Formula E

Analysis: Did the chaotic race in Misano help or hurt Formula E?

Timo Pape

Timo Pape

As is well known, Formula E is increasingly racing on classic circuits. These not only feel different in terms of atmosphere to the "good old" street circuits that the electric series once defined in its DNA. They also make for completely different racing, as the Misano E-Prix demonstrated in an extreme way. Opinions are divided when it comes to the chaotic Saturday race in particular.

Misano, Shanghai, Portland. And if you want, you could also add Mexico City and Berlin although they are in city centres at least. The number of circuits that do not correspond to the classic Formula E principle of "Electric Street Racing" is growing and growing. Street circuits such as Tokyo or Monaco are the exception rather than the rule after ten years - even Formula 1 now has more (8).

There are two reasons for this: Formula E cars are becoming too fast for the winding city circuits of yesteryear. And: races like the Tokyo E-Prix are many times more expensive for Formula E than simply renting a permanent circuit.

Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds explained before the race weekend in Misano that he likes the mix of city circuits and classic race tracks in Formula E. No wonder - considering the planning and realisation of the events. However, he also explicitly likes the new form of racing that goes hand in hand with classic racetracks. Countless overtaking manoeuvres, chaos and unpredictability - Formula E wants to score points with these attributes and is proud of it.

Wehrlein: "It's just too much chaos for me"

However, there is also the other camp. Not all fans like slipstream battles like the one in Misano, where they can barely understand which drivers are actually the best. They reject the nowadays much-cited "peloton racing" - a comparison with cycle racing. Most Formula E drivers also belong to this camp. "It's just too much chaos for me," says Pascal Wehrlein - despite his victory on Sunday.

The Porsche driver particularly criticises the fact that it is hardly important to be well prepared at circuits like Misano. "We spend so much time in the simulator before the race and work on all the little things - just for a few tenths in qualifying. And then you get here and all that is irrelevant."

Although he certainly enjoyed driving the Gen3 car around the circuit on a fast lap in qualifying, Wehrlein would much prefer a return to the Italian capital, where Formula E has raced in recent years: "All the drivers are big fans of the Rome track. Hopefully we can return there in the future. That would be the best solution," says the German.

Collisions can hardly be avoided

One problem with peloton racing is that there are a lot of rear-end collisions. Because the drivers take their foot off the throttle very early to save energy, the traffic always builds up before the slower bends. In many cases, this results in barely avoidable accidents - and in the past, injuries too.

"Honestly, once you've broken your hand, you leave a bit more space," said Robin Frijns shortly after Saturday's race on The Race, referring to his rear-end collision at the Mexico City E-Prix 2023. Nevertheless, he collided on Sunday and retired.

McLaren driver Bird confirmed in the same report: "You drive into the corners and just pray that you come out without any damage. It's a bitter pill for us to swallow when you retire for reasons beyond your control."

Champion Jake Dennis is apparently one of the few supporters of peloton racing. "It seems to look good on TV - that's great. From my understanding, everyone seems to like it. We drivers are here to put on a good show - that's what we do. The main thing is that the fans enjoy it." Dennis came through the two Misano races without incident and finished second twice.

Comment from Timo Pape: "It doesn't matter who leads in the first 35 minutes"

Do so many fans really enjoy a race like the one on Saturday? I have my doubts. There's no question that the unpredictability of Formula E is a huge plus point of the series! Especially compared to other series such as Formula 1. Six different winners in the first six races of the season speak for themselves.

But from my point of view, it only got exciting on Saturday just before the end. For long stretches, I found the race boring because it was mostly irrelevant what happened. I had the feeling that it didn't matter who was leading in the first 35 minutes or who was in the leading group at all. The only "exciting" question was: Who is going to crash into the back of whom next? But rear-end collisions, which sometimes take the best drivers out of the race, don't really make anyone happy either.

In my opinion, things were much better on Sunday. The race was two laps shorter, so the drivers had to save less energy. There were still plenty of fights, as well as a thrilling finish. The other side of the coin: with a length of 37:05 minutes, it was the shortest race in Formula E history (which was not stopped prematurely). Formula E probably doesn't want that either.

So what to do? For example, introduce fast-charging pit stops to extend the races! But that topic is off the table for now. Then add more street circuits in the calendar again, please! Doesn't look like that will come either, when I read the statements from the Formula E organisers... It seems inevitable that the DNA of Formula E is slowly but surely changing.

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