JACK NICHOLLS: Formula E field shows how hard-fought overtaking should be done

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JACK NICHOLLS: Formula E field shows how hard-fought overtaking should be done

One of the many unknowns going into this season was the amount of overtaking we would see with the new GEN3 car. After a cautious season opener in Mexico City, Diriyah showed us that I don’t think we have much to worry about.

Diriyah start overtaking

The concerns were fair. Because of the extra regenerative powers of the new car, there would be less of a reliance on coasting in order to save energy. In a Gen2 car, the driver would come off the throttle, coast towards the corner, and then deploy regen at the optimum moment to slow down for the corner. A rival behind could take advantage of the lifting phase, stay on the throttle a little longer, and make an overtake into the braking zone.

READ MORE: The stats and records that made the CORE Diriyah E-Prix

In the GEN3 car, it can regenerate so much more energy that the lifting phase is much shorter, meaning the ‘braking distances’ – or ‘slowing distance‘ for want of a more accurate phrase – is shorter, and therefore there is less opportunity for overtaking.

I will say, that I’m not always convinced that more overtaking means a better show. One of my favourite every Formula E races was in Season 4, when Jean-Eric Vergne and Lucas di Grassi were nose to tail for almost the entirety of the Punta del Este E-Prix. Vergne held the Brazilian off, there were zero overtakes, but the tension was superb.

Even this season, watching Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren) trying to pass Mahindra Racing's Di Grassi in Mexico City, or Sam Bird (Jaguar TCS Racing) trying to pass McLaren's Rene Rast in Diriyah were two battles that had me on the edge of my seat. On both occasions, the attacking driver wasn’t able to get through, but the more difficult the overtake, the more exciting it is to watch. If Bird had just breezed past and finished an easy third, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun to watch!

Wehrlein hugs Dennis at the Diriyah podium

Having said that, there was a load of overtaking in Diriyah! In fact, there were 36 competitive overtakes over the first race of the weekend, as Pascal Wehrlein and Jake Dennis carved through the field to finish first and second from ninth and 11th in race one. That number is not including passes made when drivers were in the ATTACK MODE activation zone, nor through drivers retiring or crashing out.

In motor racing, overtaking should be hard. That’s why we are here, to watch drivers on the absolute edge of bravery to make a pass, or drivers doing everything in their power to keep a faster driver behind. We saw plenty of both in Diriyah, which only whets my appetite a little more for the next time we get on track in Hyderabad on 11 February!