Formula E stands by energy management rules after Valencia farce

Formula E

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Formula E has defended its energy management rules which contributed to yesterday’s farcical finish in the first of two races on Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit.

Just nine of the 24 starters were classified at the end of the race. Several of those who reached the chequered flag did so several minutes behind the winner, as drivers exceeded their maximum energy allocation.

Under Formula E’s rules, the amount of energy drivers may use during in a race is reduced during Safety Car periods. Yesterday’s race featured many such interruptions, the last of which ended in the closing stages of the event, which was scheduled to run for 45 minutes plus one lap.

As race leader Antonio Felic da Costa reached the starting line shortly before 45 minutes expired, the race ran for two further laps. Several drivers and teams had expected just one more, and found themselves with too little energy left to complete the race at speed. That included Da Costa, who lost victory to Mercedes’ Nyck de Vries, and was later disqualified from the final standings for exceeding the energy limit.

The FIA’s director of Formula E and Innovative Sport Projects Frederic Bertrand defended the championship’s rules, and said the strange finish came about due to Da Costa’s timing of the restart.

“We know that energy management is key for our championship and it’s clearly a challenge we all have to face,” said Bertrand. “We all manage it in a very accurate way most of the time and some of the time not that accurately.

“In this particular case, we have more or less the same circumstances to the one we had in Rome in that we had a late Safety Car and it was clearly expressed, in the driver and team management briefings, that in the case this happens we would reduce the energy, as we did in Rome.

“For sure, the choice of the leading driver at that moment clearly changed things for most of the drivers who had an approach that was less conservative [with energy] than the others and crossing the line a few seconds – I think it was around 15 seconds – before the end of the [race] time added one lap and changed all the circumstances and all the management of energy for most of the drivers.

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“But finally, we had some drivers able to anticipate [this] and be ready before because they understood that this would happen and managed it properly. Some were less [able to anticipate it] and clearly the risk taken was too high and they didn’t achieve a proper finish in the race.

“So that’s clearly where we are, for sure it’s not exactly the type of finish we like but still, for the ones who have managed properly it’s really well-managed, not an easy one and with all the circumstances of today.

“It was a tricky race for everyone, with Safety Cars and the rain and the specific track here but still, managing energy is the key part of Formula E and we can see that it is challenging but it’s manageable and some achieved that very well, some less. It’s clearly a lesson for the future and we will keep consistency on managing those type of challenges for all the rest of the year.”

Da Costa’s team mate Jean-Eric Vergne, who was ninth in the final classification, said the sport should reconsider its decision to race on a conventional road circuit this weekend as its long acceleration zones greatly increased the amount of energy-saving drivers had to do.

“I don’t believe we should ever go to this kind of circuit, because that’s not Formula E, you know, it’s not what Formula E is all about,” he said. “I understand the Covid situation, it’s different, we have to make do with what we have and we should be happy that we can race. But sometimes I’m not sure that we should have gone to Valencia for racing because it doesn’t look good.”

Extra slow corners were added to the track’s layout to increase the opportunities for drivers to generate energy in braking zones.

“You put a wall in the middle of the track, a wall there, a wall there, [but] the rest of the truck is huge,” said Vergne. “The amount of saving that we need to do is bigger than we ever had in Formula E.

“And look what we had. I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, but I think for the future, we should stick to what we do in Formula E, which is street circuits.”

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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....
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Formula E stands by energy management rules after Valencia farce”

  1. I think they need to decide whether they want a race series or a energy management series. It’s it’s the latter (which it appears to be) then let us know and I won’t bother watching.
    Seems to me the best way to promote electric cars is to have them race flat out towards the end. And is a safety cars helps that then it’s a bonus! Not a good look for the future of racing and travel If cars can’t complete 45 minutes without significant energy management.

    1. The series is defined by same power output and battery capacity for all cars, essentially to keep the costs down. Hence, efficiency is the name of the game in FE and you will not see flat out racing.

      This has the effect of near-equal qualifying performance for all cars and the track conditions play a bigger part, which is another point of contention. At the same time, this feels less offensive than a reverse grid.

      It seems they are really satisfied with the action that a mixed grid produces, so that is the DNA of FE. Perhaps they are right in doing so, when every other series ends up with a couple of dominant teams.

      Everything said, I believe the energy reduction formula needs to be flexible towards the end of the race to allow the cars to race to the finish as otherwise we will have the same scenario again in the future. If FIA does nothing, the teams will update the software to accommodate the SC deduction towards the end which will result in a slow but sure finish for all the cars.

