After Nick Heidfeld’s airborne crash which let Lucas di Grassi through to win the first ever Formula E race at Beijing in September, this time the cars are on a 1.56 mile track, with the start and pit lane on the Persiaran Perdana highway before heading back through the boulevards. With any new circuit we can’t know how it will fare until the race itself, but it immediately appears an improvement over Beijing’s chicane-riddled Olympic Park course, with more variation and flow in corners. But even in the severely tight Beijing we saw moments of real, respectful battling between the drivers, with the cars being able to run so close together, that with a more open, elevation-changing track we could be in for a real treat on Saturday. Karun Chandhok recently videoed a preview of the Putrajaya circuit himself using a simulator, and you can watch it in the video above.
All this being said: the turn 10 hairpin, going up and down the Seri Wasawan bridge, could be many accidents waiting to happen! Chandhok himself admits it’s “probably the tightest hairpin I’ve ever driven in my life”, and brings to mind another Beijing street circuit that A1 Grand Prix used back in 2006, whose hairpin caused so many red flags organizers had to shorten it halfway through the weekend. We’ll have to wait and see on that front.
Otherwise, the driver lineup is virtually the same, except that Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa finally takes his seat at Amlin Aguri, having been replaced by Takuma Sato in Beijing due to DTM commitments. 20-year-old Matty Brabham, grandson of the legendary Sir Jack, is a late stand-in at Andretti Autosport for Charles Pic, but was a regular tester at Donington Park in the pre-season and very much at home in the team through racing for them in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. e-Dams will want to get back on track after Sebastien Buemi’s constantly unlucky weekend and Nicolas Prost’s rather rash move on Heidfeld that took both out at the last corner. Buemi was considered one of the pre-season favorites after testing, so is definitely out to prove his pace, while Prost must deal as best he can with a ten-place grid penalty and might be more cautious in wheel-to-wheel racing. Audi Sport ABT and Lucas di Grassi’s goal will obviously be to follow up their win with another good result this weekend, bearing in mind they were very fortunate that Prost and Heidfeld collided. Speaking of which, even with the two month gap Venturi has faced a battle to build Heidfeld a new car after his launch into the barriers, but his pace was very encouraging. Despite a very mixed Beijing race, Mahindra also carry promise, and will be hoping that the much-favoured Bruno Senna can make it through the first lap without problems this time, likely joining his teammate Chandhok near the front. And for Trulli GP and Jarno Trulli specifically, the big hope will be that his car actually lets him start the race.
Formula E’s also been working on the smaller details. As confirmed by commentator Jack Nicholls on Twitter, there will be no formation lap this time, the cars simply moving forwards into their gridboxes. This should spare us some unnecessary waiting: the formation lap in Beijing took far too long, and since these electric powered cars have no real clutch to speak of, getting off the line shouldn’t be a problem. Even more pleasing news is that the gimmicky “Formula EJ” and his musical accompaniment will be a reduced presence, especially during the race. It’s not the only, or indeed worst gimmick at the moment, (cough*FanBoost*cough) but this is definitely a positive step. Formula E should be showing off its unique qualities, and the music always felt like a way of hiding its quieter (but certainly distinctive) sound from more casual viewers.
Perhaps the most crucial unknown the teams face is Malaysia’s notoriously tropical climate; the intense heat has prompted discussions of whether to set allowed power at 170 kW or 150 kW to protect the batteries, while at the same time the entire raceday schedule has been brought forward two hours to increase flexibility if feared torrential rain arrives in Putrajaya this Saturday. Could it be that Formula E’s plan of holding every session on one day to reduce local disruption hinders it here?
Whatever happens, and whatever small things need working on in Formula E, such a new beginning as this deserves watching. While the oft-repeated line from those involved in the championship about comparisons with other motorsport series being impossible does irk me a bit, these first steps for all-electric racing are so unpredictable, and therefore exciting, that it can keep your anticipation going for a couple of months.
Qualifying is at 2am UK time this Saturday (!), which you can watch here on RaceDepartment through Formula E’s live online stream. The race is at least more reasonably timed, with coverage starting exclusively on ITV4 at 5am and the race at 6am.