The FIA Formula E Championship returns to the streets of Putrajaya, Malaysia this Saturday for the second round of the 2015-16 season.
Just a fortnight after the opening event in Beijing, several teams are already looking to recover lost ground, while the dominant team in China – Renault eDams – are intent on staying out in front.
|2015-16 FIA Formula E Championship – Putrajaya ePrix|
|Date||07 November 2015||Lap Length||2.560km|
|Shakedown Test||Fri 15:00-15:30||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 07:45-09:00|
|Qualifying Group 1||Sat 10:00-10:06||Qualifying Group 2||Sat 10:10-10:16|
|Qualifying Group 3||Sat 10:20-10:26||Qualifying Group 4||Sat 10:30-10:36|
|Super Pole||Sat 10:45-11:00||Race (33 laps)||Sat 14:00-14:50|
Session times quoted in Malaysia Standard Time (GMT +08:00)
Compared to those made to the Beijing track, the 2.5-kilometre Putrajaya circuit has had minimal changes from how it was used in the inaugural season.
For defending winner Sam Bird, it’s a track that lends itself well to Formula E competition: “I thought the layout was superb and there were some especially bumpy parts but it added to the character of the circuit. The bumpiest part is going into the last corner, everywhere else is a smooth as we come across over the course of the year.
“The key overtaking places are into turn 1, 3 and 4. Everywhere else is very difficult to line something up so you really need to focus on getting it done is Sector 1. You need a good exit out of the last corner in order to tee-up those overtaking opportunities.”
Rewind to 2014
Bird was a dominant player in last year’s Putrajaya ePrix, and gave the rest of the field a lesson in balancing the fine arts of aggressive driving and energy management.
After qualifying fourth-fastest, grid penalties for Nicolas Prost and Jérôme d’Ambrosio vaulted the Englishman to a front-row start, and the Virgin Racing driver was able to vault into the lead shortly after the end of the race’s first Safety Car interruption.
Bird’s advantage was halted with a second Safety Car outing, but he put the hammer down when racing resumed once again and built himself a 5.5-second lead in just one lap. That was thanks in no part to former Formula 1 veteran Jarno Trulli continuing the tradition of the ‘Trulli Train’, bottling up a pack of drivers behind him until the compulsory pit stops.
Bird pitted from the lead on Lap 19 – later than many of his rivals – and emerged in second place behind Daniel Abt, who had been forced to switch to his second car early on and now faced the impossible task of trying to limp this one home to the finish.
The German was running some 5 seconds a lap slower than Bird, and he was easy meat to the Briton when he was caught up with just five laps to go.
From that point, Bird was able to cruise to victory, crossing the line four seconds clear of Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi – who had started 18th and 19th respectively.
The Form Guide
Sebastien Buemi was the class of the field in Beijing, topping practice and regular qualifying, before becoming the first driver to claim pole pole in Formula E’s new SuperPole shoot out. Such was the speed of Buemi’s Renault, only team mate Nicolas Prost was within half a second of the Swiss driver’s pole lap time.
Buemi powered to the win, with the only disappointment of the ePrix was a DNF for Prost who suffered an unusual wing failure. Based on this form, expect both eDAMS cars to be at the front again in Putrajaya, where Prost qualified fastest last year before serving a grid penalty for his collision with Nick Heidfeld at the season-opening Beijing ePrix.
Closest in pace to the Renault eDams cars in Beijing were the Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport cars of Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi, along with the DS Virgin Racing team of Sam Bird and Jean-Éric Vergne.
The Abt cars held the pre-season advantage in testing at the flowing Donington Park track, but were jumped by eDams at the tighter Beijing street circuit. Putrajaya is a rather more open layout than what was seen in China, so it may play more to the strengths of Abt – and in particular di Grassi.
Similarly for DS Virgin Racing, Sam Bird returns to the site of his maiden Formula E win last season, and will be aiming to defend his crown. At the time of writing, teammate Vergne held the pre-event lead in FanBoost voting.
The great unknown leading into Beijing was the reliability – or lack thereof – of the new powertrains. The hope for the two teams – Team Aguri and Amlin Andretti – still using the first season’s McLaren unit was that reliability was a known quantity and could make up for a deficit in outright pace.
Sadly for both outfits, only three drivers failed to finish – even fewer due to mechanical failure – leaving Andretti’s Robin Frijns as the highest-placed finisher in eighth. It is testament to the engineering work of most teams and manufacturers that this level of reliability was achieved so early in their development programs.
Further back it was a horror start to Nelson Piquet Jr’s championship defence, limping to 15th. The Brazilian will be urgently trying to get his campaign back on track this weekend, but will take comfort in the fact that his NEXTEV TCR team mate Oliver Turvey showed pace with a solid sixth-placed points haul.
Conspicuously absent on track in Beijing was the Trulli team, whose Motormatica-developed cars were not ready in time for scrutineering. The team have made significant noises on social media this week suggesting that they will be ready to run in Malaysia, however neither car was out on track during Friday’s 30-minute shakedown test.
Added to that is the news that team owner Jarno Trulli was back behind the wheel in place of Salvador Durán, whom the team claimed would sit out this weekend having violated the terms of his contract. The Italian veteran was bullish that his cars will actually run this weekend, but given they turned all of seven laps in pre-season testing it will be nothing short of a miracle if he and teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi can get off the bottom of the timesheets.
Saturday’s action starts with a single 75-minute practice session at 07:45 local time (UTC+08:00). Qualifying begins at 10:00, with SuperPole following at 10:45. The 33-lap Putrajaya ePrix Race goes green at 14:00.
Images via Electric Autosport and FIA Formula E Championship