    2. No need to watch Formula 1, either, since that is tire management. Heck, not too long ago a driver stopped after the race because he ran out of fuel, which is a penalty because there was no fuel left for analysis.

      No, Formula 1 has two systems keeping their drivers from going flat out at almost any moment outside of quali.

  2. Forgive my naivety.

    In Formula 1, a safety car reduces the fuel savings drivers would typically do.

    In Formula E, safety cars increase the need for energy management?

    That seems counter intuitive.

    1. Because Formula E isn’t a racing series. It’s a gimmick filled energy conservation series.

      In the past the best races were always the one’s where a safety car reduced energy management & allowed drivers to push flat out. It was those races where we got the closest racing & that were the most spectacular to watch due to how much more visually exciting the cars been driven on the limit looked.

      Also consider the gimmick attack mode that every driver must use twice a race, A thing that makes them use more energy & therefore requires them to save even more than they would without been forced to use the gimmicks (the fan boost also see’s the 3 fan voted drivers use more energy while using it thus meaning they need to save a bit more than others).

      1. I quite enjoy the attack mode element as it introduces a bit of strategy into races where there are no pitstops unless something’s gone very wrong. I think it is the best way they could introduce that strategy element without Pirelli-certified cheese blocks.

        The idea behind the energy conservation is to increase the efficiancy of the batteries. I don’t agree that the best races were ones where the SC dropped that element of conservation, as it just meant everyone went flat out and didn’t have to save energy, reducing overtaking. It’s kind of like refuelling in F1 in that sense. However, I think yesterday highlighted they hadn’t prepared for all eventualities (see USA 2005) and the FIA were unprepared for quite so many reductions. I think the best solution would be to keep the reduction element, but either make it at the Race Director’s discretion (up to a fixed amount) or decrease the amount of energy reduced per minute.

        Fanboost. I still haven’t made up my mind on it tbh. I like the fact that they’re trying to get the fans more involved, as it encourages people to do something to help their favourite team/driver. However I equally understand the purists who see it as a gimmick. However, it is rare for it to have a huge effect on the races so I don’t *really* mind it. (Another note, the drivers with Fanboost are given more energy to use that corresponds with their extra power, so it shouldn’t have an effect on their conservation.

        1. But why do they need to add any strategy element?

          I don’t get the obsession with strategy that newer fans seem to have as it’s something that outside of endurance racing was never really part of the sport until the 90s, Especially in many of the lower tier categories that ran shorter races.
          Even looking at F1 we have these awful Pirelli tires because fans seemed to think races without 1/no stops is somehow not F1 even though it was F1 for many decades. Only reason you used to see cars in the pits was because they had an issue or because weather changed, Yet that philosophy is somehow ‘Not real racing’ to younger fans & I just don’t get it.

          If they for some reason feel that the cars aren’t able to produce good racing without artificial gimmicks like attack zone & contrived levels of fake energy management then it’s a spec chassis series so just go & make a better car that can race without those gimmicks.

          1. I personally really like a strategy element to a race, as it can make a boring race become slightly better, or a good race even better still. For example (in F1), the second Silverstone race last year would probably just been a pretty boring Ham-Bot-Ver for 52 laps if the tires weren’t a bit different to what the teams expected. A further example would be Bahrain in recent years, particularly 2014, 2018 and 2021, where the different strategies prevented one car/team from simply driving off into the sunset (or midnight in Bahrain?) and dominating. I don’t think we would have seen Hamilton vs Verstappen in Bahrain if it wasn’t for the strategy, I think we would have just seen Verstappen managing that 2 second gap to Lewis for 57 laps.

            Additionally, I think the strategy element is important to attract new fans. I’m quite a new (3.5 years), young fan and I find strategy fascinating (my dream job would be a strategist in F1). It adds something to the race to fill the boring bits and allow potentially better and closer racing (I was rewatching the 2011 German GP this morning, and the different tire strategies is what allowed Ham-Alo-Web to battle for most of the race).

            I think the main problem is without strategy, F1 would just become a 2-by-2 procession of (hypothetically) RB, RB, Merc, Merc, McL, McL, Fer, Fer, AT, AT. All the teams get so much data that they know how to optimise the race for themselves. It needs the curveball of ‘what are the other teams going to do’ to prevent it from just becoming a parade.

        2. I don’t agree that the best races were ones where the SC dropped that element of conservation, as it just meant everyone went flat out and didn’t have to save energy, reducing overtaking.

          I don’t agree with that at all.

