In motorsport, they say, a rainy race weekend is the one true variable that separates the men from the boys. The great drivers from the good, mediocre and also-rans.
But what if there’s never been a wet race day in a motorsport series? Incredibly, into its fifth season, that it the reality facing all teams and drivers arriving for this weekend’s landmark 50th ePrix during Hong Kong’s monsoon season.
It has been raining solidly for three days and with more rain forecast into the weekend and beyond. There have been sprinklings here and there before in FE, in Riyadh during practice this year and in London and New York previously, but nothing like what is expected in Hong Kong.
After the most dramatic of finishes in Formula E’s short history in Mexico, Motorsport Tech caught up with two of China’s favorite teams in Hong Kong on Friday to uncover what may even surpass that if the conditions continue.
“We’ve run in the wet before and there have been bits and pieces of wet running in Riyadh,” commented DS Techeetah Team Principal Mark Preston. “But the first race we didn’t do that much wet running because the track had so little drainage that we couldn’t actually run on the track when it was raining, so the guys will be going out, walking around the track just to see where the big puddles are. The one thing about rain is that the speed on the track varies with the rain, because it’s very difficult to tell the difference between when it’s just sprinkling to when it might be pouring. Even though it doesn’t really look like much water, it’s dramatic for the tyres so data is really important in every aspect of the weekend.
“The wet is okay but we’re still fighting for the championship, I believe, and rain just throws random variables into the mix. And when you’re one of the fastest cars you don’t want to have randomness. When you’re at the back of the grid, randomness is great! So, I’m kind of in two minds. We’ll be fine in the wet but it usually throws up something random which is not what we want. In the dry, we know what is happening, it’s under control and we’re focusing on a certain job. When it rains, all sorts of things can happen that are maybe out of our control!”
— DS TECHEETAH (@DSTECHEETAH) March 8, 2019
Whilst Preston may be of the opinion that the rain will throw an unwanted random variable into the mix, for Formula One driving veteran and now DS TECHEETAH Sporting and Technical advisor Pedro de la Rosa, a wet race may also help his drivers to showcase what they do best.
“You never know with the weather,” added de la Rosa. “At the end of the day, if you have bad weather, the driver is even more important than with good weather because good weather is more predictable, and the rig level is more stable. So, I always say when you have this type of weather you must rely on your drivers. And we believe we have the two best drivers.”
— DS TECHEETAH (@DSTECHEETAH) March 8, 2019
So, what of the drivers themselves? There are fully 22 on a Formula E grid for each and every race of the season. That’s a lot of fighting for real estate space on a street circuit that is always frightfully narrow and fraught with danger, even without the added variable of rain. In this case, possibly a lot of rain.
Defending champion Jean-Eric Vergne, like many of his FE compatriots, is no stranger to mixing it with the best in the wet. And after a disappointing last couple of races, the confident Frenchman is only really concerned about overly damp overalls as he looks to get back to winning ways.
“The rain is going to cause absolutely the same problem for everyone else so it’s part of the game,” said Vergne. “It’s going to be super slippery out there but so it will be for the others. I don’t mind the rain. As long as I don’t get too wet! But we need to score points this weekend. Not necessarily win but put back some confidence and turn the spiral into a positive one so it’s important to go out there and have a good race.”
For some drivers, especially those living in the British Isles, rain is not an uncommon thing. NIO Formula E Team veteran Oliver Turvey has plied his trade in myriad of motorsport in a career spanning 16 years. A driver with an advantageous analytical brain (having graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in engineering), Turvey could be one to excel in tricky conditions on a circuit he likes.
“I’m from the UK, so I grew up racing in the rain,” added Turvey. “In Formula E we haven’t had much wet running, but I have always enjoyed racing in the rain because in the UK I grew up racing in the rain. It kind of makes it a bit more unpredictable and already Formula E is unpredictable. So I guess it’s going to be tough for everyone and we have to try and maximize the conditions and hopefully, it gives us an opportunity to have a strong weekend.
“You really have to be on top of everything and this weekend the rain could give us an opportunity. And I like it here. Two years ago, I qualified on the front row and last year I was running third in the first race before I had an issue but we have always gone well in Hong Kong so I like the track, I like the city. A nice atmosphere, a great location so hopefully we can have a good race.”
🏙It has one of the most recognisable skylines in the world and on Sunday Hong Kong plays host to race 5 of the @FIAFormulaE championship. We cannot wait.#NIOFormulaE #BornToPushLimits #ABBFormulaE #AcronisRacing #HKEPrix pic.twitter.com/RViIcvR117
— NIO Formula E Team (@NIOFormulaE) March 8, 2019
A wet free practice in Saudi meant that the drivers had some prior knowledge of slippery street circuit FE conditions and how it may play out. But as NIO team principal Gerry Hughes is quick to point out, Sunday could be a step into the unknown.
“It’s interesting that this is our 50th race and we have never had any wet weather conditions even at the start of a race or even a mild shower during one. We had wet qualifying during season 1 in London and we had wet qualifying and wet practice sessions in New York, so the weather has been unbelievably kind to us in terms of Formula E and racing because invariably when you get to the grid, that’s when it rains! “It’s a one-day championship, a one-day formula – practice, racing and qualifying all in one day so you really have to be on top of your game and preparation is key and if you’re not, you’re on the back foot.
“Clearly there are some things we would change for wet conditions. If you have consistent wet weather conditions throughout the day, you may have more than that because we can optimize the performance of the car but there is always something we can take away from looking at previous data but we will have to see. I suppose the concern here is that if it rains like it has done the last couple of days, the circuit may be waterlogged and that is a big problem so I suppose we will have to wait and see what the weather throws at us on Sunday.”
A waterlogged circuit and curtailed race on the Sunday is not something that anybody wishes for on the 50th running of Formula E. But a wet race that separates the best from the good? Now that’s something every fan of motorsport will be tuning in to watch on Sunday.
Top image: @NIOFormulaE