Why Attack Mode has been an unexpected success

Formula E introduced a radical new concept for Season 5 called Attack Mode, which has since become a major talking point. We take a look at how it’s faired so far, and re-evaluate our first impressions of the system.

When the concept which eventually became attack mode was first announced last May, I wrote a somewhat skeptical article in which I expressed concerns about the safety of the idea and questioned whether it was even a necessary to spice up the racing. After two races, I am happy to report that it seems I was wrong on both counts; Attack Mode has so far proven it’s worth.

Attack mode has been marketed as a real life version of the Mario kart videogame, but this is a little misleading; it is activated during the race via the driver passing through 3 activation loops, which are situated on the outside of a selected corner. Going through all 3 loops enables the driver to use a 225KW power mode for a certain amount of time. (which is only announced an hour before the start of the race, along with how many attack mode attempts drivers will be permitted to use) The idea is that it’s a trade-off; go offline and lose time/positions in the short term, but in the long term be able to regain that time/positions through improved performance whilst attack mode is active.

At the season opener in Ad Diriyah, drivers complained during practice that the loop was on the outside and on the racing line on the exit of the turn 17 righthander, meaning that drivers had to slow down in a potentially dangerous position to active attack mode. To alleviate this, the FIA listened to driver feedback and moves the activate loops 23 metres further down the straight, and increased the painted white lines that denote the loops to make them more visible. Thinking back to the collision between Andre Lotterer and Sam Bird on the last lap of the 2018 Paris E-Prix, it was good to see some common sense applied to avoid a similar scenario happening again, even though the activation zone’s proximity to the wall resulted in the retirement of Jose Maria Lopez when he hit the wall trying to activate attack mode.

Beyond doubt, attack mode has definitely added a significant strategic element to the racing; Jerome D’Ambrosio kept his attack mode in reserve until the final stages of the race, meaning that early on he had to defend from drivers that were using attack mode, but he reaped the benefits later on by building himself a gap in which to use his own attack mode without losing any positions. Ultimately this turned out to be a race-winning strategy.

The fact that it’s also permitted to activate attack mode under both the real and virtual safety cars often leads to drivers trying to activate any remaining Attack mode on the lap that the safety car is ending. Interestingly though, in Marrakesh the majority of the field activated their remaining attack mode a lap too early, assuming that the safety car would be called in, whereas Alexander Sims and Lucas Di Grassi opted to hold off until a lap later; this meant that both drivers were able to challenge for better positions on the final lap.

Of course, the concept hasn’t been perfected just yet; one minor complaint that’s been voiced is that in the opening rounds attack mode has lasted a bit too long, to the point that it easily offsets the risk of losing time/positions trying to activate it. But equally Formula E have to avoid stymying the effectiveness of Attack Mode too much, as that could remove any incentive for drivers to use it in the first place.

What we have seen of Attack Mode so far has been really encouraging and entertaining. However there is still a big acid test to come: Monaco, a circuit that produced only one overtake the last time Formula E visited in season 3. If Attack Mode can make Monaco a more entertaining race it would show just how useful the gimmick can be.

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