of a disaster for Formula E’s first proper race on a circuit would be an understatement. The all-electric series has struggled for legitimacy since its inception in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the fact that the series has previously only raced on street circuits that often result in sticky crashes.
The ePrix in Valencia was set to be the series’ way to demand it be taken seriously. Race fans across the globe would see what FE could do with a wider track and gravel traps instead of walls. And the whole thing turned out to be a bit of a farce.
Which is, unfortunately, something of the Formula E way. I’ve loved the series since its very first race in Beijing, but it is admittedly a series known for the fact that its final finishing order is usually determined long after the race via post-event penalties or during the event due to goofy crashes. At the end of the Valencia ePrix, fans were saying the same thing: while the whole running-out-of-power thing has never impacted half the grid before, the ending is so ridiculous that it’s becoming of FE.
But the series will need to get out of that ridiculous rut. I don’t want to argue that every racing series should take itself as seriously as F1 (which takes itself so seriously as to be genuinely hilarious), but you never want a fan to watch your race and wonder what the point of the on-track action even is. And, in some ways, it feels like that’s the territory Formula E is breaching.