Formula E seems to have thrown itself into another identity crisis this season, as they have looked like they have taken a step back from the Peloton style of racing that they praised and marketed so much during the 2023 season.
Most notably, we saw the Peloton style of racing at energy-intensive circuits like Berlin and Portland. This is where no driver wants to be in the lead of the race until the closing stages due to it being an inefficient use of energy. Consequently, drivers will drop back on purpose to go behind another driver and sit in their slipstream and save energy in the process.
In Berlin last year there were 362 overtakes recorded over the doubleheader, whereas in Portland there were 403 overtakes in a single 45-minute race. Those numbers are an absurd amount compared to what’s usually seen in a typical Formula E race. However, these races brought a mixed reaction from fans; some loved the excitement and the unpredictable drama of cars running multiple rows wide for several laps, whereas others felt that it was extremely difficult to follow, and that the overtakes – in which one car backs off to let the other through – were not considered real overtakes.
Formula E marketed these races as a real positive for the all-electric series. They promoted themselves as a motorsport where overtakes are guaranteed, and this has been one of the main driving factors in selling tickets to Formula E races.
When we spoke to the Team Principals about Attack Charge at pre-season testing in Valencia, they were very quick to defend Formula E’s sporting product and the high amount of overtaking, which creates drama and excitement for the fans. Therefore, they wanted clarity on how Attack Charge will be implemented so it supports the high amount of overtaking that the series has enjoyed before Attack Charge is fully implemented.
But it seems that Formula E themselves have curtailed the Peloton style of racing this season, as the first three races of the 2024 season passed relatively uneventfully for Formula E, with overtaking hard to come by.
Despite the high altitude, Mexico City in the past has offered some good racing, but this season the race only had three non-Attack Mode overtakes. The season opener was widely considered a snooze-fest as not much happened.
Diriyah has usually proffered something much spicier and expectations were high, as we have seen some of the best overtakes in Formula E on the run down to Turn 18, the most impressive of which was Edoardo Mortara’s double overtake in 2021.
However, this year the drivers struggled to to make any overtakes, and while there were also a few decent battles for positions, there was a distinct lack of genuine overtaking outside of Attack Mode position swaps.
This was mostly because – once again – the races were more or less flat-out affairs, with the usable energy for the Diriyah E-Prix set at 38.5kWh for both races.
The first took place over 37 laps, with the second taking 36. That compared to the 39 lap events that took place last year when the useable energy allowed was 40kWh.
The question remains: Why did the FIA and Formula E choose to reduce the amount of useable energy and laps to make the races more flat out and not rely on being energy efficient? Especially with efficiency being such a major drive for the series.
In addition, some drivers questioned why the races have been shorter and not longer with the useable energy allowed. Several drivers expressed the view that if the race was three laps longer in Diriyah there would have been a much better spectacle for overtaking as energy management would have been a far bigger factor.
Currently, there is no rule in place of when the longer race must happen in a double-header event, but traditionally the second race has been longer than the first event.
The conservative nature of the race structures so far this year has raised the question of whether it was a pre-determined strategy by the FIA to not have overly aggressive energy-saving events as were seen in Berlin and Portland last year.
Particularly in the second of those races, it was felt by many teams and drivers that the ‘racing’ was too extreme and bordered on dangerous, as drivers lifted on straights with several near misses, and in the case of Nico Mueller, a huge shunt. If Jean-Eric Vergne had not been able to regain control of his DS Pesnke on the grass in time, it could have led to a multi-car pileup similar to what we saw in Rome.
However, this is not to say that we won’t have any energy management races this season. Formula E and the FIA could have used these first three races to see what racing was like with these changes, and they may alter their strategy slightly for Sao Paulo to see the races have more of an energy management twist, which may give us the excitement that has been lacking in the first three races of the season.
But if Formula E and the FIA stick to these conservative energy approaches, then the thought of fans seeing overtakes when they buy their tickets for an event will be reduced by quite some margin compared to what we saw last season.
It will be interesting to monitor if or what changes are made by the FIA and Formula E for the remainder of the season.