How new surface could impact Formula E's Riyadh return

Alex Kalinauckas
How new surface could impact FE's Riyadh return
How new surface could impact FE's Riyadh return

The track surface at Formula E's Diriyah E-Prix circuit has been largely re-laid ahead of the 2019 event following the drainage issues that blighted the inaugural event last year.

Autosport understands that approximately 80% of the asphalt has been re-laid at the 1.5-mile circuit, with several large manhole covers now installed in the undulating first and second sectors - where pools of water collected during the rain-effected practice sessions and caused the timetable for the 2018 event to be heavily revised.

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When asked about the changes by Autosport in the pre-race press conference for the 2019-20 season-opening event, reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne said they had made that section of track "quite slippery and therefore a little bit bumpy".

Porsche's Andre Lotterer explained that "it's more the dirt [sitting on the new surface] that will play an affect in changing the grip" for the drivers - an issue that several racers highlighted after inspecting the track.

"It's absolutely filthy - dirty," Envision Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird told Autosport.

How new surface could impact FE's Riyadh return
How new surface could impact FE's Riyadh return

"They've obviously added more drainage because of the issues we had last year, and the Tarmac around the drains already seems to be like it's crumbling a little bit after the I-PACE [Jaguar eTrophy support series running].

"So, we need to see how that goes."

Nissan e.dams driver Sebastien Buemi pointed out that for drivers in the first qualifying group - the top six finishers in the 2018-19 championship - the sandy surface "unfortunately might be very hard" as it will likely lead to a significant track evolution advantage for the drivers in later groups.

"I've seen some of the new Tarmac - some places are already ripping apart," he added to Autosport.

"It might be something like Santiago [in January, where the track broke apart significantly in the intense heat] in a few places.

But regarding the slippery state of the new track surface, NIO 333 driver Oliver Turvey said: "The natural environment [in Riyadh] is quite dusty.

"The [actual] track surface, the Tarmac looks quite OK, quite good quality - compared to some of the tracks we race on it's quite smooth."

The location of the track's attack mode has also been altered for this weekend's double header.

The area was on the inside wall of the track at the beginning of the main straight last year, but is now on the short outside line between Turns 18 and 19, which form the first two corners at the start of the race.

The drivers will therefore have to take a wider line through the right-hand Turn 18, sacrificing apex speed, to make sure they can successfully enter the zone to arm the higher power mode - now 235kW for 2019-20.

2019-20 shakedown running reduced due to Gen2 car's "diminished" needs

How new surface could impact FE's Riyadh return
How new surface could impact FE's Riyadh return

Thursday's timetable at the Diriyah track included the usual shakedown session, with the drivers limited to running at 110kW.

But for 2019-20, the session has been reduced from six laps per driver to three - one out of the pits, a full tour and an in-lap - and reduced from 30 minutes in length to 15 minutes.

When asked by Autosport why this change has been made, BMW Andretti team boss Roger Griffiths said: "The thinking behind it is, we come back to many of these places time and again, so we really started to question: do we need a shakedown session at all?

"There are some good valid reasons. It's not just about us shaking-down the cars, it's about the championship shaking-down the racetrack - we're a pop up event.

"Then on the flip side, we're also looking at how we become a cost effective championship. And do we really need that shakedown?

"The movement from six laps to three is a step in that direction - to easing us away from potentially having a shakedown in later seasons.

"Maybe we'd keep it for new races but not for ones we're coming back to.

"If you think back to where Formula E started, we were shaking-down two cars. So, two cars, three laps each, six laps [total]. Now, back to one car, just logically you go back to just three laps."

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