          I will admit that I don’t watch Formula E regularly now but did watch everything from the 1st 4-5 seasons & I agree with @roger-ayles in that I also always felt the racing was significantly better when SC periods or circuit design made energy management less of a factor. There was still close racing & a good amount of overtaking in those periods of races so to say there wasn’t is simply not correct.

          1. Oh yeah this is my bad. Somehow I managed to confuse a SC with a FCY (which also has an energy reduction). With the SC it does make more sense that the racing was better, but under FCY it just seemed to go from a race, to just a flat-out time trial in equal-spec machinery with the same gaps as before, which wasn’t particularly exciting.

            Also am I the only one who thinks there has been quite a large increase in the number of SCs vs VSCs/FCYs across all FIA championships recently? I’ve seen a few people saying it’s trying to create more action artificially, although I can only think of 1 occasion (Norris at the Nurburgring last year, although even then the car appeared to be on fire underneath, and they ended up needing a tractor due to the bad steering lock on the cars) where I can really thinks that’s applicable. I mean you could argue Monza last year as well but when you’ve got marshalls to push a car a not inconsiderable distance along a live racetrack I’d rather have a full SC tbh.

            I think the FIA have received a bit of a kick in the head when it comes to safety after Hubert and Grosjean incidents in 2019 and 2020. They seemed to be starting to enter the phase where they thought the danger had gone from motorsport after Bianchi’s death and the introduction of the halo (much like they did a few years after Villeneuve in 1982 and Senna in 1994), but were then suddenly reminded of the real risk still involved. I think yesterday in FE they realised just how slippery the track was erred on the side of caution to have all the cars lined up in one part of the track, instead of having the possibility of one just sliding of Germany 2019 style, even under a FCY.
            (Sorry this got a bit off topic it’s just I suddenly remembered just how many SCs we’ve had recently compared to FCYs/VSCs).

      2. Valid points, but it’s not like ‘the pinnacle of Motorsports’ F1 isn’t filled with gimmicks:
        – DRS
        – mandate to use x set of tires (taking away alternative strategies)
        – bad tires
        – fuel regulations

        The last 7 years I have almost only seen tire and fuel saving in F1.
        And what is the percentage of non-DRS passes?

        At least in FE there isn’t one team winning everything for years and years…

  3. I want to like Formula E, I really do… But at this point it’s clear that it simply isn’t a category that can be taken seriously & I also question if it is worthy of been called a world championship given how amateur hour it can often be.

    Dumb gimmicks, Dumb penalties, Dumb rules, Horrendous circuits & just general below club level at times utterly farcical levels of organisation/officiating.

    1. Reminds me a bit of Formula 1, at times, in those regards.

    2. Right with you. What is most alarming is that the race organizers don’t seem to have taken this as any sort of lesson, and think that everything is fine with the energy management rules.

      While I understand the need to have an element of energy management in the racing, the additional rule of removing energy behind a safety car seems too much. They seem to be completely committed to make sure that remaining energy is always on a knife-edge under any circumstances, and in this case left the teams dependent on the exact time the lead driver crossed the line as to whether they would be able to finish. There was no reasonable way that the teams could have prepared for this, and it just turned the whole race into a crap shoot.

      Particularly frustrating in that there were some really great parts of this race; finally putting the cars on a real circuit brought some actual close and interesting racing, particularly in the wet, only marred by the ridiculous chicanes that seem designed to generate accidents.

  4. I saw something on twitter that I think sums this up quite well. This is Formula E’s Indianapolis 2005 moment. A rule change that was supposed to change things for the better has clearly backfired and I expect it will be changed for next season (possibly the rest of this year if all the teams can agree). This season has also highlighted a few flaws in the format, such as the attack mode activation penalty for Vergne in Diriyah, but 2005 was similar for F1 (Aggregate Qualifying anybody?). They’ve tried to do things a bit differently, and I respect that. I quite enjoy FE, but they need to address these problems in the very near future. Additionally, they might be prompted to be a bit more aggressive now they’ve lost their exclusivity on electric circuit racing (see here: Again, it is still a very young category and it’s going to take some time to patch the teething issues. F1 wasn’t perfect after 6.5 seasons either.

    1. Agreed that it certainly should be their Indianapolis moment, but the immediate reaction so far is not encouraging. Really hope that they all go away and have a think about what just happened.

  5. I disagree with Vergne. I actually liked the layout they chose (except the chicane on the start/finish straight, but I understand it’s purpose, so can accept that), and the more open layout promoted better racing, inc 2 cars wide from turn 2 to 4 on several occasions. The only downside is the gravel basically guarantees a safety car for any car that goes off and gets beached (as it likely would in F1). If they could manage it under FCY (VSC) and not SC, that would probably help.
    Also, I’d have the watch the race back to see if the criticism of Da Costa is fair or not. Did they want him to deliberately crawl under the last SC lap? I guess he could, and tactically probably should with hind sight, but I can’t see why the margins being so tight is really helping the show.
    Hope race 2 today is cleaner.

