Formula E fireworks expected in unique Berlin finale

Formula E

Six races. Nine days. One champion. Formula E returns and the action could be more unpredictable than ever before

Alexander Sims, Formula E 2019/20

Alexander Sims heads into the Formula E finale third in the standings

ABB FIA Formula E/Handout /Getty Images

Nine days in Berlin might sound like the title to a movie but it’s how Formula E will return to racing and finish off its interrupted 2019/20 season.

After five months of waiting, six races over nine days around Templehof Airport will settle the current season in a quickfire format, while the paddock remains in its little bubble in Berlin.

It’s a unique way of settling the season and is fitting for a series that has never stuck to convention.

Changing layouts poses numerous challenges for drivers and teams to adapt to. Track evolution, in particular, will be on a different scale than typically experienced during a race weekend.

The rubber that is laid down during race one in braking zones becomes traction zones for race two, altering how drivers can approach races and overtakes according to Alexander Sims, who has a realistic prospect of this year’s title from his current third place in the standings.

“I think there is certainly scope for the rubbered-in parts of the circuit – I don’t think I’ve ever driven on a circuit where the exit of the corner will be more grippy than on the entries – normally its the braking zones that start to grip-up and get clean.

“That whole process of driving on a reverse track, I don’t think many people will have done so, so that will be interesting to see how that feeds into race day.

“Berlin is a track that lends itself to promoting overtaking anyway and that will surely just be increased even more.”

The BMW i Andretti driver was having his strongest season before the enforced break, with a maiden Formula E victory in Diriyah. Two retirements had hampered his momentum but on both occasions, Sims was looking competitive.

“Both times I should’ve scored good points in Santiago and Marrakesh before the contact. I would have said everything was in control but in a split second it’s all changed.

Alexander Sims, Mexico City ePrix

Sims celebrates his first Formula E win alongside team-mate Maximilian Günther

Formula E

With two retirements on his record this season, Sims remains 21 points behind championship leader António Félix da Costa.

He is also one of the five different winners this season, but his approach won’t be changing despite remaining in the hunt, with a maximum of 174 points to be won across the six races.

“As much as I’m hoping we can have strong races, I’m not taking anything for granted in terms of where we are in the championship now.

“If people do have one or two bad races, that that situation is fresh in their mind then they might change their approach a little bit more than they would if there was a month in between races.

“For us though, it’s going to be the same as always.”

Though Sims maintains the unorthodox finale will not necessitate an altered approach, drivers will need to get to grips with what are effectively three different circuits.

The Templehof circuit will run forwards, backwards and in an alternate layout over the event, with two races taking place on each of the three variants as part of the efforts to entertain.

Preparations for the race have been extensive despite the break away from the race track. Sims travelled to Munich ahead of Berlin to spend time in the simulator on each of the layouts.

There is potential for the alternate layouts to throw up a twist or turn in the title race but it isn’t something that Sims is expecting to factor in much once the drivers are in the cars and out on track.

He has spent hours upon hours getting ready for the resumption of racing, although those efforts might not directly correlate to the real thing.

“My lap times on the simulator rarely if ever correlate with real-life situations. I’ve had races where the simulator session before was an absolute disaster.

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“I remember with New York last season, I just couldn’t get my head around driving it on the simulator and then I went there and put it on pole and got a podium.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if the track’s an oval or seven hairpins, we’ll go there and do our best to get on top of it.”

What could make the difference though according to Sims is the mental strain teams and drivers will be under throughout, with the number of races in such a short space of time.

“I think it will be mentally challenging to manage your energy and not get too fatigued. At the same time, we’re all professional drivers and close to the top of our game if not at the top of our game and most of us have done challenging endurance races.

“Nevertheless, Formula E cars aren’t particularly physical and we’ve got loads of time between sessions and things so I don’t think that’s going to be too tough.

“Mentally, just pacing yourself through the week and a half will be important but I just feel for the engineers.

“I’m sure they’re going to be very tired after each double-header; they’ve only got a day or two to recover and they’ve got to do work on that day anyway to prepare for the next races.”

It is the short turnaround that will also set the rhythm for drivers and teams, with very little time to reflect on finer details.

The lack of time available for engineers to gather the data, organise it into meaningful numbers and then use it along with the driver to improve for the following race could be the performance differentiator.

“Because the races are going to be at 7pm I just don’t see there a huge amount of potential to sit down and analyse things before you’re back at the track the next morning to go through the next day’s activities.

“I can imagine you won’t analyse the race before the following lunchtime when you’re done with practice and qualifying for the following day and then it’s like, ‘right, what were those lessons we needed to learn’ because you’re facing the next race.

“Half an hour after the race you can’t analyse things because you need to go through and understand the data and start picking the bones out of it.

Alexander Sims, 2020 Formula E

Could Sims close the gap and win the 2019/20 Formula E championship?

Gregory Lenormand / DPPI

“With all the races, it’s going to be difficult time-wise with the engineers, in particular, to get on top of one day’s set of information to fine-tune things and do better the next day.”

You combine these variables and the races look a little less straightforward than one might expect on paper.

As in other series though, the return races have not been predictable, to say the least. Whether it’s two wheels or four, motor sport’s return in 2020 has given fans plenty of excitement and surprise.

Formula E then has a fair amount of expectation to live up to in comparison, though that has never prevented the electric series from providing chaotic, carnage-filled thrillers in the past.

“To be honest, Formula E – it’s not uncommon to have eventful races anyway – so being someone who’s able to stay calm and execute a good race straight out the box in Berlin, I think there will be a reasonable amount to gain but it’s so tough in Formula E to judge situations.

“I feel for anyone who does have a mishap, you can look a bit of a fool quite easily and it’s so difficult to judge those situations. How do you manage your energy? When do you go for that overtake or don’t? What person around you is managing and what is their mindset, what are they planning? Conserving their energy or fighting you? It’s really difficult to figure it out.

“I think that first race back might be a bit of a fireworks affair.”