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Formula E

Can Formula E do more for its new blood than Rome compromise?

by Sam Smith
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

This Friday’s extra Formula E free practice session for rookies in Rome has been in the pipeline for over a year, and has gone from a definite strategy for assisting new drivers, to not happening, to being back on again in that time.

It was first mooted to teams last summer as an initial twice-per-season practice session for each teams’ two cars. It then appeared to go off the agenda completely, before being resurrected – albeit as a single session, and for one car per team.

Teams kicked back hard against the initial plans, with several questioning why the extra running should be conducted at a late stage of the season and on a high-risk-for-damage track such as the Rome street circuit.

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What really forced the FIA’s hand in scaling back to a single session and a single car was the realisation in the early phase of the season that the lateness of parts for the new Gen3 era and the scale of the issues that compromised teams’ preparations would be so disruptive.

Teams eventually agreed to the plans for a session in Rome and a further compromise was met when an extra free practice session was decided upon, rather than giving over one of the two 30-minute slots prior to the all-important qualifying period.

The big concern most teams had was the inherent risk that the undulating and unforgiving Rome track present.

“There is jeopardy in the pre-event rookie session, and we as the teams have spoken to Formula E and the FIA about that, and to be fair as a group we have evolved the original concept,” Jaguar team principal James Barclay told The Race.

“The previous concern that personally I had was that you have to compromise one of your cars to not have in FP1 and that potentially hurts someone’s championship.

“That didn’t feel right at a pure sporting level so an FP0 session [for rookies] is a help, to be honest. But I think we all acknowledge that not doing anything also isn’t right.

Formula E Berlin Rookie Test 2023

“I think there’s a view that, as a whole, we can probably do something even better going forward that doesn’t jeopardise the sporting side, but also is a real opportunity for rookies as well.”

Jaguar is one of the few Formula E teams that has not run a driver in a previous rookie test that has gone on to race for it. However, it did blood Sacha Fenestraz in during 2019 and 2020, and the Franco-Argentinian has since grabbed a race seat with Nissan.

The Race can reveal that in addition to the session in Rome, the FIA and Formula E are also looking at giving over the fallow day at October’s Valencia pre-season test to rookies too.

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“It’s something that I think could be a good option,” said Barclay of that consideration.

“It’s not locked down but a good option to do that in Valencia. The circuit is well suited to that as well, and it feels like the logical option.”

While most team bosses support at least the motivation to get fresher drivers in to the championship, some are more direct than others.

James Rossiter is the only one of the team principals in Formula E that has competed as an international professional driver. The Maserati boss said he vehemently believes that drivers should be given several opportunities a season to test, citing his own experiences – which helped him become both a sought after test driver and a successful racer.

“I’m very conscious that someone put me in a Formula 1 car when I was a young kid,” Rossiter, whose team will field Aston Martin F1 reserve Felipe Drugovich in the rookie session, told The Race.

”Everyone should deserve a shot and the fact that as a championship we’re trying to do that is a massive positive for the sport and a positive for me.

“I made my thoughts with the FIA and FEO [Formula E Operations] very clear on this, I said the only way to do a rookie test properly is to do a rookie test at the end of the season.

Formula E Berlin Rookie Test

“Anything else is frankly suboptimal. We can still do it, but it’s not really giving the rookies a proper shot at it.

“We need to find a way to do it somehow because it’s for the championship. I think a few will challenge them as well, they quite like new blood coming into the championship, especially when they arrive and they’re good – they write good stories.

“We just have to do enough to give the teams confidence that they should take the risk.”

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