How did Formula E’s radical Gen3 car fare in its first true test?

Formula E

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When Formula E’s third-generation car was unveiled in Monaco last Summer, both the series and the FIA could hardly be more glowing about the future of the championship.

Boasting the highest top speed for a Formula E car to date, higher regeneration rates that ever before, a power boost of over 130bhp and running 100kg lighter than its predecessor, the next generation was looking like another major step forward for the all-electric world championship.

With its unique, angled design and radical innovations such as no rear hydraulic brakes, Formula E’s newest car was supposed to push the envelope of electric motorsport and make racing better than ever. After all, the step from the original Formula E car to the second-generation model in 2018 was major, with the sport now able to full race distances with a single car, rather than the need to swap cars midway through the race.

So after yesterday’s season-opening eprix in Mexico City, in which Andretti’s Jake Dennis stormed to an impressive win, what kind of a first impression did the third-generation Formula E car make?

The new car is lighter and more powerful
Naturally, no one should judge a new car or indeed an entire series on the basis of what took place over just a day of running. But that does not mean there are no observations to make about this bold new era for the sport.

With so much extra power, the first question to wonder is simply ‘are the Gen3 cars quicker than their Gen2 counterparts?’. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to judge based on Mexico City alone.

Due to concerns over potential braking problems discovered during testing, the FIA modified the layout of the Mexico City circuit for yesterday’s eprix, adding a chicane by the medical centre that had previously been used between the 2016 and 2018 races held at the venue. But if we remove the middle sector, there is some interesting data to analyse.

By taking the three total fastest laps completed across yesterday’s event – all set during the qualifying duels – removing the middle sector times and comparing them to the three fastest laps set during the 2022 event, the results are surprising.

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Comparing fastest Gen3 qualifying times to Gen2 times

Position Gen Power Driver S1 S3 S1+3 Diff
1 Gen2 250kW Pascal Wehrlein 22.303 21.478 43.781
2 Gen2 250kW Pascal Wehrlein 22.354 21.513 43.867 0.086
3 Gen3 300kW Jake Hughes 22.236 21.759 43.995 0.214
4 Gen3 300kW Jake Dennis 22.464 21.62 44.084 0.303
5 Gen2 250kW Andre Lotterer 22.523 21.562 44.085 0.304
6 Gen3 300kW Jake Hughes 22.442 21.776 44.218 0.437

While factors such as wind and track temperature must be taken into account, making this not a direct comparison, it’s still striking to see that the Gen3 cars at their fastest were only as quick or slightly slower than their predecessors through the first and final sectors. That is despite being 100kgs lighter and with over 130bhp more total power.

Why not faster? In truth, there’s a laundry list of reasons why the Gen3 cars are, at this moment in time, not as impressive as many would expect. Not least of which being the highly limited time teams and drivers have been afforded to test and gain knowledge of the car. This was thanks in no small part to global supply issues, leading to teams getting their hands on the new cars later than they would have ideally hoped to. And while three days of testing may seem plenty, teams would always desire more mileage, especially when dealing with cars that are supposedly so much faster than the ones they were intimately familiar with beforehand.

Adding to the challenge is the new tyres supplied by Hankook – this being the first season that the series is not using Michelin tyres. Drivers have struggled for grip with the new compounds available to them, especially in the traction phase where they have to convert all that extra power onto the road.

“It’s very easy to make mistakes with these tyres,” Andretti’s Andre Lotterer said after an error had seen him eliminated from his qualifying semi-final against Lucas di Grassi.

“The grip is not the same as what we’re used to. To find the limit, to be in the right window – there’s not much forgiveness.”

There’s been an overall lack of mechanical grip with the new car and leading to drivers fighting with the balance of their machines. Nio’s Dan Ticktum described the new Gen3 car as “a very difficult car to drive, in general.”

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There are also some more pressing concerns over safety, following a series of incidents during testing with the new car. The removal of mechanical rear brakes is not as radical as it seems – given that the cars were hardly requiring them to begin with due to the nature of the regenerative braking system – but at least three incidents where cars appeared to fail to stop during testing led to the FIA pursuing an emergency braking system that will be introduced for the next two races in Diriyah.

