Rebooting after a five-month hiatus owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship bounds back to action in the German capital starting August 5. The historic Tempelhof airport location will host six rounds of fully electric racing, over the course of nine days, in a unique format that will crown season championships for drivers and teams, while adhering to stringent health and safety precautions.
When season six paused after the Marrakesh, Morocco, race in February, five rounds had been completed, with stops including the two-race November opener in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, and continuing on to Santiago, Chile, and Mexico City, Mexico.
The innovative Berlin meeting – essentially three double-header races with a short break between each pair – will wrap up the 11-round 2019-2020 season. Two rounds will use the familiar 10-turn, 2.4-kilometer (1.5 mile) course configuration of previous Berlin races, while a pair of entirely new layouts will be employed for the remaining four rounds. Because of the COVID-19 situation, no spectators will be allowed on site.
For those manufacturers new to the series this season – namely Porsche and Mercedes-Benz – this plan somewhat levels the field, according to ABB Formula E Ambassador Simona de Silvestro, test and development driver for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, which is an official ABB partner in promoting e-mobility. The only exposure to the layouts for the two added tracks for all of the series’ 24 drivers will come during sessions in their team simulators. Even the virtual practice and set-up time will be minimal, as the teams only receive the track data two weeks before the races.
The simulator time at Porsche’s motorsport center in Germany affords the team an opportunity to work out race-day tactics and strategies in a controlled setting, much as ABB’s Digital Twin technology allows customers to test out robotic configurations on virtual production lines before physical lines are built. “One of the most important areas for a team with no benchmark data from previous seasons is energy management,” de Silvestro says, “and the simulator proves pretty accurate compared to the actual racing.”
Drivers used the five-month downtime to train at home, de Silvestro adds, with running and bicycling being accessible methods of staying in condition. Drivers also kept their track skills sharp by competing in the virtual ABB Formula E Race at Home Challenge, a highly realistic e-sports series based on the cars, tracks and rules of the actual Formula E competition.
Sébastien Buemi, driver for the Nissan e.dams team and an ABB Formula E Ambassador, who has won the Berlin race twice in previous seasons, says that the Berlin plan reflects a sensible approach to 2020’s different expectations. “At other times, you would have thought six races in nine days is insane,” he says, “but for drivers this isn’t so hard – it’s the mechanics who have it tough.”
That’s because the compressed schedule affects far more than repair work and the usual maintenance chores of battery charging and looking after wear items like brakes and tires. “There is so much data to be analyzed after each session, and even for a normal race, the team may work late into the night,” Buemi points out. There’s a potential benefit to all of the accelerated data analysis from each lap of practice, qualifying and racing, though: “As we gather data on the track, the cars ought to be quicker each day,” Buemi notes.
Dealing with this extraordinary workload is another area where ABB’s expertise overlaps the experience of the racing crucible. Processing enormous data flows from sensor networks and taking actions based on the stream is a specialty expressed in the ABB Ability™ portfolio of digital solutions.
Like other international motorsport events now returning to action, the Berlin races will take place without spectators, under stringent health and safety precautions that permit only essential staff to attend. In compliance with German government guidelines, a maximum of 1,000 people, including local suppliers and medical crews, will be on site at any given time. Medical precautions include mandatory coronavirus testing prior to the races, as well as screening every day upon arrival at the track. Housing and transportation for all personnel will be tightly controlled to prevent contact with the outside population.
Coming into the Berlin rounds, António Félix da Costa of the DS Techeetah team leads the points standings ahead of Mitch Evans (Panasonic Jaguar Racing) and Alexander Sims (BMW i Andretti Motorsport), both of whom are very much in striking distance of the title. Each of the three has won a race this season, da Costa having taken the checkered flag at the Marrakesh race.
When all six Berlin rounds have finished on August 13, there will be new ABB Formula E driver and team champions – and a dozen exhausted crews looking forward to a new season despite shorter-than-normal downtime.