New qualifying procedures and a bigger scope for gambling on energy consumption during races have been two of the most important deciding factors in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship this season, according to one of its leading engineering chiefs.
Phil Charles, technical manager at Panasonic Jaguar Racing, says those two factors have been key throughout the 2018-19 Formula E season.
The introduction of qualifying groups that reflect championship standings, with points leaders going out first, and the proliferation of race-neutralizing periods have changed several dynamics for drivers in Season Five.
“I agree with the drivers, in particularly in the sense that the changes to the qualifying format have been so crucial,” Charles told e-racing365.
“They are now under big pressure and some of the early runs in the sessions are just super tough, super pressurized.
“You haven’t got the margin to be a couple of tenths off, particularly in the first group. But their return, if they get the absolute perfect lap, means that the weekend can snowball in a very positive way.”
Charles also stated that drivers can just as easily “fall off a big cliff” during a Formula E qualifying session.
“If he delivers, you are really in line for a good weekend, but equally, if he’s having a bad day, fallen out with his girlfriend the day before or whatever, then that can really go the other way very quickly,” he said.
“I would say, even if you have the best set up on the car, if your driver isn’t really delivering in that window that’s critical then there are going to be issues and you could fall off a big cliff very quickly.”
Energy Burn Gambles Pay More
Charles explained how this season’s new race format can now favor bolder decisions from drivers, particularly in the early stages of races.
“The drivers have got a bigger gamble they can play this year, definitely,” explained Charles.
“As engineers we give the optimum race strategy on the energy side. But now the drivers can gamble a little bit more on top of that.
“They can use a bit more energy early in the race because there’s a high chance this year that Full Course Yellows or safety cars will kick in and a lot of the energy gain is neutralized.
“Whereas last year we were almost forcing them from Lap 1 to be energy saving so the last few laps are going to pay you painfully.”
Drivers have been able to call upon a more aggressive use of their usable energy in the likelihood that FCYs or safety cars will be deployed.
So far this season, every race has included a race neutralization period to some degree, meaning that teams and drivers can afford to utilize more energy consumption earlier in races.
“They can certainly use their kind of race guile a little bit more,” said Charles
“They can say I know I’m going to go one percent more burn now, but I think, with the people I’m racing, it’s worth me getting passed this guy because I can deal with it later.
“Last year if you did that one percent burn, he’s going to come past you at the end of the race, for sure.”