In a matter of a few months, Formula E will be entering a new era in their brief but impressive history. They will be racing in Saudi Arabia with their new, Batmobile-like Generation 2 cars and the entire race format will be altered; there will be no need for mid-race car changes as the batteries will be strong enough to last an entire race. This may be a big achievement for Formula E as battery life was one of the weak points of Formula E for which they often were and still are criticized; the introduction of the longer lasting batteries may be an appropriate answer to their critics but it can also be a move that backfires. Here’s why.
No car change could mean no pitstops
For its first four seasons, Formula E drivers had to come in mid-race to swap their cars when they ran out of battery life. Critics often used it as a leverage point to attack the series as it showed that Formula E wasn’t as advanced as its fellow racing series like Formula One to complete races without having to refuel or in Formula E’s case, complete a race on only a single battery. Regardless of this, Formula E’s mid-race car changes became the focal point of each race and offered a lot of drama and action.
Strategies were developed to get the best out of the cars and make the pitstops as quick as possible. Lucas Di Grassi’s win in Mexico City in Season 3 was the perfect example of the same. He struggled in the opening part of the race but a good pitstop at the right time and a lot of luck helped him win in probably Formula E’s wildest race. Another example can be Race 2 at the Berlin ePrix in Season 3 where the two Mahindra drivers, Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld crashed in the pitlane while swapping their cars, costing their team a monumental 1-2 podium finish.
The car swaps are the heart of Formula E’s action and with them going away, something will have to be done to keep the excitement in the race. And that thing is…
Pitstops Having Tyre Changes
A motor race without pitstops is like a pizza without cheese; you can still have it but it won’t be as fun. Pitstops allow the grid to be shuffled up and add an extra element of excitement into the race when things seem to be getting boring. With wider cars and possibly no pitstops in Formula E next season, chances are that the racing may not be as eventful and may lack the thrill that it currently offers. A possible solution to this problem could be introducing tyre changes in the races; drivers will come into the pits to change their tyres after they have been worn out. This creates an opportunity for teams and drivers to work harder on creating more efficient strategies as the tyres become another variable to deal with. Pitstops often play host to a lot of errors by teams and drivers and this can also help out in making the races more dramatic.
Multiple Tyre Compounds
Formula E can team up with Michelin to create a range of tryes to suit the racetracks that they visit. Some very grippy but not so long lasting, some long lasting but not so great in terms of traction. An example of the same is Indycar’s red-walled and black-walled slick tyres; the reds are quicker but wear out quickly and the blacks being the opposite. Of course, since Formula E has to be relevant to the road-going cars, the tyres will not be slicks; they will be treaded but will still have different characteristics as compared to the other compounds.
This will allow strategy to play a greater role in Formula E races as teams will now have to decide which tyre compound to use at what particular moment in the race. The choice of tyre compounds will become a shifting factor in the race, with some drivers on one compound and the others on another compound. This battle of strategies could see some good overtaking as some drivers will be faster than the others and the races could be more exciting.
The Problems That Formula E Could Face If They Do So
Every move that Formula E may take will definitely have both their advantages as well as disadvantages and this one is no exception. Should Formula E introduce multiple tyre compounds and mid race tyre changing pitstops, they may face two big issues. The first one is related to the teams and the other one is a logistical issue.
Firstly, producing tyre compounds of such complexity could prove to be very costly and that could increase the costs of running a Formula E team. Although this wouldn’t be much of an issue to the high spending manufacturers such as Audi or Nissan, privately run teams such as Techeetah, Virgin Racing and HWA may see their income statements showing bigger expenses and that could restrict them from spending more to improve the other parts of the car. Also, producing a tyre with treads which can wear out quickly may be a heavy task for Michelin and might not be completed along with all the tests in time for the start of Season 5.
Secondly, Formula E pitlanes are predominantly very narrow and tracks such as Santiago and Punta Del Este are appropriate examples of the same. In order to allow cars to change tyres, the operational zones in the pit lanes will have to be bigger to accommodate the necessary equipment. Tracks such as Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Mexico City and Berlin might be able to do the same but most of the other racetracks may not be able to do so. As a result, only a select tracks will be able to have pit boxes big enough, creating another logistical headache for Formula E.
If Formula E can overcome these hurdles, they will consequently overcome a bigger hurdle that is maintaining the level of excitement that their races currently offer. That way, Formula E’s success can be both a blessing and a curse for them and what will determine it is how they manage it. Judging from the way they have managed their rapid growth, this move could be very well executed by FIA and Formula E together to make the races even better.
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