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Formula E races in Spain for the first time at 2021 Valencia ePrix this weekend

Formula E will race in Spain for the first time ever this weekend at the Valencia ePrix, with races on both Saturday and Sunday.

We’ve also got some Formula E news that’s happened in the last couple of weeks, including a new electric GT race series, NIO’s long-term commitment to Formula E, and the plan to race in Monaco at the full historic circuit for the first time — instead of the shortened version that has been used before.

2021 Rome ePrix race recap

In Rome, we had another doubleheader — we’re seeing a lot of those this year due to COVID-related uncertainty. If the race series can get approved to race in a city for one weekend, they might as well bang out two races while they can, in case plans have to change at future venues.

Rome presented us with a rare experience — Formula E in the rain. We haven’t had many wet races before, and both races for the weekend were rain-affected. Well, it wasn’t raining, per se, but the track did start off rather damp on both days. This meant both races were started behind the new electric Mini safety car rather than a traditional grid start.

For high-performance racing, even a slightly damp track can present big challenges for drivers. Formula E cars may run on all-season tires, which are more capable in the wet than slick racing tires, but they do not have traction control or all-wheel drive, and with their lightweight and so much torque going through the rear wheels, it’s easy to spin out of control with just a moment of incorrect throttle application.

The situation is exacerbated by Formula E’s road tracks, where painted street markings such as crosswalks present slippery patches that can easily start spinning wheels. These patches also often happen to be at both the entry and exit of almost every 90º corner because those corners are on street intersections with crosswalks. These are the most crucial times to maintain traction, so things can get messy.

And things did get messy. The first race was marred by several crashes, with five cars having to retire due to collisions. In the last few laps, Lucas di Grassi was leading and looked like he would give Audi their first win since 2019 when his driveshaft failed, leading him to slow in an awkward place on a sweeping corner.

This caught out the cars behind him and led to a massive crash between polesitter Stoffel Vandoorne — who was fighting back through the pack after another early accident — and teammate Nyck de Vries, taking out both cars. The crash was large enough to bring out the safety car, and the race finished under the safety car with Jean-Eric Vergne winning and the Jaguar duo of Sam Bird and Mitch Evans joining him on the podium. Both had fought through the pack after middling qualifying efforts, so an excellent race for each of them.

The second race was a little drier than the first but was still marred by several collisions and five collision-related retirements.

Despite these slightly drier conditions, as soon as the safety car came in at the start, polesitter Nick Cassidy spun out immediately just a couple turns into the race, sending him way back in the lineup. He blamed it on a braking software problem. It was a shame after such a good qualifying effort, but it turns out he wouldn’t finish the race anyway after a crash with Oliver Rowland.

The middle of the race included an exciting battle between Pascal Wehrlein and longtime EV driver and advocate Alexander Sims. After a full course yellow flag caused by a crash between Di Grassi and Sebastian Buemi, Sims followed Wehrlein but caught him napping at the restart, getting in front of him immediately.

The two were in a tight battle for most of the rest of the race, but Sims managed to stick it out and finish in second place, with Wehrlein just behind. This time, we had a safety car just before the end of the race when Rene Rast broke his suspension on the barriers, but luckily the safety car came in just before the end and we got a quick 1 lap shootout worth of racing (and another crash, between de Vries and Bird). Vandoorne won, vindicating himself for the weekend after sitting on pole for race 1 but having to retire due to a collision.

Despite the changes to Rome’s track for this year, the track did still seem a little too tight. The addition of sweeping corners did lead to some very fast sections, which made the cars look great out there – despite the ugly fascist architecture, which was still over-present as the circuit’s background.

But the track still suffers somewhat from Formula E’s Achilles heel — tight 90º corners at street intersections. And some roads are just too tight and as soon as there’s trouble — say inclement weather or a driveshaft problem — it can cause a lot of chaos in the pack as drivers don’t have much room to avoid problems. Cities with bigger streets avoid this somewhat, as do traditional race circuits. Formula E doesn’t really race on many traditional race circuits, though…until this week in Spain. We’ll get to that after a little Formula E news.

Formula E News

Since last time, we’ve had a few interesting pieces of news to catch up on.

First, Formula E has confirmed that they plan to race on the full, historic Monaco street circuit this year, a first for the series. This idea had been considered in years past but always kicked down the road a little bit. Many thought Formula E would wait for the introduction of the higher-performance “Gen 3” cars, but instead, we’re going to see it this year with the Gen 2 cars. This should offer an interesting future comparison to show how much performance improves between the generations.

The main point of comparison, though, will be with Formula 1. Formula E and Formula 1 have never raced on the same circuit before. Part of this is just due to the nature of the beast — F1 generally races on purpose-built racing circuits, and Formula E races on road courses inside cities.

