Lucas di Grassi took some time to talk about his win and his thoughts heading into the second race.
The winner of the first-ever Formula E race looks back at his historical achievement and ahead to the next race in Malaysia in a Q&A.
You’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect on the race in Beijing and your performance. With the benefit of hindsight, how did it go?
As a result it was extremely positive, but looking back at how we approached the weekend and how we can improve for the next one there is a lot of margin [for improvement]. After analysing my data, because I didn’t know how much energy I was using, I ended up using very little energy compared to what I could have done in both cars, and we lost a lot of time through our mistake in the strategy in the pitstop. So the weekend was far from perfect. I think we can improve as a team much more. We are working very hard, having a lot of meetings about it. So although the first race was a great success in terms of repercussions, the sponsors are very happy – everyone was very happy with the result – in the end even if it was a controversial finish to the race in motorsport it happens this way, it happened to me at Le Mans, you just have to be at the right time in the right place. I think there is a huge margin to improve and we know for sure that the other teams will keep pushing so we have to consider that and keep pushing too.
What went wrong in the pits?
Basically there is a minimum and maximum speed in the pitlane. I’m against this rule that states you have a minimum time from pit entry to pit exit, there is a lot of risk – if you are half a second below this margin you have a drive-through – so there’s a lot to lose. So I ended up leaving a little bit after Nick [Heidfeld] because we didn’t want to have an unsafe release, but that meant we were behind him. If you consider this factor, we lost seven or eight seconds in the pitlane, which was crucial for the race, especially for our strategy. And then we had a fault on the system completing energy. But it was a fault on the team’s part, it wasn’t anything from Formula E, it was my engineer who put the wrong input into the car and after that – pretty much at the half-way point, we lost a lot of performance.
What was it like to finally drive the car on a street track after spending all that time testing on conventional race courses?
I personally think the track was too slow. I think there was one too many chicanes. Donington is a track with basically five or six corners – and in Beijing we had 12 or 13 over the same distance and there was a lot of stopping and accelerating and the chicanes were very tight, the kerbs were very different and we had to run more kerbs. It was very different to Donington, but Donington was very extreme in terms of performance, in terms of how much the motor will take, how much the battery will take, and I think for Beijing, it was actually very easy on the car in terms of pure performance energy use. Also at Donington, it was much easier to overtake, in Beijing it was much more difficult.
"If you make a wrong decision then your weekend is pretty much compromised"
Lucas di Grassi
Have you worked out the energy usage, and how did that compare to the simulations?
If you do a lap flat-out, and then if you save energy for a given strategy, the bigger the gap is two, three, four, five seconds, the more exciting it is. You will have more overtaking, different strategies, bigger differences in lap times of the cars depending on their strategies. In Beijing the difference between going flat out at the limit of power or saving energy was very close, maybe one second. If you look at the lap times of the drivers and the best lap times of the race the gap was very small.
How did the tyres work on a surface that’s not designed for racing?
The tyres were very good, very consistent all the way through the weekend and there was very little wear – much less wear than we had in Donington. So that was not a problem.
You were one of the three winners of FanBoost but you were unable to use it, why was that?
I was so regulated by the amount of power I could use that I didn’t even use my FanBoost. I used so much social networking to make it happen and I have to thank all my fans that voted for me and I hope they keep voting for all the other races, but in the end I couldn’t use it just because I didn’t know how much energy I was using so I decided not to use it.
What do you think of the one-day race format?
It’s incredibly busy to say the least. It’s very difficult because pretty much every decision you make is pretty much a permanent one. There is no way back and there is no time to take it back. So if you decide to change a spring in the car or you decide to change the tyre pressure or whatever, what you decide you have to stick to it because there is no time to test or re-evaluate. So if you make a wrong decision then your weekend is pretty much compromised. Or if you make one mistake on track and it caused a crash it can cost a gearbox or more. To drive at the limit with this knowledge that one mistake can be fatal for the whole weekend is very, very difficult.
How did you approach free practice? Did you do a race sim in the first one and a qually sim in the second?
No, I was not able to do a whole sim because there was a red flag and some other stuff. My approach more or less was a few laps in race mode and a few laps with qually power. Nothing special. I was P1 in practice one and P2 in practice two so the approach was OK I think. On this area we should be fine from what we did in Beijing.
And how did you approach the shakedown?
The shakedown was behind the safety car, so it was really about making sure the motor was working, the gearbox was working. This car has a lot of small glitches that can happen on the electronics side so to make sure it was running smoothly after we had so many problems on the last day in Donington it was crucial for this first race.
Why were the real lap times in Beijing so much slower than the ones from the simulator?
It was a combination of the kerbs and the tightness of the chicane. For a team it’s very easy to do a 90-degree corner because you know the dimensions, but with the chicane if you change half a metre you can change the chicane by one or two seconds and the chicanes were tighter than expected actually. I think chicanes like Beijing will be not very common. In Malaysia we have a different kind of format.
Were you surprised by the competitive order or was it pretty much as you expected?
There were a couple of surprises, for example [Charles] Pic, who was the fastest guy in the second stint. That was a surprise because in Donington he was never the quickest. Nick was a good surprise and then we had Franck Montagny who did a good job. My team-mate Daniel Abt did an especially good job in qualifying, so he showed that he has the speed. Some guys had a very positive race compared to the testing.
Will things be the same in Malaysia?
Yes I think the teams that managed to do a good job will look to improve and people who did a bad job will try to come back. It’s different track, it’s a different atmosphere, with it being the second race everybody knows how it’s going to work. The track is very different as well, the track is much shorter. I guess we can have some surprises from people who haven’t shown their true performance in Beijing.