The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship enjoys a novel start to the new season: In Diriyah (Saudi Arabia), two night races will be contested on 26/27 February for the first time in the history of the innovative electric racing series. The TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team travels to the season-opening doubleheader event with fond memories. In November 2019, the squad celebrated a successful Formula E debut on the street circuit not far from Riyadh, with André Lotterer scoring second place with the Porsche 99X Electric. His new teammate, Pascal Wehrlein, contests his maiden race as a Porsche works driver in Diriyah. The Formula E season was originally scheduled to start in Santiago de Chile in January, however it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and relocated to Saudi Arabia.
Porsche tackles its second season with a very clear commitment to Formula E. The sports car manufacturer uses the fully electric single-seater sport for systematic development work and to expand its expertise in the field of battery-electric drives. After the successful debut season of the Porsche 99X Electric, the engineers at Weissach have made extensive improvements to the powertrain. The team has also been restructured: Martin Füchtner takes over the role of Technical Project Leader Formula E. Malte Huneke, who held this position since the launch of the Porsche Formula E programme, is now responsible for the overall vehicle development of all Porsche Motorsport racing vehicles.
With twelve teams and 24 drivers, the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship boasts another strong line-up in season 7. Ten automobile manufacturers are represented – more than in any other international motor racing series.
Q&A for the Diriyah E-Prix
Amiel Lindesay, Head of Operations Formula E
Waiting for the season to get underway was a real test of patience. Are you and your team excited to start in Diriyah?
“We can hardly wait to finally get racing again after the long break. The start of a new season is always exciting, especially for us. This time, we’re much better prepared and we’re also starting with higher expectations compared to last season. Because of the pandemic, the season was very short. For us as a rookie team, that proved to be a major handicap because we didn’t get the critical track experience due to the cancelled races. Now we’re all hoping for a full and, for us, successful 2021 season.”
How difficult has it been to maintain motivation within the team over the last months – and how important is a successful start to the season?
“That was quite a challenge. We’re a racing team and we want to race. The lockdown had a profound impact – despite all the virtual opportunities that we could utilise for the further development of the Porsche 99X Electric. Then came the cancellation of the season-opening round in Chile. However, we’re used to reacting quickly to new developments. Flexibility is part of our everyday life. We’ve always had the team spirit and solidarity, so we’re heading into the 2021 year feeling highly motivated. Obviously, a successful start to the season would help. However, it’s much more important to start with a perfectly prepared car and to always give 100 percent. We’ve been working on this over the past few months. Everything else will then fall into place.”
What is different now compared to when you started Formula E a year ago, and what are your goals for the second season?
“Our rookie season was a rollercoaster. We simply lacked the consistency you need to be among the frontrunners at the end. But that’s pretty normal in the first year. Now we have to take the next step. Taking the experiences from our debut season, we can now focus on our track performance and on making our car faster. If we can achieve this, we’ll also achieve our goals: We want to win races and be world champions.”
André Lotterer, Porsche works driver (#36)
You started your first Formula E season with Porsche with second place in Diriyah. What’s the big challenge for you this time?
“Formula E is a really difficult championship. To be successful, everything has to come together. You have to qualify as far up the field as possible, get through the race without any problems and have a good strategy when it comes to energy management. And you also need a well-balanced car. The big challenge for us will be to be well prepared for every eventuality so that we can respond quickly if something doesn’t go according to plan. That’s the key to success. We grew together as a team with these challenges and we’ve taken major development steps compared to last season. But now we have to implement them, especially in critical situations.”
Has this also changed the goals for the season?
“Of all the teams, we’re facing the steepest learning curve. Expect a good performance. We learned a lot during our debut season. During our test drives, as well, we saw that our engineers did a great job in developing the Porsche 99X Electric. So, yes, this has changed our objectives. In our first season, our goal was to finish on the podium, and we achieved that. Now we want to win. Obviously, this increases the pressure, but I’m sure we can handle it.”
You suddenly had a lot of free time after the cancellation of the season-opener in Santiago de Chile. How did you use it?
“That was an unexpected change of plan, but I quickly adapted to the new situation. I improved my sports programme and added other disciplines: for instance, I took up kick boxing. And I also spent time in the simulator.”
Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche works driver (#99)
For you, the break from racing was particularly long. Are you looking forward to the start of the season?
“I can’t wait. The break was extremely long for me. My last race was almost a year ago in Marrakesh. Of course, we tested in between and made good progress, but that doesn’t replace racing. Everyone in the team is eager to use what we learned from the tests in the race. I’m hoping for a successful start to the season in Diriyah and for the rest of the season to go as planned.”
You contest your first race for Porsche in Diriyah. Is that something special for you, and what’s possible this season?
“It’s definitely something special. After all, Porsche is one of the most successful automobile manufacturers in motorsport. For me, it’s a great honour and a great motivation to be part of the Porsche Motorsport family. I’m pretty familiar with Formula E and I know what’s important in this racing series. We tested extensively to prepare for the new season and we’re well equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. We have everything it takes to win races – and that’s precisely our goal.”
Are night races particularly challenging?
“I really enjoy driving at night. The atmosphere is very special. Everything seems a lot faster. The track will be brightly lit. Still, as a driver, you have to really concentrate because you have a smaller field of vision and it’s harder to spot the reference points. At least we won’t be blinded by the sun.”
The Diriyah E-Prix is contested on a 2.494-kilometre street circuit featuring 21 corners, which runs past old fortifications and traditional houses made of clay. “It’s a real driver’s track, very demanding,” says André Lotterer, who is particularly pleased that there are not as many 90-degree bends and hairpins as there are on most other Formula E circuits. “In the first 14 corners you go only left, right, uphill, downhill, fast, slow. As a driver, you don’t have the time to check your energy use. Only after turn 14 can you look at the steering wheel.” And the main issues? “The difficulty is to set up your car so that it runs well in different situations. It’s also tricky to find a good rhythm. And the wind blows sand from the desert onto the track, which can make it very slippery.”
Eight races make up the provisional calendar of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship for the first half of 2021.
Race 1 – 26th February: Diriyah (Saudi Arabia)
Race 2 – 27th February: Diriyah (Saudi Arabia)
Race 3 – 10th April: Rome (Italy)
Race 4 – 24th April: Valencia (Spain)
Race 5 – 8th May: Monaco (Monaco)
Race 6 – 22nd May: Marrakesh (Morocco)
Race 7 – 5th June: Santiago de Chile (Chile)
Race 8 – 6th June: Santiago de Chile (Chile)