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Formula E Valencia Pre-Season Testing

Five things we learned from Formula E pre-season testing 

The new Formula E season doesn't get under way until January, but pre-season testing for the coming campaign has already been completed. With the calendar still under discussion and a paddock fire dominating headlines across the five days, there was much to be learned at the Valencia test

Sam Bird, NEOM McLaren Formula E Team, e-4ORCE 04, Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Penske, DS E-Tense FE23, Oliver Rowland, Nissan Formula E Team, Nissan e-4ORCE 04

Less than three months separated the season finale in London from the start of Formula E pre-season testing in Valencia last week and the beginning of a new campaign. 

It was events off the track that proved to be the main talking point from the test at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Spain following a battery fire which cast the test in doubt. Once running did eventually resume it was a familiar team at the head of the times, with plenty of other sub-plots throughout the grid. 

PLUS: How a "complete reset" helped Dennis deliver Andretti's Formula E title 

With just over two months until the season gets underway in Mexico City, here’s what we learned from pre-season testing in Valencia: 

No room for complacency with battery safety 

A fire on Tuesday caused significant disruption to pre-season testing

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

A fire on Tuesday caused significant disruption to pre-season testing

The upcoming season will mark 10 years since the all-electric championship was first introduced, and remarkably during that time there has been little in the way of dramatic battery failures. 

That all changed on Tuesday afternoon in Valencia, though, following a small explosion and subsequent fire in the garage of battery supplier WAE (formerly known as Williams Advanced Engineering). The paddock was evacuated, and one person taken to hospital for precautionary checks, while running was postponed indefinitely so that an investigation into the incident could be conducted by the FIA and WAE. 

The investigation found that while the battery – taken from the DS Penske of Robert Shwartzman’s car after it had come to a stop on track – was “being manually inspected by the battery single supplier team, there was an arc flash and some sparking”. 

It confirmed after assessing all other power supplies that “none of the batteries present the same type of symptoms as the unit that failed”, with the same specification of battery having been used in all cars at every race last season. 

Satisfied with the findings, testing resumed on Thursday afternoon and across Friday with power output restricted to 300kW as a safety precaution. Despite losing a scheduled day and a half, the actual track time was only reduced by 30 minutes although in reality it was slightly more as teams needed to recharge cars during the nearly 10-hour session on Friday. 

NEWS: How Mahindra rose from the ashes after Formula E’s Valencia battery fire

Following the test, all batteries will be returned to WAE prior to the Mexico City E-Prix in January, which although originally planned before the incident will no doubt take on greater importance after the events of last week. The failure in Valencia has acted as a timely reminder that as the all-electric championship pushes the boundaries of battery technology, safety must remain a number one priority. 

Jaguar’s powertrain remains the class of the field 

Jaguar head into the season-opening weekend with their heads up after dominating testing

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Jaguar head into the season-opening weekend with their heads up after dominating testing

Jake Dennis may have won the 2022-23 Formula E title with the help of Porsche power aboard his Andretti Global machine, but over the second half of the season Jaguar and its customer outfit Envision came to the fore as the package to beat. 

That strong form from the Big Cats continued into pre-season testing, with Mitch Evans fastest on Tuesday and Thursday before Nick Cassidy, who has joined his fellow Kiwi in the factory Jaguar fold after moving from Envision, set the pace on Friday. 

Robin Frijns made it three Jaguar-powered cars inside the top four on the final day, the Dutchman having replaced Cassidy at Envision, while his team-mate Sebastien Buemi completed the most laps across Friday’s running with 127. 

Earlier in the day, Frijns had also headed the simulation race from Evans, signifying the British manufacturer’s strong form despite Jaguar team boss James Barclay warning against complacency. 

“I think in motorsport in general, and particularly Formula E, you can very quickly be foolish and we shouldn’t take anything for granted,” he said. “The quality of the competition here in Formula E is fantastic, but I think what you can say is our base package, compare it to last year means we start with a good baseline.” 

With many aspects of the Gen3 cars homologated this season the formbook from last term is likely to remain largely the same, at least initially. As ever testing times should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially from an event where running was compromised for everyone, even if the entire field was covered by less than 0.7s on the final day. Even so, for Jaguar’s rivals there were ominous signs. 

