"You could also flip a coin" - Formula E drivers react to slipstream battles in Berlin
Eight different lead cars, 190 position changes and a total of 23 lead changes! Just like the Sao Paulo E-Prix, Saturday's Formula E race in Berlin was characterized by tactics and games around the slipstream effect. The drivers look back on the confusing E-Prix with rare unanimity, but fear: improvements are currently not in sight.
"Will the next slipstream battle loom for Formula E in Berlin?", we asked in the week before the race in Germany's capital city. Saturday's race at the former Tempelhof Airport provided the clear answer: Oh yes!
In particular, in the first third of the race, the drivers tried to not lead the race at all costs. Because in order to "punch a hole in the air" on the long straights in Berlin, experience has shown that the leader needs significantly more energy than the opponents driving behind.
It was clear from the first few meters of the race that the drivers on the front row of the grid were following this plan: Sebastien Buemi and Stoffel Vandoorne were noticeably slow to start and braked very early, respectively, in order to lose ranks and use the slipstream to their advantage.
Early attack modes for more slipstream
"It's not ideal to be in the lead," Dan Ticktum (Nio 333) confirmed the effect to 'e-formula.news'. The Briton took the lead from pole-sitter Buemi at turn 1, but steered his car into the attack zone as early as lap 3 to lose the places he had gained. "I did that to get back into the slipstream."
Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Penske) also tells 'e-formula.news': "You could also flip a coin. The problem is: the leaders don't want to lead at all. This results in contacts and traffic jams, causing the race to end in chaos. Nowadays, your own result really only depends on whether or not you happen to be surrounded by smart drivers. If I want to have races like that, I might as well do bicycle racing. That's going to happen at every E-Prix now, because the cars just have too much drag."
Even two laps in the lead is too much with the new Gen3 cars, estimates Oliver Rowland (Mahindra) - with the exception of the final laps of a race, of course. "It was quite interesting at first, but at some point it just becomes too much. Us drivers even wanted more slipstream, and the worry was that it would mean no overtaking at all. Now we have the complete opposite. So it's also a question of getting the balance right."
And if you thought today's #BerlinEPrix was a tad too chaotic, here's proof of that. This race order graph was hard to put together ??#ABBFormulaE @FIAFormulaE #FormulaE ? https://t.co/Qm6UY8xp38 pic.twitter.com/VuS6fhz13p- Race Devries (@RaceDevries) April 22, 2023
Less power or other tracks as a transitional solution?
For McLaren driver Jake Hughes, the slipstream effect is also "a bit too significant." But as the Brit explains, "you can't demand that the leaders stop driving like that either. Because at the end of the day, we just have to get the best possible result. And if one way to do that is to reduce the pace, then that's what we'll all do."
"That shouldn't be in the hands of the drivers," Hughes thinks. "You could perhaps give us more energy or reduce the number of laps so the races are less energy-sensitive. The lift-and-coast phases are very long, especially in Sao Paulo and Berlin, which has the well-known impact on the races. But with this lift-off ratio, as we call it, it will end up similar at other tracks."
After all, the rain expected on Sunday could at least reduce the impact of the slipstream effect in Berlin. Due to lower speeds, especially also when accelerating at the exits of the corners, a repetition of the "slipstream battle" should be less likely. In Monaco at the latest, however, where power saving is particularly relevant on the start/finish and tunnel straights, the effect could again become an issue - although probably not as fiercely as in Berlin.