DIRIYAH TRACK GUIDE: Dicing in the desert, in the dark

Season 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship fires into life on 28 & 29 January with Rounds 1 & 2 from historic Ad-Diriyah. The Riyadh Street Circuit is a favourite of drivers up and down the pit-lane and always puts on a show. 

The fast and flowing 21-corner, 2.49km circuit flanks the stunning At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ad-Diriyah. The first half of the lap is made up of a 'bobsleigh run' of fast dipping, undulating corners with barriers looming either side - the drivers love it and it's hard to believe 22 of them race side-by-side down there, at speed, after seeing it in the flesh.

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Along with the undulations, there are turns of every type, plus some long straight runs. Overtaking is always plenty possible in Diriyah, with the best opportunity coming at the 90-degree right hander at Turn 18 - just prior to the ATTACK MODE zone on the outside of 19. 

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The circuit's never without drama, either. The Safety Car - now Porsche's Taycan for Season 8 - has made an appearance in every encounter in Saudi Arabia to-date. Good job there'll be time added on for neutralisations from 2021/22, then!

What does the shift into the night mean for the drivers?

Last time around, the Saudi Arabian season-opener hosted Formula E's first night races. In Season 8, the circuit will again be lit by 22 Formula E cars and their Halos, plus 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.

How did the drivers find racing at night in 2020/21?

I love racing in Saudi – the track is amazing,” says double champion Antonio Felix da Costa (DS TECHEETAH). “I was the first winner there in Season 5 and I’ve got great memories. We go well every time we go there.

“With it being a night race, your practice and qualifying happen during the day and then you race at night. Temperatures change, along with the track surface with the sand getting brushed away.

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"Your perceptions also change with the shadows changing. It takes a little bit of adaptation and training to the eye but I love the different variables and it definitely creates a better show for the fans. It’s very cool to race there, and great to watch – especially at night.”

“It’s a great track and I enjoy it a lot,” says Pascal Wehrlein (Porsche). “It’s a high-speed circuit, not too small and not too big. It has every type of corner, uphill, downhill, blind corners, slow ones and lots of overtaking opportunities.

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“It showed last year what a spectacle it can be and the night races with the circuit and the cars lit up on the Halo just made it look so cool.”

It’s such a special event – very unique,” adds ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara. “The track is a mega mix of corners and it’s very challenging because you have to dare to go close to the walls. It’s one of my favourite places to race.

“The level of grip varies with the night race and you can definitely feel that between sessions. There’s a big, big evolution in terms of grip across the whole double-header and you can see that in the lap times – at first we can be six or seven seconds off the pace at the start of the weekend.”

The 2021/22 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship gets underway in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia with two night races, on 28 & 29 January