Does Formula E need a new gimmick for season 5?

Formula E heads into its exciting new era in season five- with one car per race- we discuss if it is necessary to add a new gimmick to the sport to spice up the action as the mid-race car-swap becomes defunct. 

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag was recently interviewed about proposed changes to the season 5 regulations, which involve drivers moving offline to an indicated area of the track which will temporarily slow them down, with the trade-off being that they will then have access to higher power modes for the remainder of the race. Agag used the following analogy: “It would be like Mario Bros when they get the little star and go faster.” 

This comparison has caused some controversy; fan reaction the news has been mixed, with some fearing that adding new and untested ideas may be detrimental to the quality of racing, and wanting to keep the emphasis on the drivers to manage their energy throughout the race.

Formula E has become accustomed to seeing this during the opening stints of races, where drivers attempt to save energy in order to go one lap further than their rivals and attack in their second car with more usable energy than the cars that stopped earlier.

Therefore, even in the absence of a car swap, why can’t the drivers use this tactic to try and find a way past in season five? It will promote strategies in-race and pure racing as the drivers will still have to be mindful of how they use their battery power to gain an advantage.

Road relevance

If Formula E can use this opportunity to showcase emerging and road relevant technology, then potentially the concept of moving offline into a slow zone could have some merit behind it. Wireless induction charging pads are something the series has flirted with ever since the first race back in 2014; for example the BMW i8 safety car uses charging pads developed by Qualcomm.

Proving that similar technology could work for competitors under a much shorter time span (Albeit to activate higher power modes rather than to recharge the battery) would hold relevance to electric vehicle road users and demonstrate further how the series is advancing technologically.

Last month Sweden opened the world’s first recharging road system in Stockholm; the road is 1.2 miles long and has two tracks of rail embedded within it. Energy is transferred from road to car via a retractable arm at the bottom of the vehicle. In principle, it works very similarly to a Scalextrix slot car track, and the idea is that it can help circumnavigate range limitations, especially for EV’s with smaller battery cells.

The proposed “slow down zones” could well be a precursor to introducing a similar recharging road system in future seasons; the technology exists to support it, and as a bonus, it could leave a very positive legacy behind at FE venues which would be of great benefit to the general public.

Safety concerns

However, there are valid concerns about whether these regulations are potentially unsafe when put into practice. At the end of the Paris E-Prix, the collision between Andre Lotterer and Sam Bird was a very clear illustration of what can happen when one car slows to a crawl around a narrow section of the circuit, and another closes in at racing speeds.

In order to avoid a similar scenario, the placement of these slow-down zones would have to be very carefully thought out and considered; Should they be on a back straight, away to the side? Offline on the outside of slow corners and hairpins? Or should the higher power modes only be available to those who make a quick excursion to the pitlane, rather than slowing down on the track itself? 

World Rallycross and the World Touring Car Cup have both adopted joker laps; Rallycross has these built-in to the format of the series, whereas the WTCR introduced a joker lap at the Villa Real circuit to aid with overtaking on a narrow street course. Granted this is not quite the same as the proposed season 5 changes for Formula E, but it does show that such a radical format change can be implemented relatively successfully.

It can be argued that such a huge regulation change isn’t necessary at all; even without pitstops there is still a great energy management system that has served the championship extremely well for four seasons now, so why try to fix something that isn’t broken?

It will be interesting to see what new ideas Alejandro Agag has to spice up the racing for season five, but whether or not they will benefit the series in the long term is questionable. The new regulations will be put forward to the FIA during the next World Motorsport Council meeting at the end of June.

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