De Vries up against it on Formula E return 

He may be a returning champion, but things are not going De Vries' way so far

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

He may be a returning champion, but things are not going De Vries' way so far

Nyck de Vries’s return to Formula E could not have been in more difficult circumstances. The Dutchman had not driven a Gen3 machine for more than a year after a one-off test session prior to his fleeting AlphaTauri Formula 1 move, meaning every lap in testing would be crucial. 

After finishing bottom of the order in Tuesday’s opening session as he got back up to speed, disaster struck the Mahindra squad amidst the battery fire incident, having been located next door to the WAE garage. 

The team’s IT equipment was put out of action, as was de Vries’s car, leaving the squad with only one for the remainder of the test. Edoardo Mortara completed the running on Thursday before de Vries had sole use of the car on Friday, registering 100 laps. The fact that the team were able to continue at all was a testament to their efforts. “I’m super proud, no one has said ‘okay we will not manage’ because it was really bad surprise after bad surprise,” said team boss Frederic Bertrand. 

Mahindra will also be “compensated” for its lost running in Valencia and will be able to run at least one car at a private test between now and the season-opener in Mexico. For a team which struggled in the first year of the Gen3 machine after being delayed with its development, as much track time as possible will be needed if it is to climb the field this season. 

Bertrand added: “It will never be as good as being with everyone, it will never be as efficient, it will never give us the same type of information. But okay, that’s part of the game, we will lose a little bit.” 

Jury still out on fast-charging pitstops 

Fast charging pit stops are set to be introduced this year, but the jury remains undecided on the prospect

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

Fast charging pit stops are set to be introduced this year, but the jury remains undecided on the prospect

One new aspect set to be introduced this season is the addition of fast-charging pitstops, which are due to be used at certain races for the first time in 2024. As the name suggests, the concept is to fast-charge the cars via pitstops in a bid to add a new strategic element to races. 

The technology was tested in Valencia as part of an ongoing process, but due to the battery fire earlier in the week this was limited. Teams only simulated the procedure during Friday’s mock race, remaining stationary for approximately 30 seconds before rejoining, while it was used during testing itself but at a reduced voltage. 

Having already been delayed last season due to a lack of infrastructure and data, questions remain about whether the technology will be ready ahead of this campaign despite having been written into the current regulations. 

“We haven’t done much testing on it,” said Andretti Global team manager Roger Griffiths. “We simulated I guess the movements of doing the attack charge just to get an understanding of the strategic element. I think what’s probably not that well known is there are many aspects to the attack charge which we have to tick the boxes on. There’s the technology, is it robust, is it reliable, is it going to function every single time? There’s the sporting element, how are the regulations going to work, is it going to work well on a long track, is it going to work well on a short track?  

“There’s a lot to be done, I would have to say it’s probably come a little later than we would have been super comfortable with.” 

2024 calendar yet to be finalised 

Undecided venues, tracks set to be changed. There is a distinct lack of clarity in the current calendar

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Undecided venues, tracks set to be changed. There is a distinct lack of clarity in the current calendar

Although the 2023-24 calendar was announced earlier this month following the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council meeting, there remain some unknowns ahead of the new season. 

The destination of the race in Rome on 13-14 April has yet to be decided, with representatives from Misano and Vallelunga having held talks with Formula E as the championship eyes races on more traditional circuits. But there remains a possibility that the Circuito Cittadino dell'EUR site, used since 2018, could still hold the race but with a new layout better suited to Gen3 machines. 

Autosport understands that the layout of the Tempelhof Airport Street Circuit for the Berlin E-Prix is also set to be completely revised in an attempt to provide better racing given the faster, more aero-draggy Gen3 machines. 

Reports in local media also suggest that the Jakarta race, which was dropped, is seeking to return to the calendar, possibly as early as this season with talks ongoing and which could add to the current 16-race schedule. 

While the layout for the first-ever Tokyo E-Prix was unveiled during testing which features an 18-turn, 2.582km street circuit surrounding the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre.

Nick Cassidy, who has joined the factory Jaguar fold after moving from Envision, set the pace on Friday

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Nick Cassidy, who has joined the factory Jaguar fold after moving from Envision, set the pace on Friday

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