TE's Rich Harmer takes you behind the track on a Formula E race weekend, as he works as a motorsport engineer embedded at Andretti Autosport.
Preparing for the Race
This week I traveled to Beijing, China to assist the team in the first race of the new Formula-E season.
Although the race did not take place until Saturday, we gained access to the paddock and garages at noon on the previous Wednesday. That afternoon was comprised entirely of the unpacking and setting up of the team’s garage and paddock area. I was given the task of unpacking the “track shack” that I mentioned in my last article about preparing for Beijing.
For me, the main focus of Thursday was to complete the Technical Passports, which are highly important submissions that must be completed for each of the four cars. For the mechanics, Thursday was the day they could begin to run through their pre-race procedures. The cars were given full inspections and outstanding jobs like full nut and bolt checks, and fastener torque checks were completed.
On Friday, the day started with a shakedown test run for the cars. Both drivers drove each of their two cars for a handful of laps behind the safety car. This was to ensure everything was in working order, and also to allow the drivers to begin familiarizing themselves with the track. In this instance, the shakedown showed that the battery on one of Robin’s cars was operating outside Williams recommended limits and it was necessary to change it. Once the mechanics had stripped down the car, I had to record this change in the technical passport and resubmit for approval.
Events and Qualifying Races
TE’s guests also began arriving on Friday. They toured the garage and were able to see the TE products found in the race cars from a first-hand perspective. The guests also spent the morning with some TE & Andretti presenters at the Tech Day. In the evening I was invited to attend a dinner with these guests along with the special guests from Andretti: Michael Andretti and Simona de Silvestro. They were then presented with flags that all our employees in China had signed. It was incredible to see just how many signatures filled the flags!
Saturday was an early start for the team, as we arrived at the track at just before 7:00am. Before the race started at 4:00 pm there was a hectic period of two free practice sessions where final adjustments to the cars were made before heading into the qualifying sessions. The team also practiced their pit stop routines to ensure that they were able to remain as close to the minimum 81 seconds as possible. This time accounts for changing cars, strapping in, and releasing.
In Formula E, every driver’s name is placed in a ballot and drawn into groups of five. These groups determine when you head out to qualify. Each group of five is taken out to the track and given six minutes to complete one 200kW qualifying lap in attempts to set your best time. From these times, a “Super Pole” session of the top five drivers then race again to set even faster times to try and win three championship points.
During qualifying Robin managed to place 13th and Simona 14th. They were separated by just 0.01 of second!
Simona made a good start but unfortunately crashed in Lap 2. At first she thought that her front right suspension had suffered a failure and collapsed, leading her to drive straight on in a left hand corner. However, when the car was returned to the garage we discovered that only the front nose section was damaged, the suspension was fine. There was evidence of a light rear impact into the rain light, meaning it is probable that she was nudged off the track into the barriers but further investigation will be carred to ensure no other issues may have contributed to the incident.
Robin had an excellent race. He was able to make progress through the grid with some very good driving. He moved up from 13th into 10th, before having to back off in the last corner to ensure that he crossed the finish line with the required amount of battery remaining. As the ABT team incurred a 10 second penalty in a post-race investigation, which pushed Robin up into his final race standing of 10th place and earning him a valuable championship point!
Immediately following the race, we were able to pack away all the equipment from the garages by 9:30pm, which was a good couple of hours quicker than the other teams.
So after a fantastic week in Beijing it was time to head back to Indy, to first recover and then prepare for race number two in just over a week’s time!