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Formula E

Driver concern after Rome pile-up – but will changes be made?

by Sam Smith, Alice Holloway
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Questions have been raised by some drivers about the safety and visibility of the Turn 4 to Turn 7 stretch of the Rome E-Prix circuit after the multi-car accident that stopped the first Rome E-Prix of the weekend.

The violent accident was triggered when Sam Bird lost control of his Jaguar on the bumps as the cars took the kink before the braking area for the Turn 7 left-hander. Bird’s car was then collected by Sebastien Buemi’s Envision run Jaguar which in turn was struck by Antonio Felix da Costa’s Porsche.

Edoardo Mortara then piled into the stricken Jaguar before Stoffel Vandoorne, Lucas di Grassi and Robin Frijns also suffered damage in the melee.

Earlier in the race Andre Lotterer lost his Andretti Porsche on the bumps, while Jake Hughes had a similar incident in qualifying that caused damage to his Nissan-powered McLaren which ensured that he could not start Saturday’s race.

The track at that position on the circuit runs through part of Ninfeo Park which stretches across the Rome Street Circuit venue. The road there is believed to be uneven due to roots of nearby trees below the surface. The undulations have caused several incidents in the past and have now come into focus as the Gen3 cars are now quicker than their Gen2 counterparts in a straightline.

Additionally, there is a sizable manhole cover at the precise point where Bird went off and is believed to be the same cover that caused Stoffel Vandoorne to lose control of his Mercedes during the 2021 race.

The challenge of that stretch of the track is exacerbated by the flat-out kinks linking Turn 4 to Turn 7. Bird lost his Jaguar between the Turn 5 and Turn 6 kinks with drivers behind him being unsighted to the fact he was broadside across the road.

Bird described the accident to The Race as having been triggered by “a small little oversteer, which I corrected and caught it, but it just put me off line by half a metre, but then in the middle of the track there are drains that are raised up, I hit one of them and it sent me flying.

“I hit the outside wall, and then unfortunately I’ve then come back to the inside. And then all the issues happened.”

Bird said that the FIA “need to address it and they need to get rid of some of the drains in the middle of the track. It’s not right, it’s just not right.

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“They [the bumps] physically need to be smoothed, they physically need to be got rid of those drains. That whole area of tarmac needs to be redone if we’re going to be racing on that bit again, I think.”

Buemi told The Race that “the visibility is very bad and then of course the asphalt is not adapted to the cars and then there is the drainage so if you don’t enter at the right place like Sam did you’ve just lost the car.

“You can’t even avoid it on the outside because you are completely off camber, it is a crest.

“It was just a matter of time in my opinion this happened and I raised the point already last year.”

Buemi also said that he didn’t see a yellow flag. But when Antonio Felix da Costa entered the conversation with Buemi and The Race in the Rome media pen he suggested there was “no time to react because we were too early.

“Norman (Nato) said he saw a yellow flag and slowed down and he was just behind me but for us it was too close and just impossible,” added da Costa.

“It was just the wrong moment, wrong time, wrong place. There was just no way for us to avoid it. It was a very scary moment.”

Da Costa’s ricocheted accident with the already crashed Buemi saw the Envision run Jaguar briefly airborne and come across the monocoque of da Costa, who was sure that the halo safety device “played a massive part” in ensuring he was able to walk away from the impacts.

Mahindra’s Lucas di Grassi, who was caught up in the accident and was forced to retire said he believed that the area of track where today’s accident occurred “were pretty many straights in a Gen2 car” but that with the Gen3 design “it’s a high-speed corner”.

“When you have a high-speed corner, over 200kp/h there’s always an extra risk. Although I would say the track is a lot of fun to drive, it’s a very challenging track because of this, it does not allow for any mistakes. It’s like a mini Macau.

“If we want, with this car, I would think that to do better racing, we could use longer and better straights, like we used in Sau Paulo, in Portland, I think longer straights allow you for better overtakes and more race ability, but then the slipstream effect is too much.

“You have to decide what you want, but I don’t think at all that there is any big concern of racing here with the Gen3. I just think that it’s a big challenge because those straights become high-speed corners (in the Gen3 car).

Race director not planning any changes

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Formula E race director Scot Elkins opined that the accidents that have occurred at the Turn 4 to Turn 7 area of the Rome track had elements of co-incidence and were a result of the added challenges of the new Gen3 car after the latest flashpoints at one of Formula E’s most notorious incident black spots.

“Is it a strange coincidence that we’ve had a lot of incidents in one place? Yeah, I think so,” Elkins told The Race after Saturday’s first Rome E-Prix of the weekend.

“I think what we’ve got is a lot of changes that have happened since we’ve been here last time (in April 2022).

“So maybe those things are affecting it, maybe not.

“In terms of car, tyre, there’s a lot of things that have happened differently. I’m not pointing to anything by any means at all, I’m just stating that there are things that have changed.

“I definitely don’t have in my mind as the track inspector of making any kind of a knee-jerk reaction to making some kind of a change to the circuit. I’ve been out there, I’ve looked at everything, I’ve seen everything.

“What I do know is that the cars are compressing in different places than they compressed last year. That is happening, like you can clearly see it on the racetrack, where the planks are touching the ground.

“That’s up to the teams to adjust the cars to the environment. In many cases we can adjust the environment but in this case I don’t know if that is something we need to do.”

The first shunt that occurred on this stretch of the track was triggered when Oliver Turvey forgot that practice starts were taking place when the grid was located on the T5 to Turn 7 stretch in 2021.

Later that year in the race both Mercedes EQ cars of Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries crashed when the former lost his car on one of the drainage covers on the track.

In the same race Buemi and di Grassi collided exiting the final kink with di Grassi’s Audi ending up in the wall in the approach to Turn 7.

This year both Jake Hughes, in group qualifying, and Andre Lotterer in the race, also crashed out, with the latter telling The Race that “I felt maybe something was under the car and we need to see what that was.

Lotterer also described how the “more power and different dynamics this year” of the Gen3 car are affecting the challenge of driving the corners between Turns 4 and 7.

“It’s still a fun and challenging corner this year but when something happens there is no visibility and room for us to see,” he added.

Asked by The Race if a yellow flag could be used for single file running through the two kinks could be an option for tomorrow’s race Antonio Felix da Costa was effusive in his hope that wasn’t an option, saying “I hope not. We’re racing.”

Elkins added that “as far as I’m concerned we have no changes to make [ahead of tomorrow’s race].”

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