It’s been a couple of weeks now since Formula E completed its pre-season test session, but what exactly did we learn from those few days in sunny Valencia?
A look at the quickest times set during the last two days would appear to show that NIO has made the biggest step forward, setting the pace with a 1m 21.8s lap, closely followed by a few of the more regular front runners in Renault e.dams, Mahindra Racing, Audi Sport Abt, and DS Virgin Racing.
But the quickest times in testing often don’t paint the full picture, especially when the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia isn’t exactly representative of your average Formula E street circuit.
To gain a better understanding of the pecking order, we need to look at the team’s long run pace.
Last season, the average length of an ePrix was 43 laps, so let’s say a race stint is around the 22 lap mark. To make this analysis a little more scientific, I’ll be discounting any runs where the driver failed to stay within 107% of the quickest lap set during testing (NIO’s 1m 21.8) for at least eight consecutive laps (thus ignoring runs where a mistake, technical issue, yellow or red flag hindered the driver’s progress).
That leaves us with 49 long runs to analyse across nine teams. Venturi’s test was unfortunately hampered by a gearbox issue, and it failed to complete a long run of either sufficient distance or consistency to be a reliable comparison to the rest of the field.
So who was quickest, and who is going to win in Hong Kong?
Season three champion Lucas Di Grassi will be encouraged by his team’s form in testing as Audi ended up quickest of all on long runs with an average time of 1m 25.784, and to make that even more impressive, it also completed the most mileage of any team in during the three official test days in Valencia.
To put this into perspective, last season’s champion Renault lapped 0.879s slower than Audi on average over the course of its long runs, but it did see Sebastian Buemi’s quickest stint halted by a red flag.
Audi has invested heavily in the team since its takeover; appointing three-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish as its new team principal and moving several staff over from its now-defunct LMP1 operation. So far, the team appear to have a significant advantage, and it would be fair to consider it favourite for the win at opening round in Hong Kong in early December.
Renault well may have expected this increased threat from Audi now that its focus has shifted away from the WEC, but it will be slightly concerned at the performance gap with just five weeks to go before the start of the new campaign.
In Renault’s defence, it was often not the outright fastest on single lap pace alone last season. Instead, it won several races by virtue of having stronger race pace, but a gap of this size surely cannot be ignored. It will be fascinating to see how the team’s development pans out over the course of the season, especially as we now know that it will be handing the keys over to Nissan next year.
Behind the front two, there’s a hare’s breadth separating the third and fourth quickest teams on long run pace. Dragon Racing (1m 26.913) look to have made progress after a dismal season in which it slipped to eighth in the teams’ standings, but DS Virgin (1m 26.918), who finished fourth last season, will have hoped to have been a little closer to the leading pace than this. Just 0.005s separated the two teams, but both were over a second on average slower than Audi, so there’s still much work to do.
The midfield looks tight this year, as you’d expect in the third year of stable regulations, but Techeetah (1m 27.178) will be desperate not to lose ground on the frontrunners after finally winning a race in the last round in Montreal. The Chinese-backed team just edged out midfielders NIO (1m 27.473) despite it completing the most long-runs of any team with nine. The team that ran Nelson Piquet during his title winning season can at least claim to be in the mix on single lap pace, setting the fastest time outright during the three days.
Towards the bottom of the times, Mahindra (1m 27.917) appear to have made a step backwards, but to be fair, it completed the joint least number of long runs (2) along with Andretti so there may be some more pace to unlock.
Last season’s bottom-placed team Jaguar (1m 28.097) ended up eighth despite showing decent single lap pace, but there’ll be some disappointment amongst the BMW-backed Andretti squad as its average long run time of 1m 28.260) left it 2.476s off the leading times.
Analysing testing times is always difficult, whether you look at short or long run pace, as we don’t know what modes the teams are running in or what their energy consumption was like. From what we’ve seen though, Audi do appear to be leading the way, and we should be in for another title fight between Di Grassi and Buemi, with a very tight midfield competing for the remaining points places.
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