Beijing 2014. The very first Formula E race. Lucas di Grassi crossed the line in first after a late crash at the front between Prost and Heidfeld. Franck Montagny came second followed by Daniel Abt in third.
Only Sam Bird ended up with the third place position after Abt was slapped with a time penalty for exceeding battery usage limit, dropping him to tenth place. Unknowingly at the time, this was to set a rather alarming precedent of post-race penalties within the Formula E series.
It’s become something of a running joke amongst fans. The wait after a race to make sure that the result stands. That the three people we saw cross the line in first, second and third actually maintain those positions. But it’s really not a joke, is it? It’s a problem. By my count, in the three seasons of this series (which have consisted of no more than 12 races in a season), there have been no less than 7 occasions where the podium positions haven’t ended up being what we saw on track. Only one of those was as a result of an in-race penalty (for Rosenqvist in Berlin 2017).
This weekend, we saw it happen yet again as, hours after the podium celebration, we receive word that Daniel Abt’s victory had been stripped for a technical violation. Four seasons into the series, we shouldn’t still be dealing with this and we certainly shouldn’t be almost expecting it, weekend in, weekend out.
First and foremost, it’s embarrassing for the sport. It makes it seem like the rules and regulations are so indistinct that teams can’t follow them race by race. It’s not like these disqualifications and penalties are even for the same things over and over. Di Grassi got disqualified in Berlin 2015 for an illegal wing configuration. Abt got disqualified today for technical stickers on components not matching those on the technical passport. There’s penalties applied for excess battery usage, for crossing the line with 0% battery. These are all things that the teams should be better at by now. It’s sloppy.
It’s especially embarrassing for a team like Audi. They are a prestigious brand and a team that has had great success in other categories. For them to have had three disqualifications for breaking the rules in the last four seasons, it reflects very poorly on them.
The second thing is that it is incredibly frustrating as a fan. It’s frustrating to watch a race, to watch people cross the line in a certain position and then find out several hours later that everything’s changed.
I remember standing by the podium for the second London race in 2016 and expecting to see Nico Prost, Daniel Abt and Jean-Eric Vergne standing up there. But instead of Vergne we got a surprised and delighted Jerome D’Ambrosio. Which great, good for him! But it’s frustrating to feel completely out of the loop of a race you just watched unfold.
These drivers drive the wheels off these things on very tough tracks and with none of this DRS. Every overtake is a calculated risk, trying not to bin it into a concrete wall or use too much energy. And it feels like such a slap in the face when that hard work is snatched away by something completely out of their control.
Going back to the race in Hong Kong this weekend, Abt was on top form both days. He lost positions during the pit stop in race one and now the disqualification in race two. I know that luck is all a part of racing but this isn’t luck. This is a fundamental issue that needs addressing. I’m tired of not being able to get excited about races because there’s always that lingering suspicion that it will end in disappointment. I made the mistake today of being thrilled for Abt’s first win having been a fan of his since that first penalty in Beijing 2014. I don’t know how much longer I can keep the enthusiasm up.
Is there a solution? All sports need rules and regulations and the penalties in place to support them. And with this being an electric series, there are going to be different elements cropping up than in other categories. I don’t think it’s the rules that are the problem. As a relatively new series, you expect teething problems as teams get used to the technology. But we’re in Season 4 now. I feel like we should be beyond these ‘oversights’. I’ve only really been focusing on podium changing results but if you look at a race weekend in general, it is littered with penalties.
I just want to be able to be confident that I can watch a Formula E race, look at the results and have those results be the same when I wake up in the morning instead of waiting for that “BREAKING NEWS” tweet to show up in my Twitter feed.