The Beijing ePrix, the first race of the new Formula E, took place yesterday, being won by Lucas di Grassi after Nicolas Prost intentionally ran into Nick Heidfeld, taking them both out of the race as they were heading into the final corner, battling for first place. Thankfully, Heidfeld seems fine despite the spectacular crash and, once the painfully slow formation lap was over and they actually got going, the race itself was interesting enough, but it must be said that many other elements left much to be desired.
Let’s start with the official site, which couldn’t handle the traffic and was down through most of the day. In addition, the otherwise quite nice live timing service, which is on a different site, was also down for the first part of the race, the official Facebook page wasn’t updated between the end of second practice and six and a half hours after the end of the race, and the free app is only available for tablets and smartphones, leaving everyone who can actually still use a proper PC out in the cold. Especially considering the amount of interest the competition generated, there’s no excuse for any of this!
There’s also little excuse for the low amount of information available during and after the race. For example, the race results don’t list the reasons for any retirements and the official site doesn’t publish post-race statements from any drivers outside the top three. In addition, the broadcast itself needs to be improved, as there were times when it was obvious that important things weren’t shown, plus that the information available on screen can be difficult to read due to the colors used and viewers could likely do with more of it anyway. And that’s without the obvious issue that made the listing of the remaining battery charge freeze at one point or another in case of several drivers.
And if we move on to the cars themselves, reliability also seems to be an issue, which is rather odd when teams will only be allowed to build their own as of next season, all driving identical Spark-Renault SRT_01Es at the moment. Under these circumstances and considering the amount of interest generated by the first major electric racing championship, one would assume they took every precaution to avoid failures, and yet three of the 20 drivers were unable to set a time during qualifying, two of them and three others needed a gearbox change before the race, three needed help to start on the formation lap, and again three retired for apparently technical reasons during the race. In addition, three drivers, including Daniel Abt who had actually crossed the line in third place, were penalized for exceeding the maximum allowed battery consumption, though one would imagine that the systems are designed to prevent that from happening.
Still, it is a start, and despite the currently very poor battery life, which requires the drivers to change cars halfway through a race lasting under one hour, this may yet be an important step towards making electric cars more acceptable and popular in general. As such, I’m rather looking forward to the rest of the season, though I definitely hope the issues I pointed out above will be fixed along the way, many of them preferably in the more than two months until the next race.