The usual carnage at an unusual venue? Formula E makes a rare trip to a road circuit

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Formula 1 long tested, but never raced, at the Ricardo Tormo circuit outside Valencia. It has raced in the circuit, however, spending a five-year spell on an unloved street track based around the harbour.

So it comes as a surprise that Formula E, which races almost exclusively on street tracks, has rocked up at the permanent circuit just outside the city for this weekend’s double-header.

The pressures of Covid-19 have pushed it towards more remote locations and new challenges for the series. But not an entirely unfamiliar one, as the series held pre-season testing at the venue for the past four years.

Familiar though the track may be, especially after some (fairly disorganised) simulation races for the last three years, the circuit is almost the opposite of most Formula E tracks. A flowing, motorbike-friendly design makes it radically different to a street circuit.

Rome races were lively affairs
FE has raced at another permanent circuit, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez in Mexico City. But while it used the same pit complex and start area as F1, the similarities largely ended there. FE modified the Mexican course with a section of service roads, and the close proximity of the barriers made it more of a typical FE venue than Valencia.

Two major changes have been installed at Ricardo Tormo for this weekend’s two races. A fenced reprofiling at turn six makes it more of a jack-knife twist than the high-speed corner it had been before.

At the end of the lap. a large chicane added at the start of the pit straight, twisting over the entrance to the pit lane. Both are typical Formula E constructions and deliberately designed to slow cars down, with the coincidental effect that they avoid any lap time comparison to other categories.

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Formula E’s disrupted seventh season has faced a lot of challenges in track selection, not least where the series could possibly go. The season-opener in Santiago was canned and other rounds have been affected as well.

To an extent, this year’s calendar has been a ‘make-do’ affair, unfortunately if unavoidably in the series’ first season as a world championship. FE’s strength and ability to survive where other international start-up series have not has always been in its readiness to adapt as it needs to, so this is all business as usual in many ways.

Adaptation is one thing; mis-steps are another. The series held what’s likely to be its only race on a conventional street circuit this year in Rome a fortnight ago, where heavy rain exposed some strange track design decisions. These included wrapping the starting grid around a high-speed, blind corner (during practice, Oliver Turvey smashed into a row of stationary cars preparing to practice their starts) and second practice was suspended due to kerbs.

It has the chance to go again, this weekend, and demonstrate how capably it can hold an event at the type of venue it has long avoided. But with an 80% chance of rain forecast for both races, expect as many red flags and as much mangled carbon fibre as FE sees on its more typical venues.

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Formula E’s Valencia track layout

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Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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  • 20 comments on “The usual carnage at an unusual venue? Formula E makes a rare trip to a road circuit”

    1. I personally think it’s great they’re going to a proper circuit. I’ve never been able to get into Formula E and it’s primarily the circuit choice for me. They all blend into one huge series of barriers and it’s hard to remember one track from another. It also forces odd racing – overtaking is almost always reckless dives – by necessity – the same as F1 is in Monaco. As a one off in Monaco for F1 I feel it’s interesting an unique. But for FE it being every race and most cities not being as picturesque as Monaco it just creates dull racing and boring tracks.
      Put the awesome cars they’ve created on proper circuits on a regular basis and I would probably become a proper fan.

      1. @shadow13 I kinda agree with you, evry time I try to watch a race it just seems to me that the street circuits are used to try and amplify the sense of speed and with it being quite claustrophobic it just ends up like dodgems. This is not something I really want to watch.

        I get the idea of not putting on the same tracks as F1 to prevent comparisons (they are even tweaking the F1 circuit for this reason) but it is subconsciously acting as a barrier of entry to me.

      2. For me the main exception to that has been the Berlin track @shadow13 (apart from the one time that Tempelhof was where Germany put up a lot of refugees and so it moved to the pittoresque, but cumbersome to organise and boring to watch Karl Marx Allee to run by the well known Alexander Platz and it’s TV tower), though it might be just because I loved going to the track too, with its relaxation zone outside the track at the Tempelhofer Feld ;)

      3. Fully agreed My nr 1 reason for not following Formula E are the tracks. Never seen more dull racing in my life. Its all fences fences fences and cars moving very very slow

    2. Will be cool to see. It’s a bit uncomfortable watching the usual bumper car battles around the slow street circuit corners. Shame about the rain from that perspective but rain races are always fun too.

    3. It’s a shame they aren’t brave enough to put them on a track that isn’t cluttered with extra chicanes and barriers.

      The temporary tracks they have run on to date are almost universally too tight to show any real racing, or even to stretch the cars’ legs.

