So, the first race of Formula E happened yesterday and it went rather well. Excellent times were posted for the first of ten races in this inaugural season.
However, it wasn't without some drama. In the very last corner of the race, the heated battle between Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost for the top two podium slots came to a very turbulent end.
Clearly, Heidfeld was in the wrong here and the crash resulted in neither of them winning the race, the top podium slot going to Lucas di Grassi of Audi Sport ABT who, in a post race interview, came out to say that "obviously, this is not the way we wanted to win the race".
With all the cars currently running the exact same specs, this sport may already be more of a sport than Formula One.
But not all cars enter the race equal.
Well, the drivers, rather. With the first execution of #Fanboost
, Bruno Senna, Lucas Di Grassi, Katherine Legge each received a 2.5 second boost where they were given a one shot, five second long boost to their cars' power output, temporarily increasing their car’s power from 150kw (202.5bhp) to 180kw (243bhp).
How this new mechanic of popularity = power will work out across the season is anyones guess, but it definitely has its opponents.
I'm excited that it'll be hitting Long Beach in April and that it's a free event. Now if I can just manage to get a press pass to it...
Racing with identical cars means that the only thing to separate participants is actual driver skill. If that doesn't make for much excitement, it's proof that driver skill does not matter in that racing format. If driver skill doesn't matter that much, then the sport is a sham to begin with.
The key to having a race with identical cars work is to have a race format that is ridiculously difficult. You need cars that are difficult to control. You need a track so difficult that even getting around it once on your own is a challenge, let alone going around multiple times with traffic. The fundamental problem is this also makes for a more dangerous race.
How can you make racing more difficult for the driver without making it more dangerous? If you can figure that out, you can make a great race.
Also, despite tons of safety measures, F1 is still difficult enough that driver skill matters a lot. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were on the same team with (supposedly) almost the same car. Why did Vettel win multiple championships, but Webber placed much lower? Of course, it's also possible that drivers on other teams much better than Vettel did not win because their car was not superior. In Webber's seat, they could have won the championship.
What would be interesting is if there was some race format where multiple different cars were available, and drivers could choose their car and modify it. This way everyone is still on equal footing in terms of equipment, but you still get an exciting race displaying driving skills.
It would otherwise just be slot cars wouldn't it?
Ten teams will compete before each race of the 2016-2017 season
"the vehicles will have a top speed of more than 300 kilometers per hour (about 186 miles per hour). That would make them faster than the Formula E electric cars, which top out around 140 miles per hour. It also means that the Roborace cars would be the fastest autonomous cars on the planet, eclipsing Audi's self-driving RS7, which has a top speed of 149 miles per hour. "
But what if someone else's shittily programmed car crashes into yours? Now you lose because they suck? You had better program your car to be good at avoiding stupid cars.
Also, can you program the car with more than just driving instructions? Can you program it with race strategy? It could calculate the strategy for the soonest expected finishing time on the fly as conditions change. You also get into things that have been considered cheating with human drivers, like advanced traction control. Also, things that were considered too dangerous for human drivers could be legal now maybe? Ground effects? Purposefully running other cars off the road while not damaging my own car? Moving in ways to manipulate the AI of the other car into being stupid.
I'm going to watch every second.
But even then, in Formula E, if a driver can get back to the pits with a damaged first car, they can driver their second car if they want. They won't reach the end of the race, but they may get a point towards the championship if they get the fastest lap of the race. If they have a fan-boost remaining, they are even more likely to spend that on getting a fastest lap.
But in a Roborace, it would be technically possible to see all orders going to the car. And also to see all programming of the car itself. Although it could be just as messy, or intentionally made messy, with code designed to keep secrets or lie just as well as humans!
I haven't seen a Jaguar in a competitive motorsport since F1 2004.
Due to the championship rules, if both finished with no points (outside the top 10 or both crash out), Di Grassi would win the championship due to better finishes in past races.
But what are the chances they would both crash out?
First lap, third corner, Gi Grassi brakes late and shunts Buemi off the track!
So he's wrapped up the championship? Not so fast! In Formula E there are two bonus points for the fastest lap. Both Buemi and Di Grassi make it back to the pits, swap into their second cars, and head back out onto the track, each taking turns to get the fastest lap. While the rest of the drivers were having a normal race, Buemi and Di Grassi were having a qualification session in heavy traffic to get the extra points. It wasn't the ending of the championship anyone expected, and there was all kinds of drama.
Turns out Buemi, who won the WEC a few years ago, is a really good driver in a really good car, and threw down a few stunning laps that Di Grassi got within 0.05 seconds of, but couldn't get the points.
Personally I think they should change the rules next season to say you have to reach the end of the race to get the bonus points for fastest lap, or eliminate them altogether. But then there would have to be clear rules for shunting someone off the track like that. If Di Grassi had been found to be at fault (and the FIA could look at the telemetry data from both cars to see if he didn't bother braking) he should be docked championship points, as no time penalty or grid penalty or anything like that would be a deterrent.