Coming to terms with season two’s powertrain technology hasn’t been an easy exercise, with only the major manufacturers in DS Virgin and Renault e.Dams seemingly having the budget necessary to jump out of the blocks with a competitive package. Even an electric motorsport specialist outfit like Venturi has taken time to understand and maximise their package in a category where in-season development is extremely limited.
As such, the teams which chose to run with season one technology (Amlin Andretti and Team Aguri) had hoped to gain an early advantage on the field using bespoke items. The theory has worked sporadically, but not in the manner either team had hoped for and for multifarious reasons.
Amlin Andretti’s decision to switch to a season one powertrain at before the opening round in Beijing initially reaped rewards, with Robert Frijns accumulating a strong 37 points over the opening rounds, but despite software upgrades, the American team has found themselves in the wilderness and unable to build on a solid baseline.
“We don’t know why”, explained Frijns. “In Mexico we were struggling with the pace of the car, even though I finished fifth. In Argentina and Long Beach we were strong, but in Punta Del Este we were slow and we don’t understand why that happens. Our performance goes up and down, I don’t know why.”
With other teams already beginning to grasp the intricacies of their season two powertrains, Andretti’s predicament puts them at a severe disadvantage in developing their own power unit and could find themselves heading down a blind alley (ala NEXTEV TCR) if they are unable to pinpoint the root cause for the car’s deficiencies.
“We don’t know where to look” adds Frijns. “If you look at our top speed, we are slow compared to Renault and Audi Sport ABT. When they started at the back in Argentina they just flew past. It is obvious that we have one of the slowest cars on the straights, which is quite normal with the season one car.
“Also, I am struggling more with qualifying than the race. The consumption a lap is a bit higher with the season one car and we have to work on that for next season,”
Also opting for a season one powertrain is Team Aguri, but instead the team have taken a “roll of the dice” approach to their races; opting for an alternate strategy in Paris, with both Team Aguri drivers pitting a lap earlier than everyone else.
The move initially looked as though Aguri’s cars were encountering thermal issues, but in fact pitting slightly early enabled the cars to run at 170kW for longer in the first stint and avoid pit lane congestion.
“We ran a different strategy in the race, as we wanted to come in a lap earlier to avoid the traffic” explained driver Ma Qing Hua.
“It was a tight pit lane and the pit stop minimum time was long. So we decided to pit earlier than everyone else just to avoid any mistakes or traffic in the pits,”
Of course, such strategies are layout dependant and won’t pose a significant advantage at every circuit. In addition, those teams with significantly developed season two powertrains will no doubt pick up on the strategy; using it to their own advantage or cover off any potential undercut.
If anything, the bag of tricks available to the teams using season one powertrains appears to be running empty and the likelihood of any further Cinderella stories growing thinner by the round.