"It remains a factor" - Is the next slipstream battle looming at Formula E races in Berlin?
Drivers who don't want to lead the race and teams issuing overtaking bans by radio: The last Formula E race in Sao Paulo offered fans of the electric series a host of curiosities. Thanks to two long straights, the slipstream effect is also likely to become an important topic at the next race in Berlin. Porsche team boss Florian Modlinger, however, is thinking of a completely different factor that could decide the outcome of the race.
A number of familiar challenges await the teams and drivers of the electric series on the 2.355-kilometer Formula E circuit in Berlin this coming weekend . In addition to a total of ten corners, including the iconic snail-shaped turn 1 at the start of the lap, two full-current passages, of all things, could be the topic of conversation. The reason is the great importance of the slipstream effect, which is worrying many officials in the paddock after the first six races with the new Gen3 cars.
"Its importance is two to three times greater than with the Gen2 cars," Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Penske) already reported after the Hyderabad E-Prix in a media round that 'e-Formel.de' also attended. However, many fans may not have realized just how big a role slipstreaming plays this year until the races in Cape Town or Sao Paulo.
Riding like a string of pearls, because "as a leader you lose 20 to 30% energy"
Thanks to several long straights, the Brazil race became a veritable slipstream battle, with drivers waving each other past to avoid lest a "hole in the air" for rivals. The race pace was much slower than expected, as the drivers wanted to remain part of the "string of pearls" of several cars running in a row at all costs.
For McLaren driver Rene Rast, too, the scenes in Sao Paulo were no surprise. "We've seen this before at other tracks: Nobody wants to lead at the start of a race," said the 36-year-old. "It's almost like in bicycle racing, where being second or third saves energy in the slipstream. With us, it's 20 to 30 percent energy that you lose when you're in the lead because the wind hits the car." The German is certain: "That will also play a role in Berlin, although not as extreme as in Sao Paulo."
Sao Paulo will probably remain an extreme example
The comparison with bicycle racing is also used by Maximilian Günther (Maserati MSG) when asked in a virtual media session on Monday about the possibility of the next slipstream battle in Berlin: "It happens with bicycle racers because it's smarter to save your energy for the final sprint. We are all competitors, and something like that is part of it. Sao Paulo was probably an extreme exception, though (the slipstream) will certainly remain a factor."
The 25-year-old was leading for a few laps at the Cape Town E-Prix itself. "Already there I felt that this is a disadvantage. You have to factor something like that into your strategy. For all (drivers), it's probably an issue on their mind. Tactics are all well and good, but the fact that no one wants to lead at all looks strange to outsiders. That's why it would be ideal if the impact was less."
Drivers want a say in new car design
The slipstream issue is also likely to be a point of discussion at the next meeting of the Formula E Drivers' Association. This is due to meet as part of the Berlin race. It is the political body of the driver community that can also weigh in on decisions regarding the planned Gen3EVO (planned introduction 2024/25) or Gen4 car (planned introduction 2026/27). Initial conversations on the future electric body have already begun behind the scenes.
Thomas Biermaier, team boss of ABT Cupra, assesses the situation similarly to Rast and Günther. "Due to the given energy in Berlin, it will again be a lot about lifting," says Biermaier, alluding to the lift-and-coast driving technique that Formula E drivers use to recover energy. Porsche boss Florian Modlinger, on the other hand, tips, "Sao Paulo was extreme because of the long straights and the stop-and-go nature of the track. You won't see it in this dimension on other circuits."
Question marks also over tire management
Instead, Modlinger addresses another issue when asked by 'e-Formel.de': "In Berlin, the surface is very special. We have previous experience there with the old Michelin tires, but for the micro and macro roughness of the concrete slabs, we have no experience yet with the Hankook tires. The goal in the first free practice sessions will therefore be to understand as quickly as possible: What does the tire need on this surface? Only then will we know how the differences in the performance modes could make themselves felt in qualifying and the race."
For Formula E, the 16th and 17th races are coming up in Berlin-Tempelhof - and yet there are clearly still things that are uncertain ahead of the race weekend. We'll find out what answers the teams come up with to the open slipstream and tire questions on April 22/23. ProSieben will broadcast both races from the capital live on free TV. We will be covering the entire event with exclusive background reports, analysis and our popular Hankook Liveticker direct from the track..