RaceFans readers seemed to enjoy the race
Out of caution, the middle sector chicane was added back into the circuit layout. But Jaguar’s Mitch Evans suffered an accident at the end of the opening practice session on Friday evening on the way into the stadium section after the chicane, later determined to be a “non-manufacturer” part that was replaced. While Robin Frijns broke his wrist thanks to a collision on the opening lap of the race, that was little to do with the car and everything to do with the typical opening lap mayhem that regularly unfolds during the start of a Formula E race.

As for the race itself, the form of racing Gen3 served up as its opening course was very much the same flavour that fans had been used to in seasons prior. Three separate Safety Car periods did not help drivers get into an early rhythm, but while the addition of five extra laps at the end of the race may have caused some anxiety over energy allowance, all drivers still running at the chequered flag avoided the dreaded disqualification for going over their total energy limit.

While Dennis built up a relatively large gap of over seven seconds by the finish of the race, a tense multi-lap battle over the final podium place provided plenty of action for viewers. And judging by your reactions to the race, it seems RaceFans readers were entertained by Gen3’s first race too.

It’s important to keep in mind that, right now, Formula E’s Gen3 cars are almost certainly as slow as they will ever be. Especially in comparison to the twilight of the Gen2 era which were fully optimised by teams and drivers in its final season in 2022. Much like Formula 1’s new ground-effect cars evolved rapidly through the 2022 season, do not be surprised if the pace of Formula E races picks up significantly once drivers and teams get on top of their new cars and tyres over the rest of 2023.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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16 comments on “How did Formula E’s radical Gen3 car fare in its first true test?”

  1. And for cars only 1.7m wide (great!) they definitely looked bigger and more nimble than F3. Even though the race wasn’t the most exciting, this really is promising going forward.

  2. How did Formula E’s radical Gen3 car fare in its first true test?

    No clue – was it on TV?

    1. Broadcast TV? No. But then who really uses that anymore.

      YouTube 1080p stream for all sessions.

      1. Yes embarrassingly compressed 1080p streams at 30fps instead of 50/60fps.

      2. What country are you watching from?
        I‘d like to watch the full race since I don’t really enjoy the „highlights“ clips having no idea what’s going on…

    2. It was on Eurosport and I think Channel 4’s youtube channel.

      1. So basically nobody watched it then? It wasn’t even advertised as far as I could tell

  3. FEafficionado
    15th January 2023, 20:27

    It was incredible, the best it has ever been.

  4. I’d say pretty ok!

    Reliability was the main issue in Valencia testing and private pre-season, but 17 cars managed to finish the race full laps with no big dramas.
    You get the reliability first, than the performance.

    Race after race, teams will understand the cars better, they’ll get faster & drivers will get more confident with it.

    Obviously there’s a voluntary limitation in performance and that’s in the tyres, that are super hard, much harder than the michelin ones of Gen 2, wich makes the comparison kinda difficult.
    We’ll see if that will change in the future!

    1. Yeah, but I’d sure like to see F3 race on the same track. The E cars looked really slow through the corners; it’s time for some comparison times to see how fast they actually are. I found the race on youtube, but it took some searching – the cars didn’t look as fugly on the track as I thought they would.

  5. I read the tyres are harder to not degrade and keep the tread. Something the Michelins didn’t do well resulting in messy wet races.

  6. I enjoyed last season. This race was nothing special to watch.

  7. i liked it. The cars look fast in acceleration and on the straights unlike before. in the turns they will get faster, especially when the tyres are developed, but on TV it looked fast enough. Was cool to see the stands full of fans. Having got used to the quiet sound of F1’s lame v6 turbos since 2014 (why are they still using this old tech?), i have no issue watching Formula E with no engine sound (but it does still have a sound). the racers in the series are solid, most F1 level. I think this series has a great future.

    1. F1’s lame v6 turbos since 2014 (why are they still using this old tech?),

      F1 engines are still miles ahead of anything that can be done in a production car today

      1. F1 engines are still miles ahead of anything that can be done in a production car today

        Haha. Yeah – take that, road cars…. Burn.

        In all seriousness – there is nothing in an F1 engine (physically or design/process-wise) that couldn’t be implemented into a production car. It just wouldn’t make it any better for its designed purpose.

        1. F1 engines are the best solution to propel a performance focussed single seater over a grand prix distance.

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