The latter decision was made to “bring racing to the people” and is also made possible by quieter Formula E engines, which are less of a nuisance to city dwellers.

But there’s a little overlap between the calendars – both series race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City and at the classic Monaco track. But in both instances, Formula E has always raced on a shortened version of the circuit for various reasons. It has been suggested that one of those reasons is because Formula E doesn’t want direct comparisons to be made between it and F1, but it looks like we’re past that now.

There will be some slight changes to the track, including the profile of the first turn at Sainte Devote, where the curb will be restored to its original 1929 layout, and a change in the chicane at the end of the tunnel. But the comparison will be more or less direct. Expect to see Formula E be much slower than F1 — but remember that Formula E is a spec series racing on all-season tires, whereas F1 teams have budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars to extract every possible millisecond of performance out of their vehicles.

As for the rest of the season, we’ve had another update to the season’s calendar. Four more doubleheaders have been confirmed in Mexico City, New York, London (an indoor-outdoor race — a first in motorsports, planned for last year but canceled due to covid), and the season finale in Berlin. After the Monaco race on May 8, we’ll have a six-week break before Mexico, then semi-regular 2-3 week breaks between the next few race weekends. This makes Monaco the only race this year that won’t be in doubleheader format.

In other news, we saw NIO re-commit to Formula E for the Gen 3 era, stating that they will remain in the series at least until 2026. There are now six teams who have made this commitment: DS, Jaguar, Mahindra, NIO, Nissan, and Porsche. Audi and BMW are leaving the series, but it seems like most everyone else is ready to stick around.

Finally, there’s a new FIA-approved electric racing series in town. Technical regulations have been released for FIA’s “Electric GT” racing series, which will use GT cars that look more like traditional sportscars rather than the open-wheeled, single-seaters used in Formula E. Cars will have up to four electric motors, 87kWh total battery capacity, 430kW max power, estimated 2.4 second 0-100kph time, and top speed of 300kph (186mph).

Most interestingly, races will allow for charging pit stops, and that charging will be done by 700kW chargers set up at the track (instead of battery swapping, which we’ve seen concepts for before). This means charging pit stops will likely take a couple minutes — somewhat of an interminable amount of time for racing, but still shorter than a consumer gas pump fillup.

2021 Valencia ePrix race preview

I mentioned traditional race circuits earlier, and we’re about to see a rare case of Formula E racing on one. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo outside Valencia, Spain, has been used for testing before, but never for a race. This will be the first time the series comes to Spain for a race.

Since we haven’t seen a race here before, we can’t tell you what exactly to expect out of it. But a wider track with runoff areas and without tight walls around 90º corners should offer a different racing and viewing experience than most of Formula E’s tracks.

We do have a meteorological preview, though — it looks like it’s going to rain. Rain is currently forecast on and off all weekend for Valencia, with the highest chance of rain forecast just at the start of race 1. Weather forecasts aren’t super reliable a few days out, especially down to the minute, but it seems likely that we’ll at least see a damp track, if not active rain, during the race.

As mentioned before, wet races are very challenging and tend to result in a big shakeup in results. So it’s quite unpredictable what will happen and who will rise to the top, and there’s always a chance of some driver managing the conditions exceptionally well and pulling off a truly heroic drive. Race fans salivate for wet races, so this looks like it will be one worth tuning in to.

As for track results, BMW has done quite well in testing here, being at the front in recent outings. But testing isn’t always representative of real results since teams have different testing regimens, and the environment is much different than the actual race environment. And BMW has had poor results so far this season, currently sitting last place in the teams’ championship points tables.

Jaguar is having a great season so far, currently leading the championship after spending the last few years in the middle of the championship table. Their drivers, Bird and Evans, are also running first and second in the driver’s championship.

DS Techeetah, one of the winningest teams in the series, is in third place and pretty far off the lead with 46 points to Jaguar’s 82. But we’re still early in the season, and as we know, anything can happen in Formula E. So we’re sure these standings won’t stay the same, even until the end of this weekend.

The races start at different times on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s race starts at 6 a.m. PDT/9 a.m. EDT, 1 p.m. UTC, and 3 p.m. local Valencia time. Sunday’s race is one hour earlier, 5 a.m. PDT/8 a.m. EDT, 12 p.m. UTC, and 2 p.m. local Valencia time. Races will be aired on CBS Sports Network in the US, or if you’re elsewhere, head over to Formula E’s website to find out how to watch the race in your country. If you can’t find a way to watch the race live, Formula E usually uploads race highlights to their YouTube channel within days.

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Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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