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SEASON REVIEW: HWA’s Low-Key Learning Preps Mercedes

HWA Racelab was looking at the bigger picture in its one-off season before Mercedes’ entry…

Photo: HWA Racelab

There are two ways of viewing HWA Racelab’s first and last season of competing in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

On the one hand, bold statistical evidence suggests a disappointment with 44 points on the board, exactly half of what was achieved by its powertrain supplier Venturi.

One pole position and one podium for Stoffel Vandoorne in Hong Kong and Rome respectively were decent highlights but on the whole a little more in terms of hard results was expected from the German industry specialist.

Perhaps though, those expectations were a little unfair to start with.

If you listened carefully to team principal Ulrich Fritz from the very start of the program there was a clear reality check in place already for the multiple DTM championship-winning squad.

HWA Racelab was present in Formula E on a fact-finding mission for the fully-fledged Mercedes EQ team which takes its place for the upcoming 2019-20 campaign.

It was a cute strategy, especially at the start of a new rules set, and it was one that will greatly assist the mothership entry next season.

While there was a sensible note of caution as it set off on the exploratory campaign, once the competitive juices started to flow, so then the racing instincts naturally emerged.

An alternative way to look at the team’s season is therefore a little more nuanced, even holistic.

Ultimately, HWA Racelab achieved its goals of data acquisition, operational evaluation and racecraft management to create a supple springboard for Mercedes EQ’s forthcoming giant leap.

The basic premise of its entry was to give Mercedes an instant foothold with the championship’s rules, hardware, software and racecraft.

A key appointment to the HWA Racelab effort was securing the services of Franco Chiocchetti, the engineer who had worked so tenaciously with Lucas di Grassi to seal the Brazilian’s remarkable Season Three title success.

Yet, Chiocchetti apart, there was no-one within the team that had significant Formula E experience, and that also included the drivers.

While some critically pondered this, they were in fact missing the whole point.

What the team would experience over the course of a tumultuous season became priceless know-how for 2019-20 when the stakes are considerably higher.

There were several races in HWA Racelab’s one-off campaign where management and drivers looked slightly shell-shocked by the sheer voracity of the competition and the way some of them dished out overtly roughhouse tactics.

At Monaco, that shock was tangible. In New York City, when several lines were crossed by some drivers, even a seasoned racer such as Gary Paffett was barely able to contain justified anger.

Few begrudged him this frustration but in a season which sometimes bordered on the reckless, battle lines had long been drawn and it became oddly usual for the HWA pair to come out of the bare-knuckle combat second best.

But in the drivers’ defense, there had long been a strategy to make some method from the madness.

One thing that the team needed more than anything was race data, and an early lesson was painfully learned at Marrakesh in January.

On that occasion Vandoorne and Paffett made contact with each other and not a single lap was registered after two crocked HWA Venturis crabbed their way off the track.

“After the first few races when we had a whole bunch of DNFs we did actually give a command to the drivers to just stay out of trouble and bring it home, finish a race and have the data,” said Chiocchetti.

In addition to the risks of this new no-holds-barred combat, HWA also had to contend with persistent issues relating to driveshafts.

These compromized both Venturi and HWA Racelab in several races but an updated component for Rome did the trick… just!

Vandoorne, who blew hot and cold during a generally impressive rookie season, drove an excellent race in Rome.

Taking the team’s sole podium place in third, he then watched with a mix of horror and bemused resignation as the driveshaft collapsed a few meters after taking the checkered flag.

Photo: Formula E

Paffett brought many valuable attributes to the team, but one of those wasn’t results.

That was a pity and frankly quite harsh on one of DTM’s most decorated drivers who bore the brunt of the aforementioned brutal tactics by others in addition to just cold, hard, bad luck.

Overall though HWA Racelab achieved a great deal of what it set out to in this exploratory season.

“As racers we are never really happy with what we have because we wanted more [results],” says Chiocchetti.

“We started as complete rookies from A to Z and everyone has seen the development we have been through with some tough times in the beginning and long hours.”

How that all transpires for Mercedes EQ when its cars are seen for the first time in public at Valencia in October will be fascinating.

One thing is for sure, HWA Racelab put the hard yards in last season and if there is one crew which deserves a special mention for commitment, it’s the team from Affalterbach.

Let us remember that most of the team came direct from DTM’s Hockenheim finale to the Valencia test and then worked night and day up to Ad Diriyah to get cars and strategies in place.

Since then there has been little time to gather thoughts and now, with a good slice of its manufacturer test days still to run, the team has one week off before it all starts again for another ten months.

While Chiocchetti and others simultaneously studied the data from Season Five, the next season was beginning in earnest.

Will it all have been worth it? Chiocchetti thinks so.

“It has made us in to a really strong group and as a team I am reasonably happy that we have ticked some big boxes.”

“Basically what we have now is lots of facts and that is what engineers like to work with so the preparation now should be much easier and much smoother [for 2019-20].”

Photo: HWA Racelab

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

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