Nothing happened. Nick walked out of the car to have what looked like a fairly energetic word with Nico Prost; the battery didn’t explode or catch fire or fail, the car didn’t electrify, the survival cell wasn’t breached despite a 200 kilogram thing rattling around in the back of it as it did an impressive triple pike.

Looking at that 2014 crash it seems bonkers—not just because how the hell did Nick just get out of that but because the cars, the feel of the races, has changed so much since then.

That first race in Beijing was 53 miles. Not the shortest in the first season, which goes to Monaco at a mere 42 miles. At the time, the maximum race output was 150kW and the maximum regeneration (energy shoved back into the battery, recovered under braking) was a mere 100kW.

Both of those numbers are, again, quite modest for an electric car. A Tesla Model S, say, can output 311kW, for awhile. When the battery starts to reach the limits of its operating window, temperature-wise, the car will halve the available power output whereas a Formula E car is expected to continue to perform throughout the race, with the driver managing battery temperatures as much as possible.

Which makes it all the more extraordinary that the first-generation battery didn’t just service races of under 90km (56 miles) at low output and regeneration but went on to first increase race output (qualifying has always been higher) to 170kW in season two, then up regeneration by 50 percent in season three to 150kW followed by another race output increase in season four to 180kW.

At the same time, the race length kept extending—cars that had struggled to manage the power for 50 miles or so were pushed to over 68 miles in Berlin this year. Different powertrains, yes, but the same battery unit.

Second (No Half) Life

With battery lifetime and battery capacity such concerns in electric vehicle development, the generation one unit has to be held up as something extraordinary. The common wisdom is: range extension is possible, with better battery management and that output and regenerative extension is also possible but not both at the same time.

Especially not when, although the battery maker could take data from and advise teams they weren’t actually in control of the way the powertrains linking to their units were built or used. Imagine crafting, say, a perfect cake and then handing it over to a bunch of other people to bake. Only it’s 20 different people and they’re all insisting on doing it live on television using only straightening tongs while wearing rollerskates.

This battery’s gone racing more than 1,200 times and covered over 33,865 miles since the last on-track failure, back in 2015. It’s gone several times that in transit, across continents and on boats and planes, been frozen, been pushed to its upper heat limit. Eight thousand full discharges at circuits, which means 8,000 full charges (and then some, with regeneration) and these chunky guys are still going.

That’s a big deal. There’s a presumed lack of secondhand market for electric vehicles because battery degradation is supposed to be so severe. You could say “oh, well Formula E just throw them out after every race so of course they’re still going” but here’s the thing: they don’t.

Drivers are only allowed one battery per car per season. There’s a possibility to change it under one, 30-to-60 day forward-planned “joker” option but unsurprisingly, most teams don’t take that given the need to book in an FIA appointment for re-inspection. These aren’t throwaway items and although they’re not used every day, the race days are massively more intensive than any normal usage would ever push a battery to.

Battery lifespan and durability is no small part of the viability of electric vehicles as a whole. About half of the carbon involved in manufacturing an EV is on the battery which then immediately starts to even out, on most European energy grids, due to being able to use renewables for charging. Naysayers are quick to point out that that will be neutralized or even worsened, compared to an internal combustion vehicle, if batteries need regular replacement.

Using Formula E as the Petri dish it’s supposed to be for the electric car industry, this very much indicates they won’t. A well-treated Nissan or NIO or BMWi battery, most of which are guaranteed for the best part of a decade in any case, could even have its life extended through the sort of simple cooling and bumper updates Williams made in 2016.

Having mastered the challenge of letting drivers loose on their carefully crafted tech in Formula E, Willams is now going on to electrify World Rallycross. Just in case hurling batteries at concrete wasn’t enough, they’re now leaving that game to McLaren and moving on to shaking batteries around like they’re trying to make a lithium-ion frappuccino. Extra large.

Battery limitations are cited as major concerns around electric vehicles, to the point that people really thought this was going to stop Formula E, was going to prevent the racing. It hasn’t. It’s pointless to speculate how much longer the first-gen batteries could have carried on, if the chassis wasn’t changing but there’s no doubt it was still getting the job done by the end of season four, lap records set on every track.

Yes, they’re big for 28kWh of power. Yes, these extra-large energy stores would dwarf your coffee table and you’re not likely to get far trying to carry one on foot. But if these first four seasons were the test of whether lithium-ion was tough enough to do a reliable job in vehicles, then they’ve passed with extra credit.

Hazel Southwell is a freelance motorsport journalist. She officially lives in London and unofficially on the departures side of Heathrow Terminal 2. She has one cat.