Analysis of the Gen3 season opener: Premiere a success, but Formula E still has to tweak these screws
Before the start of the season, Formula E was met with a lot of skepticism: Does the new car work? What about the racing format? After the test drives, can anyone even put the brakes on DS and Maserati? We have critically analyzed the Gen3 premiere and found a lot of positive things - but also still some weaknesses in the Gen3 concept.
So now it's here, the new generation of Formula E. We were promised it would be bigger, faster and better. With new technological possibilities and more exciting racing than ever. In sporting terms, the Mexico City E-Prix went off without any of the really big eye-catchers. The most important topics besides the injury to Robin Frijns were certainly the thrilling battle for 3rd place and Porsche's renewed Mexico dominance.
"Emergency brake" fortunately not needed, Gen3 reliability solid
Was the Gen3 premiere attractive enough to attract new fans and retain them to the series? First, on a positive note, the technology meltdown feared by some in the Formula E paddock did not materialize. After several manufacturers noticed problems with the braking system during the testing phase of their cars, and then Mitch Evans crashed in a strange way on Friday, there was justified fear of a serious accident in Mexico. Fortunately, such a crash due to the lack of rear brakes did not occur in Mexico.
A technical emergency solution is currently being worked on with vigor. Let's hope that it will indeed be ready by the Diriyya E-Prix in just under two weeks. Because there are fewer options for wide run-off zones or multiple TecPro levels there. With the Evans accident - should it have been related to the braking problem - the world governing body FIA has once again escaped with a black eye.
The general reliability of the new Gen3 cars was otherwise okay and within the expected range. Sam Bird suffered a mechanical drive shaft defect on his Jaguar early on. Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a battery failure in the rear of his DS Penske shortly before the end of the race. The causes of Rene Rast's retirement and Sacha Fenestraz's problem have not yet been fully clarified. A total of 17 of the 22 drivers finished the race debut - a solid start for the Gen3 car.
The new attack mode does not yet work
Sport-wise, the Mexico City E-Prix was particularly convincing with a five-way battle for the podium. Over several laps Lucas di Grassi (Mahindra) kept the nose in front and was able to keep Jake Hughes (McLaren), Andre Lotterer (Andretti) and others behind him in the greatest need. However, he was helped by a special circumstance: the new attack mode rule did not work as hoped.
A little background on this: Formula E actually planned to use the newly created option of fast-charging pit stops as early as the Gen3 debut in Mexico. However, the technology was not yet available at the start of the season. Instead of linking the attack mode to pit stops (attack charge), Formula E is therefore initially giving its drivers the choice of how they use their attack mode. As in the previous year, they have to drive through an activation zone before using the 350 kW mode twice for a total of four minutes. They can decide for themselves between the following options: 1+3 minutes, 2+2 minutes or 3+1 minutes.
In Mexico, however, the modified attack mode offered too few strategic options to have any real impact in the race. Two activations for a total of four minutes are now significantly less than previously two activations for each four minutes. Due to the weakened strategic weight of the attack mode compared to the previous season, there were fewer overtaking opportunities and position changes - much to di Grassi's delight. In addition, it was still relatively difficult for the spectators:inside to follow which driver was driving which strategy. The fast pit stops can't be fast enough.
A few more lines on race duration: It's a blessing that Formula E has returned to lap-based racing this year. Thanks in part to five additional laps due to the total of three safety car phases, fans were treated to a whopping 58 minutes of motorsport. With a clearly defined number of laps, the racing action is simply easier to understand. In addition, there is no longer any energy poker by the leaders, as was the case a year ago in Mexico.
Sensational debut by Hughes, Fenestraz also convincing
The positive surprise of the weekend was Jake Hughes. After several years on the "substitutes' bench" at Venturi and Mercedes, the 28-year-old got his deserved chance at McLaren this year. In Mexico, he was up front from the first second, qualifying third and even battling for a top-3 result during the race. In the end, Hughes finished fifth in his Formula E debut - and by far the best Nissan-powered driver. The often underestimated Briton has what it takes to become a big player in Formula E. He will give us a lot of pleasure this year.
Sacha Fenestraz didn't make his Formula E debut in Mexico - in Seoul, he had already filled in for the injured Antonio Giovinazzi at Dragon. Nevertheless, it felt like it. The youngster put in a strong qualifying performance, clearly outpacing Nissan teammate Norman Nato. In the race, too, he drove in the top 10 for a long time until a "minor problem", which so far has not been further classified by Nissan, threw him out of the points. Still, a good debut at Nissan!
What a day! We had a strong qualifying starting P8 on the grid and had great pace at start but unfortunately some minor issues made us drop out of the points at the end of the race. Mexico is wrapped - next stop Diriyah ?? Gracias México ?? pic.twitter.com/X35H7vsmlx- Sacha Fenestraz (@sachafenestraz) January 15, 2023
Among the drivers, it remains to highlight Jake Dennis. Once again, the Briton dominated a race at will. Remarkably, Dennis has already won on very different types of tracks: Valencia, London and now Mexico City. He has long had what it takes to win the world championship title - and this year he may well have the car to do it.
In addition, Mahindra can be pleased with the signing of Lucas di Grassi, which paid immediate dividends. For the first time since Felix Rosenqvist (and perhaps Pascal Wehrlein), the Indians have a genuine top driver on board.
New balance of power in Formula E
The DS and Maserati drivers, who were considered favorites after the tests, continued to fall short of expectations in Mexico. The four Jaguar cars also still have room to improve. Instead, Nio 333 and Porsche surprised at times with very good pace.
After Jake Dennis left the stumbling di Grassi behind, there was no stopping the Brit in Andretti's Porsche customer car. His drive to victory was like a demonstration of power that might already have some people wondering whether the factory or customer team will come out on top this year. Yes, Porsche was outstanding in Mexico in 2022 as well, but not in many places. Nevertheless, the German manufacturer seems to be even better positioned, especially since both teams are competing with absolute top drivers. Porsche was not only fast on a lap, but also efficient and reliable.
There were also positive signals from the underdog of Formula E. One can hardly help but be happy for the small team Nio 333, which is not exactly used to success. In the individual time trials, Sergio Sette Camara and Dan Ticktum repeatedly managed decisive stabs. The Briton in particular attracted a lot of attention with his qualifying result (5th place). Operationally, however, things went anything but well for the racing team: Four penalties were handed out by the FIA during and after the race - all four were directed at Nio 333. And all four could have been avoided in one way or another. So in the end only 16th and 17th places remained. Nevertheless: Hope lives for Nio 333.
The start has been successful, but there is still a long way to go
So, has the start to the Gen3 era of Formula E now been a success? In many ways, the answer to that question has to be "yes." The electric series offered spectators:inside a solid start to the season, but one that would not have gone down in the annals of Formula E without the numerous firsts.
There is still room for improvement in several areas, however. This relates in particular to the lack of overtaking maneuvers - owed to the overly conservative attack mode - and the "playing with fire" with the rear-wheel brakes. However, none of the existing problems is insurmountable for Formula E officials. So the thought of the next E-Prix in Diriyya is already causing us to look forward with anticipation. Only twelve more sleeps, then it goes in the formula E already further.
additional reporting by Timo Pape