      Surely the Gen 2 cars will be close to an F3 car’s times around the circuit? No shaming in letting them loose for once.

      1. Probably not as close as you might think. An FE car has slightly more power than an F3 (though a lower power/weight ratio, even in qualifying mode) but the real issue would be that F3 runs on fairly soft slicks while FE runs on all-weather tyres which are sufficiently hard that they only get one set for free practice/qualifying/race. This is a solid decision by FE on environmental grounds but is going to be terrible for race speed.

      2. That’s not the only reason for the chicanes and tighter corners in this particular case at least. The normal start/finish straight would drain a lot of the cars’ batteries, and they can recover quite a chunk of that on the added chicane.

        Agree with you on the 2nd point though, the current cars are already outgrowing a lot of the circuits they’ve raced in so far, and the next generation will take that a significant step further

        1. According to Di Grassi right now (as reported by Hazel on Twitter) the issue is more gearboxes than batteries – the capacity wouldn’t be too bad but “several teams” don’t build gearboxes with enough of a top end for a straight that long…

          1. Well tough luck, it would be fun to see the teams running in an unusual order due to ‘inappropriate’ gearboxes.

    4. I can understand why they want to avoid direct comparisons with other formulas and so race on tracks that are unique to them but just once it’d be interesting to see how these cars would perform on a track used by other formulas. Not necessarily just for the outright speed comparison and performance of these machines but more specifically how it affects the racing and consequently the show. You could argue Formula E’s insistence on being different in that regard is starting to hold it back.

      1. @rocketpanda this lack of comparison is really starting to annoy me somewhat. How often do people directly compare lap times between different formulae?

        I feel like they’ve avoided it for so long that when we finally get a direct comparison it’ll be a much bigger deal than if they’d just said from the beginning “oh yeah, its about as fast as a Formula 3 car”

    5. Temporary chicanes are relatively common in rallying, not really in circuit-racing, but I’ve always disliked them. They’re gimmicky and unnecessarily cut the flow.

    6. When is the race? I might actually tune in for once, now that it isn’t on a complete Mickey Mouse track

      1. For terrestrial, highlights are on the BBC Red Button (Freeview 601) at 10.30pm each night; I suspect the live races will be on the website only as there’s wall-to-wall snooker on the Red Button during the day

      2. @paeschli tomorrow:

        Argh, this is one race I do want to see, but FE is making it harder to watch. They used to upload full races to YouTube, but now:
        – their website keeps thinking I’m in Canada rather than the US (I wish)
        – in the US it’s on CBS Sports; I only have ESPN for watching Formula 1
        – seems like the live stream is at least free, but… the race is at 05:30 in the morning PT :(

        I guess I’ll have to watch the highlights again.

        1. Race fans on the Wet Coast are used to getting up pre-dawn to watch races.
          Once you get used to it, yer goona like it.
          Up at 4:30, coffee, breakfast and watch some racing.
          by 8:30 you can start a full day with the warm glow of knowing the result.
          Alternatively record it off TSN and FF through all the promo bits and commercials. By far the best approach.

    7. While I seldom follow FE races, just cruise the results and standings, it is sort-of akin to watching golf or Junior ice hockey. A tough go. Really tough.
      The main attraction for some is the inevitable carnage with body and chassis parts all over the track.
      Question for the techy bunch ….
      Since FE is a spec chassis, body work and tightly controlled power trains, tyres etc., why go to the trouble and expense of making consumable parts out of the most expensive material available. Carbon Fiber.
      If all the cars are the same, why not use a less exotic and cheaper material.? Fiberglass, Kevlar are two. No effect on the racing, all the cars are the same. So what if they are 50 kilos heavier, all the cars are the same. Maybe that is part of the turn-off, all of the cars are the same.

    8. I think the whole “electric car is going to save the earth from ecological disaster” has become a marketing ploy and I am not sure how much of it is the truth or not. There was the incident with the Tesla electric car crash recently in which it took something like 11,000-35,000 litres of water to put out the chemical fire caused by the batteries.
      I would imagine an FE car crashing similarly to the massive Grosjean crash will also take a long time and massive amount of time to put out the fire.
      So I think the biggest reason why FE is going so slow is not to prevent comparison to other series, but because it is not safe for them to crash at super high speed.

    9. The usual carnage at an unusual venue?

      And some! I can’t decide if I enjoyed the dramatic end, or if it was an utter anti-climax…
      Bit farcical, but rules are rules and you either abide by them or get disqualified.

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