Are Formula E facing having to change the race format again?

Formula E’s timed races have started to raise concerns among drivers, as the time limit of 45 minutes plus one lap is not providing the right type of racing for Formula E. 

Drivers are becoming concerned that the championship, which devotes itself to increasing the efficiency of electric cars, has moved away from its philosophy by introducing timed races, as the races are not being determined by who has the most efficient cars.

In the first four seasons, the series did have a certain amount of laps that the teams were able to plan how much energy was needed to do each lap to make sure they reached the end, which teams were able to master in season four. 

The FIA changed the system to a 45 minute plus one lap race format to try and add more strategic elements and offer more exciting racing for fans, as the teams wouldn’t be entirely sure on how many laps they would run in a race. 

This was almost the case in Rome when Mitch Evans had to drastically slow the race pace down so he didn’t cross the line with seconds remaining, forcing everyone to race an extra lap which would have caused drivers behind to run out of usable energy.

However, drivers have said that 45 minutes plus one lap is too easy on some tracks, but at the same time too hard on other circuits.

Season two champion Sebastien Buemi believes that Formula E should move back to it’s previous system of a set number of laps for this very reason.

“We need to move back to a lap system,” explained the Swiss driver. ” 45 minutes plus one lap in Marrakesh is tough, but in Paris it is nothing. You can’t have timed races because the tracks are very different. 

“You can’t move to 50-minute races because in Monaco or Marrakesh it would be too much, but again in Paris, we would finish the race with energy to spare like we did this season.”

“Therefore, what we need is a number of laps, and the FIA sets how many they want with how much energy saving they want, and that would be so much easier. I’m crossing my fingers for that.” 

Reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne doesn’t think that the new format has worked this season, and believes that the 45-minute time limit should be removed for season six.

“I hope we will go back to a number of laps because it is not normal that we have 45 minutes of racing in Paris, which is the easiest track in consumption and the same amount of energy, (and then) we come to Berlin, which is the most demanding track for energy, with the same energy we have, with the same amount of minutes; it makes no sense.”

Another criticism of the 45-minute plus one lap system is that following the deployment of a full course yellow or safety car, energy management becomes much less relevant in the races, which season four champion Lucas Di Grassi has described as “very stupid.” 

“I definitely prefer laps,” said Di Grassi. “In timed races, if you have a safety car or full course yellow, it completely destroys the race and that has happened many many times and even with the red flags.

“My view was a very stupid move to go to timed races, they should go to laps, or they should freeze the time under full course yellow and safety car as soon as possible because otherwise, we can race flat out until the end, which is not the purpose of Formula E.”

Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird thinks the change has made Formula E focused more on pace rather than efficiency. 

For me, Formula E used to be all about efficiency and being fast and efficient,” said Bird. ” Now it’s just about being fast because efficiency doesn’t really matter much.”

“It would be nice to go back towards that kind of format whether it’s still timed race just longer or whether it is laps, I don’t know, but it would be nice to see the most efficient driver/car producing the best results instead of just flat out.”

Although the majority of drivers expressed negative opinions on the new format, Andre Lotterer offered a different perspective. In only his second season in Formula E, he was more positive about the effect the change was having on the racing.

“I like it. Obviously, I deal with it like everyone,” said Lotterer. “I think it has shown very exciting races, eight races eight winners; it added a new strategy aspect, different dynamic in racers, so I think it’s really interesting.”

As Formula E technology improves, it will be interesting to see if the FIA tweaks the timed length of the races to bring energy management back to the forefront, or if they will revert back to a laps system for season six and beyond. 

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