The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship made its return to a race circuit last week, with testing from Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo offering three days of on-track action for our teams to get stuck into, as preparations ahead of Round 1 of the 2020/21 season continue.
The trip to Spain afforded Formula E's 12 teams and 24 drivers the only opportunity to get on-track together outside of a race weekend, with the aim of racking up the mileage, proving powertrains and acquainting themselves with their 2020/21 machinery with just over a month before the season opener in Santiago.
Three days and five sessions yielded some 6,000 laps of track time tallied between the drivers in Valencia as they grasped the ideal opportunity to trial an off-season's worth of hard work and development, whilst bedding in new, and returning drivers.
Closer than ever
Testing gave us a glimpse of just how hotly-contested the forthcoming season is likely to be with the whole field separated by little more than three-quarters of a second during the final - and most competitive - session on Tuesday.
To put an exact figure on it, all 24 runners lapped within just 0.761 seconds of one-another, and every driver save for Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) was, incredibly, covered by little over half-a-second.
No Formula E pre-season test has has seen a tighter spread of times, even when the championship required all teams run standardised powertrains in the inaugural 2014/15 campaign.
The top ten runners in that Tuesday session drive for eight different teams, and on top of that, each of the five sessions from Valencia saw a different driver from a different squad, representing a different manufacturer at the top of the timesheets.
ROKiT Venturi Racing's Edoardo Mortara led the way with the fastest lap in Session 1 on Saturday in the customer Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow 02, as he pipped reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa (DS TECHEETAH) by 0.031 seconds, with Oliver Turvey providing encouragement for NIO 333 and its new powertrain with the third fastest time of the morning's running.
Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche) and Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH) ran right to the flag and squeezed in the top two times on Saturday afternoon, with Da Costa once again right at the sharp end, in third spot.
The incumbent champion fired his DS E-TENSE FE20 to the Sunday morning benchmark, before Alex Lynn (Mahindra Racing) narrowly edged out the Portuguese for the then-quickest lap of the test on Sunday afternoon.
A break from on-track duties on Monday thanks to driver media commitments gave teams a chance to digest the data and set themselves up for a marathon six-hour session to close things out on Tuesday, where we saw just how competitive Season 7 is shaping up to be with all but three drivers setting their quickest time of the test that day.
BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Maximilian Guenther flew to a 1:11.760 to make it a hat-trick of testing benchmarks for the team in Valencia, and two on the spin for the young Bavarian, who also sealed a maiden Formula E victory in Santiago last year - a couple of good omens for the 23-year-old ahead of Round 1.
A pinch of salt...
The caveat, as always with testing, is that teams aren't necessarily chasing outright pace and Valencia throws up a different kind of challenge for drivers and engineers than is seen across much of the calendar, which comprises mainly tight, bumpy street circuits rather than fast, flowing permanent circuits.
READ MORE: What is testing, and why is it so important to teams and drivers?
Intricate, pre-determined programmes include long runs, data capture, validation of development work, and energy management experimentation as well as the bedding-in of new drivers and machinery.
What we saw on the timing screens in Valencia may have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it does provide a helpful indicator of where teams stand - and you try telling a racing driver, on-track with 23 of his peers, that lap times don't matter.
Each of the championship's 12 outfits has been flat-out since Season 6 drew to a close in Berlin, with nine of the 12 opting to run with a new car and updated or overhauled powertrains from the beginning of Formula E's first campaign as an FIA World Championship in 2020/21.
The remaining three teams; DS TECHEETAH, Nissan e.dams and DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT, have opted to pour efforts into a later homologation, with updates to come in-season, given the option thanks to Formula E's cost consolidation measures introduced earlier this year.
Between the teams, some 6,000 laps were racked up. That's almost 25,000 kilometres of running over three days. NIO 333 tallied the highest total of 535 laps between Turvey and new signing Tom Blomqvist, whilst Jaguar Racing posted the fewest, with 390 laps.
Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler's Rene Rast clocked the most tours of any driver in any given session, completing 98 laps in Session 5 as the German manufacturer set about proving its all-new powertrain package - the first all-electric drivetrain it has developed from the ground-up.
Coming out of the Valencia test, it looks like DS' decision to delay homologation may prove to be a prudent one. The team had some performance in-hand in Berlin, as Da Costa's early dominance there showed, and he never set a time outside of the top four in Spain last week.
The signs point to him remaining the man to beat in Chile, and DS the team to catch - as you might expect from the incumbent champions.
The new kids on the block Nick Cassidy (Envision Virgin Racing), Norman Nato (ROKiT Venturi Racing) and Jake Dennis (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) all impressed early on in Valencia, as they flew through the first day's testing - disrupted by rain in the morning and a difficult, drying track surface in the afternoon - to come home sixth, 14th and ninth respectively.
Come Tuesday, the trio shook out 10th, 11th and 13th overall on the timesheets with Nato eventually heading home, Dennis and Cassidy.
That undoubtebly constitutes a good opening salvo from the rookies, particularly given the ultra-competitive nature of the field in Formula E, and at this moment in time in-particular - Cassidy in 13th winding up just 0.339 seconds away from Guenther's ultimate pace.
Mahindra commits to Gen3
As Formula E began its first season as an FIA World Championship in earnest, Indian manufacturer Mahindra took to the pit-lane in Valencia to reaffirm its strong, long-term relationship by committing to the Formula E Gen3 era, starting in 2022.
The Mahindra Group aims to put half a million electric vehicles on Indian roads by 2025 and believes in Formula E’s ongoing role as an essential proving ground for future race-to-road electric vehicle and sustainable mobility technologies.
One of Formula E’s founding teams - and the only Indian manufacturer - the outfit has so far claimed four E-Prix victories, 18 podiums, and 690 championship points, making it one of the most consistent and respected outfits on the grid.
Gen3 marks a new era of performance and efficiency benefits including more powerful, lighter cars, faster charging and cost controls, all with the aim of driving the intense and unpredictable racing for which Formula E has become reknowned to the next level.
Dr. Pawan Goenka, Managing Director and CEO, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. and Chairman, Mahindra Racing, said: “Formula E represents the cutting edge of EV technology and plays a strategic role in realising Mahindra’s vision of the Future of Mobility through our ‘Race to Road’ strategy.
"Our commitment to the Gen3 era of the Formula E championship attunes to our focus, to play a strong role in the entire electric ecosystem, while we also aim to be among the most prominent manufacturers of EVs in India. We are confident that Mahindra Racing’s work on and off-track with the Gen3 car will resonate and provide thrilling experiences to fans and consumers alike.”