15 Oct 21
- FAN ZONE
10 Aug 21
Flughafen Tempelhof is an infamous locale on the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship calendar, the unforgiving concrete that lines the historic airfield is testing for both energy and tyre management. One driver who has faced the challenge and come out on top is BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Maximilian Guenther.
"Tempelhof is a historic place; it’s a special location. With the track surface, it's the concrete that stands out the most, as you know, it was meant for planes," opens Maximilian Guenther, speaking ahead of the season-ending BMW i Berlin E-Prix presented by CBMM Niobium.
Both Berlin and Tempelhof have been a long-standing stop on the Formula E calendar, and the all-electric racing series is getting set for its sixth trip to the historic airport. The last visit saw an incredible six races completed over nine days, with three different circuit configurations.
Guenther knows what it takes to win around there, with the BMW i Andretti Motorsport driver scoring an emphatic win on home soil last season. With a return to Berlin for the Season 7 double-header finale, and two different layouts to master, the German is cool and measured in his approach to tackling this unique track.
The airfield-turned-public space is almost like a fantasy race location from a video game, and popping up in city locations and constructing unrivalled racetracks is a fundamental part of Formula E. And this 2.4km circuit that appears around Tempelhof's concrete apron is no different.
The track surface is made up of unforgiving concrete slabs that test not only the drivers’ skills in energy conservation, but tyre management is also thrown into the mix, as Guenther explains: “The way the tyres operate on it, and especially how much tyre wear you have, it’s unique about this track.”
"There aren't many bumps which are typical of other (Formula E) circuits. Instead there are different plates of concrete next to each other, which creates this constant vibration when you drive. So that's another element where you always have these small vibrations through the steering wheel throughout the whole lap."
As Guenther notes, there is still one familiar sight lining the circuit: walls. "Like a normal Formula E circuit we still have the walls, so we have to get really close to them and use all the road available without making a mistake. But generally, this track is quite wide, wider than a typical Formula E street circuit. So, a good thing is the overtaking, we have really good opportunities."
In the summer months in Berlin you'll find sunbathers soaking in the rays and making the most of the open spaces in and around Tempelhof, if it wasn't for the small matter of a Formula E finale this weekend, the forecast would be looking great for them. For all-electric racing, Guenther recognises that the hot weather throws another variable into the mix, playing havoc on the battery temperature and the tyre degradation.
"It's dependent on ambient track temperature about how critical tyre management will be," said Guenther. "Certainly, I remember from last year, it was a factor already in these races that you needed to manage not only your energy, which on a track like this is crucial, but we had to look after the tyre condition. This can be the difference between winning or losing the race, especially in the later stages."
"I would say these are the two main challenges. I don't know how hot it will be, if it's super-hot then there could be an additional element, which is the battery temperature."
If it is a scorcher, however, the BMW i Andretti driver will surely remember the race under the blazing sun in Santiago last season, when he scored his maiden victory - becoming the youngest race winner in Formula E history. He added: "That was the hardest race I remember from Formula E.
"It was good for sure, but that was one of those races where there were multiple elements to deal with and to get all these in the right window is very complex; both for us in the car but also for the team supporting on the pit wall."
Last season in Berlin gave the field a completely new challenge in facing three different track configurations at the same location over six races and there'll be a flavour of this format with Formula E's first double-header taking place across two layouts.
On Saturday, it will be the traditional anti-clockwise Tempelhof that we all know well, but the next day will see the circuit flipped and reversed with the return of the NILREB layout.
Guenther thinks that the one-day racing that typifies Formula E has given them the necessary preparation to take on any trials thrown at them.
“Of course, this is a challenge”, started Guenther. “But I think this is really what our skills are all about in that we can adapt super quickly to new circumstances. In Formula E, we’re used to short prep times, unlike in other championships.
“So, we’re used to this challenge. But of course, it is something special to go from one day to the next on a different layout. Especially with it being the season finale, it’s something I’m really looking forward to.
"Still, the preparation for it will be important, and we always prepare for the races in the simulator. However, this time we need to squeeze two entirely different tracks into our plans because you need to cover all the important bases.”
Without the constraints of the city streets, the Tempelhof Circuit has a bit more freedom to be wider allowing for more passing opportunities and the chance to be a bit more creative as the drivers use the full width of the track.
"Honestly, this track performs well for our cars, the standard layout has some good racing. I mean I had to fight for the win with JEV and Robin (Frijns) was involved right up to the very last lap as well. There are quite a few overtaking opportunities with ATTACK MODE, but even without, if you have good pace and some good energy management, then you can really make a difference on this track."
"On the reverse track, driving wise I enjoy it a lot. It’s a cool challenge to have the circuit the other way around, but for overtaking it’s a bit more difficult than the standard layout. Still, it’s possible as I remember the ATTACK MODE activation zone being quite interesting."
On the subject of ATTACK MODE, Guenther highlighted that exiting the activation zone looks a lot more straightforward sat at home: "It looks much easier on TV, from the bird’s eye camera, than it actually is from inside the cockpit! Your view is much more blind that you would think it’s crazy.
"The blind spot is quite big inside these cars. So basically, you go into ATTACK MODE and you’re thinking, ‘what is the gap to the car behind and the next car behind that’ and you kind of know what you will expect on exit. Even so, you don’t really see the cars until very late. But yes, you get good acceleration coming from a different angle, and you can make a switch back immediately.
"So, this of course, is a good scenario, as you can immediately gain the position back, but it's far from being straightforward. I can tell you that."
Guenther scored his first two Formula E victories last season, with his second coming on home soil in Berlin - a moment that he remembers fondly despite the cheering fans being absent from the grandstands. As the doors open to 10,000 potential supporters this year - and that it's BMW's last dance in Formula E for now - Guenther's doubly motivated to put on another performance this time around.
“Even though there were no spectators last year, it was still special to win here. As a racing driver, you always want to win your home race, but having said that, the motivation a year after with fans back in the grandstands, is very high.”
“Just imagine repeating that. It would be big, especially after such a season where so many guys now go into the last weekend with the chance of winning the championship.
“I don’t need to be good at mathematics to know that a home win would be good for the championship for me. It’s also a home race for BMW and their last two races as a factory entry in Formula E, so everyone is super motivated.”
The maths does make the chance of winning Formula E’s first-ever FIA World Championship appear achievable for Guenther. Despite sitting down in 15th position, he is within 33 points of Nyck de Vries (Mercedes-EQ) at the head of the Drivers’ standings.
However, the German is remaining pragmatic in his approach to the double-header season finale: “For me, the philosophy is unchanged, which might sound boring, but I always go into each race day like any other to try and extract all that I can.
“To be honest, from the position that I am coming from, it’s the only thing you can do. So that’s why I’m just doing my own thing, as I know that if things go really well that there is a chance.
“I will fight until the very end, and then we will see after the last race if it was enough or not.”
With BMW i exiting at the end of the season, Guenther remained coy about his plans for next season but did admit he still sees his future in Formula E. The German said with a smile: “I can tell you that the Formula E dates are saved in my personal calendar for next year. I’m planning to be on the grid for sure.”
“I see my future in Formula E and am such a big fan of the championship. Right now, the focus is on my job this year and then in the coming weeks I will make a decision about my future, but I’m very positive about being on the grid next year.”