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Edition

Australia
Opinion
Formula E Shanghai ePrix II

The good, the bad and the bizarre on Formula E's return to China

OPINION: The on-track action provided a pair of enthralling races on Formula E’s return to China for the first time in five years, with the inaugural visit to the Shanghai International Circuit. But, away from the racing, laborious stewarding decisions and unusual technical problems threatened to take off the shine

Marshals clear away the cars of Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche, Porsche 99X Electric Gen3, Dan Ticktum, ERT Formula E Team, ERT X24

“It could be right on the cusp of tripping over and then you’ve got 22 cars stopped out on the track and we all look a bit silly.” Andretti team principal Roger Griffiths’ comments during the opening practice session ahead of last weekend’s Shanghai E-Prix double-header reflected what many already felt, including this writer, that it did indeed look a bit silly.

No more than five minutes of FP1 had taken place before the red flags were called into action and it wasn’t long before the TV cameras quickly picked up the bizarre sight of five cars stopped around the track.

This included both Porsches of Pascal Wehrlein and Antonio Felix da Costa, both ERTs of Dan Ticktum and Sergio Sette Camara, as well as the Mahindra of Nyck de Vries. The fact that cars from three different teams had all seemingly suffered the same issue just moments apart immediately signified it was likely a problem with a universal component.

This was linked back to new software that had been installed on all cars ahead of Shanghai by battery supplier WAE, and the cause related to a safety setting where the threshold was set too low, meaning it triggered in several cars and caused them to come to a halt on track.

Nearly 50 minutes later, and with the older software applied to all machines, running resumed without further incident across the next two days. It was far from an ideal situation, but it had at least come at probably the best moment rather than in the midst of a race - which would have been disastrous. And, as Griffiths pointed out, it was seemingly pure luck that more cars weren’t afflicted with the issue. Even so, it was hardly a glowing look for the all-electric championship, although one that was likely missed by many given the time zone differences with Europe.

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There had been much talk ahead of Formula E’s first visit to the Shanghai International Circuit on what style of racing would take place on the truncated version of the grand prix layout, which incorporated the opening sector before cutting back through to the start/finish straight in the middle segment.

Formula E produced some intriguing racing around Shanghai circuit

Formula E produced some intriguing racing around Shanghai circuit

Photo by: Andreas Beil

The infamous peloton racing that has become a staple of the Gen3 era was expected on a level last seen in Misano. And, while there was frenetic racing that produced constant pack battling, by the halfway point of both races it was clear that here were tactical battles centred around track position.

Mitch Evans snatched his second win of the season with a last-lap pass on Wehrlein in the opener, while da Costa’s win in the sequel had come after a well-managed race in stifling heat in a more ‘normal’ contest that should have appeased motorsport traditionalists.

Much criticism has been levelled against the type of racing that Formula E generally produces, with the peloton style of action more akin to something seen on American ovals and very much creating a ‘love it or hate it’ attitude among fans.

With all the footage not available to the stewards on Saturday evening due to problems back in London, it meant an almost embarrassing delay until another verdict of no further action allowed the final result to be ratified

But there can be no denying that the qualifying format Formula E has adopted since the 2021-22 season has to be one of the best currently in motorsport. With the field split into two groups, four drivers from each progress to the duels where they go head-to-head on track at the same time through quarter-, semi- and final stages.

That Jake Hughes claimed pole for the second race of the weekend by a margin of 0.001s, or 3cm, was a superb crescendo to the session as fans watched in real-time the ebb and flow of his battle with Stoffel Vandoorne.

But, while the action on track had been frenetic in China, the pace of the stewards was noticeably more stagnant. Having declined to offer any intervention during Evans and Wehrlein’s battle in race one, post-race the officials decided they did in fact want to investigate an incident where the Porsche driver had cut the penultimate corner.

Evans was among those left frustrated by stewarding decisions

Evans was among those left frustrated by stewarding decisions

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

Having initially announced the wrong investigation before correcting themselves, a verdict of no further action was reached several hours after the chequered flag, allowing Evans to keep his win - despite being “annoyed” that Wehrlein was left unpunished for what he felt was gaining an unfair advantage.

Even with that decision reached, Formula E’s own internal media crew, team PRs and myself were unable to officially proclaim where every driver had finished, as it took until the next day and 16 hours after the race for a final classification to be published.

This was after an investigation into Oliver Rowland was re-opened following a point of appeal against the Nissan driver by DS Penske. Rowland had initially been absolved of pushing Jean-Eric Vergne off track, before suggesting in media interviews he had in fact done so.

With all the necessary footage not available to the stewards on Saturday evening due to problems accessing the material back in London, it meant an almost embarrassing delay until another verdict of no further action allowed the final result to be ratified.

The high of a last-lap overtake for the win had all but been forgotten, or possibly even cared about, as off-track decisions once again felt like a shot in the foot for the championship.

At a time when Formula E is producing such divisive racing and a title battle that seems to be heading Nick Cassidy’s way even as early as the penultimate round in Portland, the last thing it needs is further widespread technical problems and protracted stewarding decisions before the end of the season.

Technical problems and lengthy delays for officials' decisions overshadowed China's Formula E return

Technical problems and lengthy delays for officials' decisions overshadowed China's Formula E return

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

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Edition

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