Di Grassi: Formula E Gen3 specs "amazing" but design could be "more futuristic"
This weekend we're racing at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport track, which all the Formula E teams know very well from racing there so many times in 2020. I’ve had some good results there in the past, winning in 2019 and 2021, and also some bad luck like losing the win in 2015. But I don’t think I have any advantage compared to any of the other guys.
The data gives us a good baseline to study, to understand what we did wrong or right and try to improve from there. But everybody else has the same opportunities too. It’s a wide track that allows for overtaking, and there is a specific driving technique with the concrete and the amount of energy you put in the tyres. I just wish that the main straight was slightly longer.
Because we have the space there, Berlin is the ideal place to try a different track configuration each year. Why do we always have to do the same track? It would be fun to change it, so everyone starts from scratch on an aggressive layout that’s a variation of the existing track or even completely different every year.
This weekend is the final time that we will go to Berlin with the current Gen2 cars before we enter the Gen3 era later this year. The Gen3 specs are amazing, it’s a big jump to the fastest-ever cars in Formula E. The amount of extra power and also the measurements of the car, with it being smaller and lighter and more compact, is definitely a good thing.
However, I’m not 100% aligned with the Gen3 car’s design. I don’t think it looks aggressive enough and would have liked it to look a lot more futuristic.
Of course, looks are very subjective and everybody has different views on what makes an attractive car. But speaking as a driver, I want to race a car that looks aggressive and mean - just by looking at it, you realise that you need a certain kind of skill to drive it.
One of the things that for me Formula E is missing on Gen3 is the ‘wow’ factor. The performance of the car could have been even better, but it was deliberately decided not to on a cost basis. That’s fine, but there is less of a ‘wow’ factor with Gen3 than when you see a Formula 1 car, which I don’t like. Formula E should be the car with the highest appreciation for design that motorsport has ever seen.
What would I have done differently for the Gen3? I would keep the current powertrain we have today and just multiply it by two, which is much cheaper than developing a completely new motor. All the manufacturers have reached a good level and the motors are very close together, so I don’t think that needed to change.
I would have options to engage four-wheel drive in attack mode, so you can have variances between the cars. And I would also have put the battery on the floor instead of a block of batteries in behind the driver, which is an outdated design solution.
Design-wise, if there is a futuristic Tom Cruise movie where aliens invade earth and by chance pass a race track, the cars that you see there would have be the Formula E cars designed today. You look at the car and say ‘this is what Formula 1 will look in 20 years’.
Design-wise, if there is a futuristic Tom Cruise movie where aliens invade earth and by chance pass a race track, the cars that you see there would have be the Formula E cars designed today
With that in mind, I contacted designer Chris Paul and we've been working together on renderings of a more aggressive car design, which I think looks much more like the sort of thing we should have. This is what I want for Formula E - for the design to be more open-minded than Formula 1, and not the other way around.
We had that with covered wheels and with the V-shaped wing in the back in Gen2, but we lost it again to Gen3. It became a car which resembles any other single-seater on the planet, just with a few more straight lines.
The looks, the aggressiveness, is very important in a vehicle. People buy Ferraris, Bugattis and Porsches mainly because of the looks, they rarely ever use the power. For me, the design trend that was created with Gen3 is not an evolution from Gen2. It doesn’t look futuristic enough for my little boy or his friends looking at the car to say, ‘Wow, this is amazing’.
As for this season, it has brought lots of new challenges. I’ve been learning a new team in Venturi, and a new powertrain package in Mercedes, but also an entirely different philosophy as a customer team rather than a manufacturer, which means the impact I can have on development is decreased.
I raced with Audi for seven years since the start of Formula E and the software that Envision is running now was basically built year by year by me and the Abt team. Whenever I wanted to make a change to suit my driving style, we could easily do it. Now, although we can do small updates and change the set-up, most of the critical components are developed by Mercedes and we just have to optimise them. It’s a different way of working which has taken some getting used to.
That said, our car is good. And because in Formula E manufacturer teams are obliged to supply the same hardware and software to their customers, with the rest of the car basically the same, it’s possible for us to beat the works Mercedes team. It was the same with Audi and Envison. We developed everything and gave everything to Envision, so we were very close together in the years that we ran the same package.
Of course, at Venturi we have limited resources compared to Mercedes as a private team. But the engineers and all the personnel are very good. Of the core people, the level is no worse and maybe even better than it was at Audi.
In general, I’m very pleased with the pace we’ve shown this year and happy with the team. We are very competitive and got a podium in the first weekend in Diriyah, but since then a lot of things have gone against us which has been unfortunate. Considering the pace we’ve had, we should be a lot closer to the points lead, but this is how it goes in Formula E sometimes.
Formula E has made changes this year too. The qualifying format we have now is definitely better than the random, crazy qualifying we had in the last few years. I’m glad that the FIA realised that it was something to be improved and it changed the format to the duels, which is much more fair and has been very exciting. The recently announced five-year agreement to stage a Brazil race in Sao Paulo from 2023 is also something I am very excited about.
As for Gen3, it’s still early days. Just having a faster machine to drive is motivating me to go racing and making me excited for the future of Formula E.