    1. @eurobrun I admit I’m not in the best position to comment, given that I only watched the first full season of FE, bits and pieces since then, and highlights of this weekend’s first race, but I was also surprised by JEV’s comments. To me one of the turn offs of FE is the bland, boring street circuits that all look the same, and seemingly only encourage overtaking in the form of bumper car passes since there is no room for alternate racing lines.

      From what I saw of this weekend it was much more appealing to me to see the cars racing on a real racing circuit which is definitely different to what I’ve seen previously in FE. If energy management is the reason JEV doesn’t like permanent racing circuits then I would’ve thought lowering the number of racing laps and/or race time would be a sensible solution, rather than installing artificial chicanes to aid energy recovery, although maybe circuit modifications like this could also play a role in optimising the racing for FE.

    2. Likewise – I thought there was some great racing, with a wider track and more room to experiment with different lines in the wet.

      Apart from the chicane. Although I also do understand why they put that there, but really think they could have done a better job with that; did the only path through have to be so narrow? FE seems to have a bit of an addiction to track layouts that you can barely fit two cars through if they’re touching each other.

  6. Where’s the contrition? Pinning it on the lead driver! What!? As I pointed out, before the last SC they all would have made it apart from maybe Nato. I’m sorry, sorry contrition and admitting they could improve would be most welcome here. This statement is worse than the actual event. Ridiculous!

    1. @john-h Yes agreed this is a cop-out response. It’s also easily countered by – what if the leading car was de Vries? Then he would have been incentivised to ensure everyone had to do an extra racing lap, thus check-mating his rivals into not being able to finish the race.

      No, clearly there is an issue with the way energy reduction is calculated under safety car (if this is even necessary) and I would be more reassured to hear them acknowledge it and commit to finding solutions to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It seems much like what happens in F1 where there is some regulation or safety dispute that the first instinct is for them to go on the defensive and deny that that is any issue, rather than acknowledge it and tackle it head on.

    2. Hoping that the immediate reaction was in the heat of the moment and they go back and think about what happened and what could have been done differently. This was not a good day for FE (despite some good racing before the last couple of laps fiasco).

  7. This doesn’t solve the farcical race end, but to help me better understand it, the cars had the energy in store, but weren’t able to deploy it? Essentially race control decides what you can use and when? Then how do drivers manage to get penalised for over usage then?

    *I feel like how my grandmother must feel when I have to intervene because she’s in a mood with ‘Alexa’ and I have to explain the ‘Alexa’ isn’t sentient.

    1. @bernasaurus it’s that the total number of usable kWh are reduced; at the start, it was 52kWh, by the end it was 33kWh.

      The 19kWh reduction was done gradually from the first safety car, at 1kWh per minute under caution. So it can seem confusing because it isn’t done all in one go.

      Normally, you would barely notice it happening, to the point I think a lot of people have only found out the rule exists this weekend.

      1. Thank you @hazelsouthwell just watching highlights packages on Youtube (as I guess many here do), a lot of things need explaining.

    2. Then how do drivers manage to get penalised for over usage then?

      At the end of the race the FIA checks if the car has used more than the permitted 52kWh (or 33kWh for this race – see Hazel’s comment). If they have, then the car will be disqualified. The team can see this information throughout the race, and manage it very precisely – often crossing the line with 0.1% or 0.2% remaining. Occasionally you do see using 100.1% of energy and getting disqualified, or slowing on the last lap to ensure they stay below 100%.

      You can also get more minor penalties (5 seconds I think) for energy overuse during the race. This happens if the motors spin too quickly at a particular moment, perhaps because a bump in the race track has caused the tyre to leave the surface of the track. This is similar to the fuel flow penalties you see in F1.

      If you’re going to have rules on maximum power usage / maximum fuel flow then you have to have penalties if the rules are broken, otherwise they will be ignored. The FIA and the teams are jointly responsible to make sure that those penalties never end up being triggered.

  8. It’s meant to be an advert for electric vehicles. What is one of the biggest blockers to uptake – range limitations! So are race cars running out of energy and looking like clowns what you want to be transmitting to the world?.? Forget all the explanations of why!

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      25th April 2021, 17:49

      That’s something I’ve always found odd about Formula E. The whole thing seems to be based around having to drive very carefully in order to have just about have enough energy to reach the end of the race.

