Sam Bird won last season’s Buenos Aires ePrix for the DS Virgin Racing team. Here he reflects on his third Formula E win and what makes the track one of the best on the calendar.
“I’ve always been quite good at keeping my minimum speeds up. Last year’s car certainly wasn’t fantastic at braking. But where I was able to get a gap to the cars behind me was through Turns 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and just make sure that I always pegged them going down into Turn 1. I always made sure that I had enough breathing space into Turn 1 that nobody could get close under braking there. And then I played with the gap a little bit. So if the gap was bigger I would do a bigger lift/coast into 1 to save a bit more energy and basically try to top it up a little bit, knowing that people were going to come back to me.
“I knew it was going to be really tough, I knew that I didn’t have the best car in the race and I knew that at some point I was going to have to defend for the lead. The safety car obviously helped everybody go a bit longer and a bit quicker, and then obviously when Seb [Buemi] was behind if he wasn’t close enough into 1 I could save because I knew he’d attack into 4 and vice versa.
“Last year was difficult not only for the energy, but the battery temperature. Because when we go there it tends to be quite hot. If we lose regen, boy this race will be really, really tough in terms of energy, so you need to manage that. The best and easiest areas to manage your energy are Turn 1, 4 and a bit at Turn 7, everywhere else is just a little topping it up.”
Corner by corner
“Turn 1 is just after the startline, but it’s not actually where the timing line is for qualifying. It’s very important to brake late and deep – probably around the 100m board in qualifying. Brake in a straight line and then try to get a late-ish apex, through Turn 1, because you don’t want to land up too wide out of 1 because then you make Turn 2 too much of a corner. And somebody that’s prepared Turn 2 better will get a better slingshot out of 2 and through 3 and down the straight into 4.
“This is somewhere that Sebastien Buemi was extremely good last year. He would set people up into 1 and take a great late apex into 1 and get out 1 really well and through 2 and then he would overtake very easily out of Turn 3 and into 4. 3 is easy flat. The track actually kinks slightly to the right on the braking into 4, so if you position your car to the middle if the track you are perfectly straight for braking.
“For 4, you are probably braking at about 80m. You take all the kerb on the inside and on the exit of 4 the track widens a bit. There are some barriers that have caught people out right on the exit, but after that on the racing line it opens out a little bit and allows you to sweep out towards the wall, but then you have to work very hard to get the car back to the left-hand side, brake in a straight line for 5.
“When you look at it on the TV it looks quite flat on the run from 4 to 5, but it’s not. It actually rises up and then goes downhill right at the last minute when you are braking into 5, which makes it very difficult to get the front into Turn 5, and if you are half a car width offline in 5 it’s so dusty and dirty that you lose so much time. It’s a very difficult area to overtake but there is an awful lot of time that you can lose there. Again on the exit you use all the track before bringing it back to the right-hand side for 6, take a very small amount of kerb and then push to the limit of what you can do to the wall on the exit, especially in qualifying.
“Now you’ve done from 1-6 and you think ‘I’m on a good a lap here, I just need to do 7,8 and 9’. 7 is one of the trickiest corners on the track. It’s bumpy, it transitions from tarmac to concrete and it’s bumpy concrete. And you can think that you’ve braked late enough but if the tyres aren’t happy and you’ve just chosen the wrong bump to go over at the wrong angle, you can have oversteer and it might not really be your fault, it’s just one of those things.
“Execute Turn 7 well and you’ve got the very bumpy quite quick chicane at Turn 8 and Turn 9. It’s just a case of how much minimum speed can I get away with without hitting the walls here. You’ve got some kerbs on the inside of Turn 9, that you really attack, really hammer. We saw Seb clip the inside of the wall at Turn 8, which took him out of the race in Season 1.
“So then there’s the timing line, which is where we give out energy readings to the team. 10, 11, 12, is I think the best combination of corners in Formula E. If you look at the camera view, you’ll see on the TV that Turn 10 is maybe the best camera view in motorsport. The cars look like they are doing 1000mph through there. We’re not, but It looks fantastic.
“Through 10 you have to have great minimum speed but without using all the road on the exit and then you’ve got to work extremely hard to bring it back to the left-hand side on the exit. The really quick guys are confident enough to take 11 flat.
“The track surface around here is smooth and it does grip up as the day goes on. But last year my car was quite on edge through 10, 11 and 12. I think in qualifying I had negative 80-degree lock going through 11 at one point, while trying to keep it nailed – squeaky bum time – and then obviously it’s just a very quick change of direction through 11 and 12. 12 is easy flat. You can see how well you’ve come through 10, 11 and 12 not only by the delta, but by the speed that you are carrying down the start straight. That’s such a nice section of corners. It’s Formula E’s version of Maggots and Becketts – a quick left, right, left. That’s an area of the track that I really enjoy.”