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Formula E

Was Formula E’s high-risk rookie experiment worth it?

by Sam Smith, Alice Holloway
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The 30-minute ‘in race weekend’ practice session for rookies took place in Rome on Friday afternoon but the worth of the session is still under debate.

Drivers were only able to accumulate a maximum of 16 laps (the most completed by NIO 333’s Daniil Kvyat) and the session was topped by Felipe Drugovich in his Maserati-run Formula E car.

The session was organised against a backdrop of discomfort from most teams and then a compromise to have the session just once this season as opposed to the originally intended two mandatory in-weekend sessions.

Formula E is considering reprising a rookie session at the Mexico City opener next January and could also still host a more traditional day-long rookie test at Valencia in late October before the 10th season of Formula E begins in the new year.

Whatever it decides upon, the fears of the first rookie free practice session at Rome today went unfounded. Apart from a lock up and trip down an escape road for Porsche’s Yifei Ye there were no flatbed trucks bringing back broken cars to present to broken-hearted engineers and fuming race drivers.

The session quelled the doom-mongers for a while. But more than that did it actually achieve anything in terms of drivers learning about the intricacies and pressures of one of racing’s most misunderstood challenges?

Formula E Berlin Rookie Test

Drugovich, who maintained his 100% record of topping rookie sessions [he topped Berlin’s test above] in 2023, thinks it did.

“The biggest difference I would say from here in Rome to Berlin is that we had a very rubbered in track, very high grip for these cars, and also a full day of testing, so the Berlin track was at its best and here we probably have the track at its worst that we can have,” the reigning F2 champion told The Race.

“It’s very difficult to judge because the second time with the car on a different track, I didn’t know how the systems would work. At the end of the day, I think it was all pretty smooth,” he added.

Drugovich was ambivalent about whether he preferred a bespoke test day or a ‘working free practice session, saying that he didn’t think he “would prefer one or the other , I think we need to have both.

“Even for the teams to evaluate the driver they need a full day of testing just to get to grips with the car but also a test day in a very dirty track is needed because it’s part of the championship; they race on street circuits so the track is probably always dirty.”

Overall, not only did the experience prove fruitful for Drugovich, but it also went into the realm of blowing the Brazilian’s mind a little.

“I think with these Gen3 cars in this track is probably the most challenging combination of track and car that I’ve ever driven, or one of the most challenging I would say,” he said.

“It was really fun. I can tell I was a bit worried at the beginning, I was just there to see how difficult it would be, but from lap two I already felt quite confident with the car and it was really nice to drive. I really enjoyed it.

“I think my approach [for Berlin post-race test and FP0] was quite similar, obviously, with the big thing of not crashing. That was the important thing.

2024 race seat possible for Drugovich

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Day Three Sakhir, Bahrain

With a driver market set ablaze after news of Nick Cassidy’s move to Jaguar being broken by The Race yesterday, Felipe Drugovich is very much part of an ever-increasing mosaic that is starting slowly to be put together for 2024.

James Rossiter, the team principal of the Maserati MSG squad, made no secret of his admiration for Drugovich when he spoke to The Race prior to Drugovich’s free practice run.

“Felipe has been very impressive in the way he has handled himself and how he has applied his work with us,” said Rossiter.

“I absolutely think he would be a great race driver in this series because he’s clearly intelligent and absorbs things quickly. I believe in nurturing future talent and if an opportunity arises and he wants to do it then I think he would be a great prospect.”

Drugovich is calm about his future even though a race seat in F1 looks as distant as it did after Lance Stroll recovered from his wrist injuries quicker than expected ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix in March.

“Obviously I’m a reserve for Aston [Martin] and I’ve always said my main goal is to be in F1,” he said.

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“I will keep trying that and I’ll keep trying to talk with these guys on the side.

“I think I will try to keep going there but if there is no place there, I can obviously do two programs in parallel, that would be perfect for me. Formula E is a great championship and I would, for sure, enjoy doing it as well.

“Obviously it depends on the other side, but from my side, I would enjoy being here.”

Maserati MSG is not expected to declare its drivers until September at the earliest. It has Edoardo Mortara under contract until the end of 2024 , while Jakarta E-Prix winner Maximilian Guenther’s deal with the team ends after the London E-Prix later this month.

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