Formula E's official pre-season test at Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo offers up the opportunity for teams to run their cars at will over the course of three days and six sessions - with between 5-6,000 laps likely to be racked up between them over their time in Spain.
Formula E's 11 teams and 22 drivers can rack up the mileage and reacquaint themselves with their GEN3 machinery, after working away on development since the final chequered flag fell on Season 9 back in August.
There's the opportunity for teams to run their cars at will over those six sessions. Each of the championship's outfits has been flat-out since the 2022/23 campaign closed. All are firmly focussed on getting the most out of the GEN3, which rings in Formula E's biggest technological leap yet, with the cars the fastest, lightest, and most sustainable electric race car ever built.
Testing ahead of Season 9 was a different beast, with teams vying to extract as much as they could from an all-new platform for GEN3 and Season 9 with a 200mph (280kph) top speed, a 60kg lighter, smaller chassis, an additional front powertrain and no rear brakes plus a power output 100kW up on GEN2 at 350kw with double the regen capacity.
As Phil Charles explains, Valencia is the perfect opportunity to trial an off-season's hard work and development, whilst bedding in new, and returning drivers. Run-time key given it's the only official pre-season test on offer in Formula E, and the only time all 22 cars will be on-track at the same time outside of a race weekend.
Teamwork, development and learning
With so many changes made to everything from software to setup, and countless hours spent on dynos, rigs and test benches and in pounding the virtual miles on simulators, it's vital that teams have a real-world benchmark. Getting on-track enables engineers to tally whether what they've seen in theory transpires in practice at a race circuit.
Teams devise intricate testing programmes in a bid to prove their thinking and direction as well as their new powertrains and cars. Raw pace and lap times are rarely the priority, with build, pure parts proving, teamwork and learning from "over the fence", as Charles explains.
"Valencia is always a really action-packed week," he says. "You arrive there having tested your car for quire a while but you’re still building and integrating things. Bits are arriving in final specification that you’ve been running on the test cars so you have to make sure everything’s ready and delivered on time to build the car and make sure everything’s ready to go.
"Some of this happens in the factory before you get to Valencia in the factory, and some happens at the track. All the teams will be bolting the cars together, bringing that final specification in place for Valencia.
"Then it’s the first time you’ve got two cars on-track, so your engineering group has to cover both. That’s a little change when we’ve been more used to running one car for a while now, and suddenly there’s two teams worth of people to speed up and get working in-sync. You’ve got to remember how to communicate across the garage and share information.
"All teams will go through a bit of a process. You’ll do a little bit of setup work, a little bit of tuning to suit Valencia – like you would at any race track. Then, you might go through a load of processes that you will do at a race. In a few weeks’ time in Mexico, you’ll make sure all the systems work and everything makes sense. This could be rehearsing how you get up to the grid for example. In the final throes of getting ready, I might make sure I put time aside to tick things off. Everything we need to do ahead of the first race launch in Mexico we’ll start to rehearse.
"It's a really interesting week bringing everything together between finding yourself some more performance and trying to see where you might be compared to everybody else – see if their car goes around the corner the same way as yours.
"We’re all stood peeking over the fence, seeing what’s different and can we replicate that if it works for them? It evolves really fast and things are changing by the day."
Big leaps ahead of Season 9 testing, now: optimisation
With such a big changeup thank to GEN3, Charles described the process last year of ticking off the big chunks of development work first before entering the current phase where teams are scouring for optiimisations as they collectively learn more and more about the "new toys in their toybox".
"The time’s rapidly ticked away, and we’re still developing – we haven’t finished," he said before GEN3 hit the track for the first time in 2022. "As you go into the start of the season, you’ll see it evolve massively.
"As you go week by week, we’re all learning about the new toys we’ve got in our toybox to play with. We’re learning at a huge rate even as the cars are coming together and we’re putting all the systems together and running the cars around.
"The next part is really a series of steps in optimisation. That takes a lot of work. You get the big bits done relatively quickly – we get a car running, you design, build and then you get it running round a track. But to bring it all together and get the real finishing bits that make it all work is the hard bit.
"You’ll see the order change race to race – I’m absolutely certain of that and it will make it a fantastic championship this season. You’ll see drivers adapting themselves to the race cars and new rules and you’ll see engineers getting on top of those and making their own adaptations. The same is true in the way that they and the systems make use of the new tyres.
"It’s a really interesting engineering problem – set of problems and challenges – that we’re dealing with on a continual basis."
Feedback is key
Drivers are key in the feedback loop, that goes without saying.
"We’ve got all these big changes in the car and you use your drivers and lean into them all the time anyway – they help engineer the car. By giving really good feedback, engineers know what to do with the car to help the driver.
"First of all, we’re used to the feedback we get from the drivers and we’re in tune with our language. The second thing is that we also know what makes them go quickly. We know how to engineer the cars to be in tune with them. It’s a two-way thing that’s really important.
"The goal is obviously to learn as much as possible," says Maximilian Guenther. "Everybody has their own programme of software and setup development that they want to try.
"It’s very structured for all teams, with run plans to follow for each of the three days. If you don’t have issues, you follow it strictly. On a rainy day, you react a bit and change things with the track surface changing throughout the day. I know what our plans are for each day before we start.
"We try things in all directions. There are smaller things to tune and optimise but there are bigger things that I would never try on a race weekend that we can try here."
Guenther feels that times are not the object of testing. His focus is on driving development forward - equipping the team with a car best placed to deliver results come lights out in Mexico City.
"There are some people that look to the timesheets and want to be on top of the times but for us, it’s important to learn – it’s not just this weekend," continues the German. "You look at the times at the end of the day but it’s not the most important thing.
"The track’s different to the usual circuits we race on but it’s still a useful opportunity with three days of testing to keep tuning the car from the team’s side and from the driver’s side to explore different things with qualifying and race simulations, too.
"Myself and the team want to focus on extracting the most possible. We focus on ourselves and this philosophy, collecting as many points as possible per weekend and to keep learning and keep improving. I’ve been this way through F4 and F3 and that’s what I’m here to do."