Don’t listen too much to what people say about Valencia being the ideal place to test prior to visiting the Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez for the first race of a new Formula E era. It isn’t.
There are a few similarities such as the long straight and portions of the track surface but there are dozens of tracks that would be higher up a list of places to visit.
Valencia is used for several reasons, primarily that it is a good plug-in-and-play venue with spacious amenities, favourable weather and a track where it’s hard to hit anything too solid.
For the new Gen3 era cars, it is also an adequate place to begin. This is because it has the variety of a sinuous sector (Turn 6 to Turn 10, with the attack mode transponders at Turn 8), a quick constant radius final turn and the aforementioned long straight and artificial chicane.
But come Friday evening the only riddles that are likely to have been solved are who is reliable, who is running a long or short ratio, and who might have a miserable Christmas after realising how far they are off the leading protagonists.
Here are five things to watch out for in this week’s four-day test (although essentially three given Thursday is a rest day):
The messaging behind the Gen3 cars is clear. These are quicker, lighter and should bring a more spectacular philosophy to racing around the streets of some terrific circuits on the 2023 calendar.
But the tribulations of the Gen3 spec battery in testing have been well documented with every manufacturer having fallen foul of issues during the test and development period.
So, a reality check will have to be absorbed by the championship – certainly in the first part of the season, which won’t include the delayed fast-charging ambition and will include a host of issues for teams and drivers to first take on the chin and then learn from.
The change of cells in the early months of 2022 cleared one problem but possibly invited others. The FIA and Formula E are unequivocal that the main issue revolving around cell leakage via vibrations and oscillations is fixed.
But some problems are still occurring and are likely to as well at Valencia. How disruptive they will be is yet to be seen but several spare units will be on hand for teams to use this week.
A shakedown session on Monday prior to the official three days of running has been added to the timetable. However, this will be at a reduced power level.
The hope clearly is that any technical issues around the key spec parts – batteries, front powertrain, tyres – don’t impact upon races or the championship. But there is a chance they will.
Could there be a dark sting in the tail of Gen3 or will it be a strong public entry into a bright new dawn? We’re about to find out.
How quick are the Gen3 cars really?
Clearly, the Gen3 cars have the capability to be a good 4-5 seconds faster than the Gen2 cars with a lighter and sleeker design allied to the increased power capability – from 250kW to 350kW (in attack mode).
But will we see much of this progress at Valencia?
It’s a big question and will depend much on the battery situation and if cars are allowed to run free for sustained periods. The fastest time from last season at the Valencia test was a 1m25.763s lap from Edoardo Mortara’s Venturi-run Mercedes.
But the extra speed could demand a very different method of driving the Formula E car, according to NIO 333’s Sergio Sette Camara.
“I think it’s going to be more of a relaxed driving [style],” said the new NIO 333 driver.
“I don’t think it’s going to be so much pushing because the car now has a powertrain in the rear-end in the front, and when I speak to some of the drivers I hear it is the same. On the entry of the corner, there are quite a lot of resources that help the driver.
“So, you’re almost limited to what the systems can offer you. I think you almost have to drive 99% all the time, instead of being at the limit of driving 100%. I think it’s going to be a little bit more relaxed and I don’t think you will be massively rewarded by taking a lot of risks.
“But I hope I’m wrong. Also, keep in mind, I’ve only tested in normal tracks. None of them were street tracks with walls and stuff.
“So maybe once you’re on the street tracks and it has walls I can tell you something completely different.”
Also expect plenty of slipstreaming and towing, as per the Gen2 era.
A different aerodynamic profile of car and hence a different wake off the back of it will not result in drafting changing significantly. The drag isn’t significant on these cars so there will still be a benefit of teams working in harmony.
A little top-speed benefit and an energy benefit can make all the difference in some circumstances and at some tracks, such as the opening circuit at Mexico City which has two – by Formula E standards – lengthy straights.
Because the cars are narrower and have a reduced frontal area this could become more of a feature as the season goes on.
The Race revealed earlier this month that a new secondary brake system to give extra security to drivers was incoming.
Gen3 cars run with no rear friction/hydraulic brakes at all. The stopping power comes from the frontal regeneration system working with a brake-by-wire system.
But the secondary fail-safe system won’t be on the cars for Valencia and probably Mexico opener too.
This is troublesome because it is known that cars were unable to stop sufficiently before an impact in some of the accidents that befell drivers in private testing.
Quite where this puts teams’ and drivers’ liability if another accident occurs is currently a moot point. It’s certainly something that is troubling the paddock and is likely to be discussed at length.
As per last season, a chicane will break up the long main straight at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo but the cars will still be approaching Turn 1 at around 160mph.
Further clarity on the precise and practical application of the braking addition is set to be discussed further in meetings at Valencia.
A simulated race day?
Simulated races or even effectively complete race days with practice and qualifying have been trialled before at the Valencia test.
These always seem to be amusingly fraught affairs when the reality is that they mean little and are primarily organised to enable the FIA and Formula E organisers to check their software, processes, procedures and timing system.
But in past years there have been collisions, baulking spats and last year almost a dramatic start-line shunt after both Jaguars failed to get off the line!
The Race understands that a complete race sim is currently on the table for one of the test days but is not yet completely agreed upon. Should it occur it is believed that aspects of it will not be compulsory.
New faces at new places
Only one team, Jaguar, has kept both its drivers from 2022 to 2023, so expect a few drivers to unconsciously head for their old pit crew after entering the pits on the first day!
Whether it’s Stoffel Vandoorne in black or gold, Lucas di Grassi in volcano orange dayglo, Sebastien Buemi in Pescarolo green or Andre Lotterer in red ‘n’ black, there will be plenty of double-takes in the paddock on Tuesday morning.
The cast list is still phenomenally strong. Sacha Fenestraz at Nissan and Jake Hughes at McLaren apart, the line-up features the majority of the drivers from last season.
What makes this test so fascinating, as opposed to the last two which were low on plotlines, is that the drivers, outside of full manufacturer teams, have had relatively little running in Gen3 machinery.
The new ABT Cupra team for example has had just a few sessions of experience and actually put zero miles on its race cars before rocking up at Valencia.
The expectation is that some teams will actually do very few meaningful laps during the first day, meaning that trying to get a true gauge on 2023’s pecking order will be tricky.