Analysis: 4 conclusions we draw from the 2023 Formula E pre-season testing in Valencia
Formula E's pre-season testing in Valencia is behind us. Due to the battery fire on Tuesday lunchtime, the test week did not go as expected. Nevertheless, we can draw some conclusions from the sessions at Circuit Ricardo Tormo. On the one hand in sporting terms, but on the other hand also with a view to the new fast-charging technology and its introduction at the start of the season.
1. Are burning batteries the new normal?
Certainly not. The fact that electric cars can suddenly burst into flames in rare cases is well known and a common horror scenario among sceptics. In motorsport, too, there have already been fires in the context of electric racing series. In MotoE, there were even two fires in the paddock, leading to major rescheduling of the calendar. This year a fire also broke out in the World Rallycross Championship WRX. The series switched to weaker RX2e cars for the rest of the season
So now Formula E has also been affected. The battery from DS Penske rookie Robert Shwartzman's car had been removed after a technical incident and taken to the garage of battery manufacturer WAE. There it caught fire, resulting in the evacuation of almost everyone at the circuit. One person was taken to hospital for examination, but was released without injury after a short check-up. After an extended break from testing, the Formula E teams had to flexibly adjust to a new schedule.
Batteries can burn, that was already clear beforehand. However, in ten years it was the very first time in Formula E that a battery caught fire in a public session. So we can continue to assume that the cars are as safe as possible and don't expect any more fires in the short-term. The batteries are the same as in 2023, so let's focus on the positives: no one was injured and the fire is not expected to have a major impact on the season like in other categories. Most teams were even able to run their test programmes as planned. A residual risk of a battery fire will, of course, always remain nonetheless.
2. Still not enough fast chargers
One of the biggest surprises of the test week was that battery manufacturer WAE Technologies brought just eight fast chargers to Valencia. Of these, one was also damaged in the fire. So the eleven teams had to take turns with the fast chargers. According to information from e-Formula.news, a list was circulated that regulated when which team could test a charger. A much-needed experience, because the Mahindra customer team ABT Cupra, for example, had not even seen the new charger until then.
Fast-charging pit stops were to be tested extensively in Valencia, including during the planned race simulations. The teams had also expected this in the run-up to Valencia. Instead, they inevitably practised their pit stop arrivals and departures, stopping for the prescribed minimum time of 33 seconds without actually charging. Fast-charging technology was supposed to have come a year ago. So how can it be that in October 2023 not even eleven chargers are available for all teams?
We have also asked WAE this question. Unfortunately, we have not yet received an answer yet. What is known is that it has recently been difficult to procure the necessary components for a charger that is very similar in structure to a Formula E battery. This was the reason for postponing the introduction of the Attack Charge a year ago. It is quite possible that delivery problems are still a reason. Nevertheless, it should be possible for a manufacturer of an FIA World Championship to build eleven batteries within twelve months, if you consider how many batteries for various applications are produced every day around the globe. We can only speculate at this point, however, as long as WAE does not comment.
3. Attack Charge unlikely to be introduced in Mexico
Another question is: will we have enough fast-chargers available for the start of the season in 75 days? Especially as a DS battery has burnt down, damaging even another charger. Regardless of this, it is unrealistic from our point of view to have the new Attack Charge at the season opener in Mexico on 13 January. The reason is obvious: the teams have not been able to test it once in normal operation.
There will probably not be another testing opportunity before the start of the season, as all the equipment is to be shipped promptly. By the way, all the batteries are currently being checked at WAE in England.
It is unlikely that an FIA World Championship will take the risk of introducing a completely new technology at its opening race, where the whole world is watching. One possibility would be to try out the Attack Charge in a Free Practice session at the double-header in Diriyah at the end of January and - if all went well - introduce it in one of the two races.
4. Jaguar enters the 2024 season as favourites
From a sporting point of view, Valencia is notoriously unrepresentative of the upcoming Formula E season. Especially as there were hardly any qualifying laps with maximum power to be seen last week. Nevertheless, it can be said that manufacturer champion Jaguar is the favourite going into the new championship. Already on Tuesday, Mitch Evans set the fastest lap time with 350 kW. And in race mode, too, the two factory drivers ended up in first and third place, with newcomer Nick Cassidy just under a tenth of a second quicker than team-mate Evans.
Fourth place also went to Robin Frijns in the customer Jaguar of team champion Envision. The "big cat" will definitely be a big gun in 2024. But Porsche was also on a par with its works team as well as customer team Andretti. Norman Nato and Pascal Wehrlein were just over a tenth of a second off the pace. In addition, the German manufacturer collected more test kilometres than the two Jaguar teams and feels "much stronger than last year".
One of Valencia's losers is Mahindra. The team was only able to run one car after the fire and thus collected relatively little test data. Both new riders therefore found it difficult to settle in. In addition, ERT (formerly Nio 333) had a frustrating week. Sergio Sette Camara and Dan Ticktum were repeatedly stopped by technical problems and together completed just 374 laps. Even on one quick lap the ERT drivers were clearly the slowest. Where exactly the problems stemmed from can hardly be judged from the outside. Apart from a new name, nothing has really changed in the team or on the car since the season finale in London.