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Formula E

The 'very stupid mistake' behind the Rowland/Nissan implosion

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Oliver Rowland and Nissan didn’t know it at the time - but their quest for a good result in the second Misano E-Prix race this weekend was doomed from the moment the starting lights went out.

A basic software procedure error sent Rowland on an inadvertent energy suicide mission that never gave Rowland a chance to challenge for a second successive victory.

The Race can reveal that after its post-race debrief Nissan has pinpointed a team error in calibrating its energy target procedure, meaning that Rowland was essentially running a shorter race to his competitors.

After wresting the lead from leader Pascal Wehrlein with six laps remaining, Rowland was able to pull a gap on his rival - his subsequent final-lap slowdown making it seem as if his team was oblivious that it had been on a treacherous path to energy oblivion.

Nissan team principal Tommaso Volpe told The Race: "We just made a mistake in the procedure at the start, a very stupid mistake, and it compromised the data on which we were implementing the strategy.

“It was a stupid mistake that was misleading us for the length of the race.

“The strategy was perfect but was based on the wrong information. It’s frustrating because it’s a small procedure that you need to do at the beginning and we didn’t do it, because we were in a rush for other reasons.

"It compromised everything.”

Oliver Rowland, Nissan, Misano E-Prix

The grid issue alluded to by Volpe was later confirmed to The Race by Nissan’s team director Dorian Boisdron as a software glitch that set Rowland's doomed race in motion.

“What happened on the grid is like one parameter in the software didn’t reset properly so we had to reset it manually, which took a bit of time,” said Boisdron.

“This has impacted our usual process and operations on the grid and is the root cause of the problem we had at the end of the race - because we didn’t manage to do the usual things properly because of this problem.”

When The Race asked Rowland why, when most could see the energy discrepancy between his car and most of the rest of the field, his team could not adapt, he said: “I have to follow what’s on the car - but you’re right, there should be questions asked when that’s on the screen.

“Someone should, they have all the information there, they probably should ask the question.”

Oliver Rowland, Nissan, Misano E-Prix

Rowland did have some concerns in the latter stages of the race, realising that there was a risk of thermal limitation “so I think, from my perspective when they were telling me you’re 2% or whatever down, I’d assumed [wrongly] that Pascal couldn’t use his energy because of thermal limitation".

“I’m pretty sure that’s what our guys thought as well.

“Because there’s a point when you sit in the slipstream that you’re going to overheat the battery so you have to kind of not use the energy. I think that’s what they assumed was going on which is why there was that delta.”

Rowland said that he knew when he first took the lead that he probably “didn’t have enough to hold him [Wehrlein] off for the rest of the race, which is why I let him back past, sat behind him and then my [energy] target went quickly massively back up again.”

Rowland took the lead when he thought he knew Wehrlein “couldn’t pass me anymore".

But it was all a false reading, putting him and his team into a nightmare situation where everything they were working to was false, ending in the completely inevitable zero usable energy a few miles from home.

The only thing that was then sparking was the team radio channel as Rowland tried to digest his and ultimately the team's collective shock and disappointment.

OR: Guys, what happened?!

Engineer (Jules Chambon): No idea. We don’t know what happened. Sorry about that, we don’t know what happened.

OR: How do you not know with my f****** crypto map? [energy readings communicated in cryptic code]

JC: It was a blip on our side. We don’t know. Everything on our side on the numbers was fine.

OR: But surely it tells you my energy remaining?

The silence in response to that last question was deafening.

From Porsche’s perspective the hush was countered with cheering as its hunch over the outcome of the race was confirmed.

Despite the psychological semi-torture of Rowland disappearing up the road, Porsche stayed tight, stayed focused.

Wehrlein’s new engineer for this season, Fabrice Roussel, helped to focus his charge, although Wehrlein himself was his usual unflappable self near the front as he became the first driver to take two wins so far in 2024.

Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche, Misano E-Prix

“The plan was to stay in front and to stay in the lead but I saw Oliver pushing really hard and trying once or twice to overtake.

“The team told me to defend, but I was just wasting energy and that would bring me into a difficult situation in the end."

A shocked Wehrlein then saw Rowland become even faster once Rowland had got into the lead. Surprised, he comforted himself with the information his team were giving him.

Had he pushed more, then he would have exceeded energy targets. With two laps to go “they told me his [Rowland's] energy will die".

But was there still a little devil in Wehrlein’s helmet telling him that Nissan surely couldn’t have got it this wrong?

“Actually, I was not sure if that would happen or not, if we did have the right information, but in the end it turned out to be correct and it was the right decision what we did in the last 10 laps."

Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche, Misano E-Prix

As Wehrlein screamed into his car-to-pit radio with delight at the chequered flag, Porsche Formula E boss Florian Modlinger, who had his famously cool and analytical concentration stretched and tested to the limit via Saturday’s fun and games with the FIA, himself released a burst of joy.

“We had no RESS temperature problems, but we could not follow Rowland,” Modlinger told The Race.

“We checked and in our opinion we were completely right with our numbers.

“We were surprised because from what the energy numbers said you could see we were always up depending on who was leading, and then suddenly you could not follow anymore.

“At the end, a very well-managed race from the whole team and Pascal executed it very well.”

Lead image courtesy of Alice Holloway

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