      I don’t understand how that makes electric cars look appealing – much slower than other types of car, full of gimmicks and you have to work really hard to have enough energy left to get to your destination. It just reinforces all the negative thoughts I have about electric cars!

      1. I own an electric car (Hyundai Kona).
        A full charge goes for 450km.
        Range is no longer an issue for electric road cars.

        FE electric race cars, however, appear to be a different story due to the rules and regulations around them.

    2. This is the bottom line. FE is meant to promote the advantages, the current power and potential of electric vehicles, but the headlines from races like this, under the current regulations, is that cars ‘are running out of energy’ and races are being turned into farces because of it. It’s a fundamental error in the series’ design. FE had so much potential as a racing series when it began, but it has stagnated and squandered its opportunities, and will be superseded by the gradual electrification of other series unless management changes its mentality.

  9. This just about sums up the practicality of an electric car when you’ve actually got somewhere to go in a hurry and the range of the chosen model looks iffy.

  10. I think it was brought up during the build-up for the qualifying session today that they all had around 40% charge remaining in the batteries but due to the energy reductions made by race control during the safety car periods they weren’t able to use it.

    Think of it like F1 cars been given 100 litres of fuel to start the race but then altering how much fuel can be used during a race & making software changes on the cars during a race that shuts the engine off once it uses more than 70ltrs.

    That is basically how it works in Formula E & what led to the farce at the end of the race yesterday. It wasn’t that they took energy off the cars, It’s just that they changed the software so the drivers didn’t have access to everything they had in the batteries.

    1. @gt-racer, so that’s an issue for those that planned to save more at the end of the race then, bc. they were already so close to the limit (when the subsequent reductions issued had to be taken into account), while others that decided on a strategy of saving and using extra to make up places at the end had much more freedom? Not sure what to think of it then, I guess it is a sort of strategic risk teams also have if a race gets red-flagged and not restarted (not impossible with rain!), what do you think @hazelsouthwell – main difference with red flag is that teams should be able to calculate their risk increasing as the SC period goes on, since they at least shouldn’t be surprised by the rule. But, it’s hard to do anything about it at that time since they cannot further save while under SC, that’s another difference to F1, due to their the limit being fixed ahead of the race (right?).

      1. there, grr.

  11. To me the problem is the 45 minutes + 1 lap race format, which isn’t compatible with managing energy to the level that you expect to finish the race with less than one lap of energy available. The problem was exaggerated due to the safety car and fuel adjustments, but it happens at other races too.

    Today we had a try race at Valencia, so there weren’t any safety car periods. But we heard a panicky radio message to the lead driver telling him to slow down to avoid extending the race distance. Even once he had crossed the line and started the final lap he didn’t know if it was indeed the final lap and that he needed to push, or if there were two laps remaining and he’d need to save energy. Further back both Jaguar drivers lost several places in the last few laps. Were they energy saving in case they needed to complete another lap?

    Why can’t they just do a fixed number of laps?

    1. Probably because if you had a race like Saturday’s, with multiple safety cars prolonging the race (in terms of time), cars would start running out of energy. Maybe a hybrid system like they have in most other motorsports would be better, so you have a fixed number of laps or a time limit, with the race concluding after the first of these is reached. Even in F1 this happens, although the two-hour limit is reached only rarely.

  12. That included Da Costa, who lost victory to Mercedes’ Nyck de Vries, and was later disqualified from the final standings for exceeding the energy limit.

    This sounds like disqualifying a driver from the race results for having too much petrol in the tank. How did the Stewards determine there was too much energy in the battery? A voltage reading with a high impedance voltmeter (that is most common type of voltmeter available today) won’t disclose that.
    I tried to find the Stewards report explaining in detail why Antonio was disqualified, the evidence presented, and the method used to determine how much energy was left in the battery, but I couldn’t find it. Does anyone have a link to it?

  13. you know if we’d just gone with Nikola Tesla’s broadcast electric energy plan, all this would be moot.

    1. Such a plan would be highly inefficient. The beauty of AC is the efficiency of the humble transformer. At least 99% of the energy that goes into a transformer comes out of it. This means lower electricity cost. However, when using some sort of broadcast technology there would be a huge power loss, especially when you consider they didn’t have semiconductors at the start of the 20th century. I would doubt anyone would have gotten less than 99% energy loss between a power station and the customer. Even today I doubt anyone can get less than 99% energy loss between a power station and the customer. Like it or not, AC via power lines and transformers is here to stay simply because it is so energy efficient.

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