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Season 7 will fire into life on February 26 & 27 with Rounds 1 & 2 from historic Ad-Diriyah. The Riyadh Street Circuit always throws up a cracker, and this year's double-header is set to be the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship's most memorable trip to Saudi Arabia yet.
A number of minor tweaks and changes have been made to the 21-corner Riyadh Street Circuit; enough to make teams' engineers think again ahead of the season-opening double-header.
Every eventuality is accounted for in Formula E, as teams and drivers strive to bank as much data as they possibly can in order to optimise their software and perfect the balance between usable energy and outright speed by pinpointing the best regen zones and honing the ideal race-long strategy.
So any change, however minor, is key. As a result of track resurfacing work since the last running of the Diriyah E-Prix, Turns 9 & 10, 12 & 13, Turn 14 - particularly key as the long drag down the back straight follows - and Turn 18 have all been gently reprofiled and have the potential to throw up a curve ball where fine margins count.
What starts out as a dusty, sandy track on a Thursday always sees a high level of evolution as the cars blast the circuit's surface ever more clear with each session. Combine that with the rubber laid down by the running, and teams will be constantly adapting to the shifting conditions from shakedown on Thursday to the end of Round 2 on Saturday - that change of surface since Season 6 will be firmly in engineers' minds.
"Saudi is one of the most complicated circuits. It’s very high speed, especially the middle of the lap and the walls are very close - there's no margin for error," says Mercedes-Benz EQ's Stoffel Vandoorne. "The fact it’s in the desert as well, in a sandy environment, means there’s a lot of evolution. Usually, the conditions are very tricky and slippery to start off with. We have to continually adapt as the track changes and it makes for a big challenge."
The 2021 Diriyah E-Prix will break new ground for Formula E as it hosts the championship's first ever night race.
The fast and flowing 2.49km circuit, flanking the stunning At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site, will this year be lit up by 24 Formula E cars and their Halos, as well as the latest low-power LED technology around the circuit. These reduce energy consumption by up to 50 per cent compared to non-LED units, and they will be powered by sustainably-sourced biofuel generators.
What will the shift into the night mean for the drivers?
"It’s one of the most fun tracks for sure," says Formula E Champion Antonio Felix da Costa (DS TECHEETAH). "The second sector with the high speed downhill coming back up the hill reminds be a bit of the Macau Grand Prix circuit and it’s a lot of fun combining that with the proper 90-degree city track corners and hairpins. It’s really tight in some spots and it just makes for a great race and one of the best circuits on the calendar.
READ MORE: The most competitive grid in motorsport: Formula E's Season 7 line-up, team-by-team
"We'll race in the evening and that shifts our whole day forward with the first Formula E's night races. With the time difference from Europe, I would ordinarily have to do some jetlag adjustments but I won’t be doing that here.
"Temperatures are normally a big topic for us in Saudi. Not only for the batteries but also the tyres and warmup procedures – and in the way we prepare a qualifying session and map out a race.
"At this time of year, its usually pretty cold in the day and very, very cold at night – so I’m expecting a difference to our preparation and how we get things working in the right window. It’ll be the complete opposite to what we’re used to in Diriyah."
"I'm looking forward to it, it does add an extra challenge, obviously, from a visibility point of view, but also from a technical standpoint, with racing at a different time, and optimising the tyre and car's performance," agrees Jaguar Racing's Mitch Evans.
"Those things will change a lot, so it's going to add another challenging element that we're all looking forward to. For me, to tick off that that milestone of a first night race is going to be amazing."
"There’s not too much different in terms of the driving," adds Vandoorne. "Conditions are a bit cooler which means the track is actually quicker at night. You can get a bit more tunnel vision, and everything seems a bit faster because of the way the circuit is lit and the darkness around. So, it just makes it much more exciting during the racing and also for the fans. Everything looks cooler at night!"
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