JACK NICHOLLS: São Paulo a fascinating showcase of Formula E's facets

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JACK NICHOLLS: São Paulo a fascinating showcase of Formula E's facets

Wow Paulo! There have been a lot of classic races over the last nine seasons in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, and maybe this is recency bias, but for me the last three events are contenders for the top 10 of all time, says Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls.

Pack shot Formula E Sao Paulo

More often than not, what made the series interesting in the early years was a dollop of chaos. That element still exists, see Hyderabad for example, but where Formula E has come into its own this year is the quality of the racing. The last three races – at three new venues – all had the fight for the win going down to the very final lap, with 11 lead changes over the course of the E-Prix.

Formula E has always been about energy management. One of the main reasons the cars have always been able to race well on these tight street circuits is because there have always been long braking zones due to drivers needing to lift early to save energy to make it to the end of the race. Fourty-five minutes of drivers saving their battery life does not exactly sound like the thrilling motorsport spectacle we are all here to watch, yet it is, and it's ever been the case in motorsport that drivers must manage the equipment beneath them - rarely is a race a flat-out sprint without strategy.


This year more than ever, being in the lead of the race is not the place to be until the very end. Those 11 lead changes in Brazil – likely a new Formula E record – as this peloton style of racing keeps us all on the edge of our seats. One of the biggest reasons for this is that the new Gen3 car punches a bigger hole in the air than the Gen2, meaning that being in the lead makes you consume more energy than everyone behind you who can sit in the slipstream and be efficient.

We saw DS PENSKE's Stoffel Vandoorne simply haemorrhaging energy, and at a circuit where more energy had to be recaptured by regen than at any other this season so far, his battery percentage was plummeting faster than a mobile phone on a cold day and he ended up slipping from pole to sixth. In fact, in the last nine races the polesitter has failed to win the race. The even wilder fact is that in the six races so far this season, the polesitter has picked up fewer points (45 points) than the drivers starting in eleventh (46 points).

Stoffel Vandoorne leads in Sao Paulo from pole position Formula E DS

This style of racing is something that is unique to Formula E. There were the great slipstream races at circuits like Monza in the 1950s and 60s, and on some occasions in oval racing in the USA, a driver may sit in the tow for a while to save a bit of fuel, but in Formula E it’s all about timing. Vandoorne went too early in Sao Paulo, trying to keep the lead in the opening laps. Sam Bird arguably went too late, had he stopped energy saving and started pushing one or two laps earlier, he could potentially have won the race. Think back to Nick Cassidy in Hyderabad, when he had more energy left than Jean-Eric Vergne in the race lead, but it was too late to do anything with it.

Although the physical elements of the car are homologated and can't change over the course of the season, the same is not true with the software. Porsche, for example, brought a big software update to São Paulo to try and help with braking, and it seemed to work for Antonio Felix da Costa. He hadn’t made it to the Duels all season, then suddenly he was in the final fighting for Julius Baer Pole Position.

The developments the team will make over the course of the season is going to be fascinating to watch. Despite Porsche’s progress on that front, Sao Paulo proved that the Stuttgart manufacturer's 99X Electric cannot simply carve through the field it could in the opening races of the year, meaning the title fight is well and truly on.