Abt auf Rennstrecke in Riad

Expectant optimism in Diriyah – a special Formula E opener

Saudi Arabia: Audi heads into the new Formula E season

A series of firsts in Saudi Arabia: at the start of the Formula E season, Audi used the Audi e-tron FE05 electric race car for the first time, it rained in the desert, and – in a country where public dancing has never been permitted – spectators partied to David Guetta. Formula E journalist Timo Pape reports on his experiences during this “very special” weekend.

Daniel Abt und Lucas di Grassi in der Wüste
In the desert, Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi are preparing for the upcoming race.

It’s going to be a very specialweekend – that’s already clear even before the flight to Riyadh. It’s not just that the FormulaE is being hosted in Saudi Arabia for the first time. The ePrix in Diriya, a historictown on the outskirts of Riyadh, also marks the beginning of the electric race series’ second generation – with a new car, new teams and drivers, and new rules. Audi will also be competing with the completely new Audi e-tron FE05 – a.k.a. the Bat Mobile – which boasts over 25% more power and almost twice the battery capacity of its predecessor. Mission “Defend the Title” can begin.

The race track in Diriya: the most challenging track in the history of Formula E?

The mandatory track walk on Friday confirmed what the simulator had already hinted at: the newly designed race track in Diriya – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is in a class of its own. Fast turn follows fast turn and, on top of that, it has a remarkable gradient. Some drivers are calling the course through the historic streets “possibly the most challenging track in Formula E history.” Everything is ready for a spectacular opening of the 2018/2019 season – and it will indeed be spectacular.

Sensational Formula E opening: desert rain

Heavy rain sets in overnight. Even in the shuttle on the way to the track, we get the sense that things will be chaotic today. Deep puddles fill the streets; in many places, the water can’t drain off. It’s no different on the track. The first practice round is canceled because too much water – mixed with sand – is flowing across the track. In the paddock, a look at the grayskies garners utter disbelief: there have been 45 Formula E races so far, and it has never once rained during an ePrix. Now, in the middle of the desert – in one of the driest areas in the world – it looks like this lucky streak might be over.

Rennstrecke in Diriyya bei Regen

Hardly anybody expected rainy weather. This circumstance complicated the conditions during the free practice session and qualifying.

The second practice round does finally take place, although it is delayed. The qualifying round starts immediately afterwards — in only two groups rather than four, due to time constraints. The Super Pole is cancelled, meaning that the drivers have only one attempt to qualify.

Qualifying round: di Grassi and Abt struggle on a wet track

Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi both struggle with poorrear-axle grip on the wet track and don’t manage any good laps. In addition, Di Grassi’s is penalized for briefly exceeding the maximum permitted power – as are several other drivers. When all is said and done, the two Audi drivers start in positions 11 and 18 – hardly optimal. Things go better during the race itself. Di Grassi fights his way into 9th place with a series of skillful overtaking maneuvers, Abt finishes 8th. At least, Audi scores points twice on this difficult weekend. “At least it was better than last year. At the start of that season, we had four races where we didn’t score points,” says di Grassi, reflecting on his streak of bad luck at the beginning of the past season. “This time we’ve already earned some points.”

Lukas di Grassi und Daniel Abt in e-tron FE05
Lukas di Grassi (#11) and Daniel Abt (#66) scored points despite their difficult starting positions.

At the ePrix in Diriya, dancing is allowed

Later, as the first race in Diriya has already become a part of history, crowds gather in front of the impressive stage on the edge of the E Village. The opening band is still playing; One Republic and David Guetta will soon take the stage. But even now, a remarkable energy charges the air. There has never been an open-airconcert in Saudi Arabia before; this weekend is the premiere. The audience parties with unexpected exuberance. They sing along in English to the global hits. They dance. Until now, that wasn’t allowed in public. Real joy can be seen on their faces. It is a special moment.

In the Audi e-tron FE05: gathering important data for the next race

On Sunday morning, things are considerably calmer at the track. And the sun is back. Today is the first of three in-season tests during the 2018/2019 Formula E season. Audi has stand-in driver Nico Müller collect data with the Audi e-tron FE05. Among other things, the team wants to find out why things didn’t go as well as they had hoped during the race. At the end of the day, Müller finishes 6th for Audi. The problems seem to be solved – things should go better in Marrakesh on January 12th.

Nico Müller in Audi e-tron FE05

During the in-season assessment, Nico Müller finished on place 6 with the Audi e-tron FE05.

The sun goes down; the track empties. It was a special weekend, just as expected — and not only from a sports perspective, but also from a cultural point of view. The Formula E race has helped Saudi Arabia to open itself up a bit. But it remains to be seen whether the expectant optimism surrounding the ePrix will last for more than just a weekend.

A special season opener in the desert

The first racing weekend of the 2018/19 Formula E season in Riyadh provided several surprises. On one of the most demanding race tracks the Formula E has to offer, Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt fought to defend their championship titles.

Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi agreed that the race track in Ad Diriyah
A somewhat different race for the two Formula E drivers: in the desert near Riyadh, Abt and di Grassi had two falcons compete against each other in a race.
A strong group: the faces of the 2018/19 Formula E season.

Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi agreed that the race track in Ad Diriyah "is a great track, however, it is one of the most difficult ones that have ever existed in the Formula E. The course is really fast and is full of S-curves and huge altitude differences. The race will prove to be a real challenge.“

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A somewhat different race for the two Formula E drivers: in the desert near Riyadh, Abt and di Grassi had two falcons compete against each other in a race.

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A strong group: the faces of the 2018/19 Formula E season.

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Formula E, Ad Diriyah E-Prix 2018
Audi MediaCenter

Formula E: Abt and di Grassi score points at season opener

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler scored points with both cars at the Formula E season opener in Ad Diriyah (Saudi Arabia). Following a chaotic qualifying session, Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi fought back from eleventh and eighteenth on the grid to finish eighth and ninth.

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