As Formula E heads into the final race of its 2022 season and Gen2 era this weekend, debates are raging among teams and drivers over the consistent application of defensive driving rules.
The controversy concerns the specific application to violations of Appendix L, Chapter IV, Article 2b of the International Sporting Code and Article 20.5 of the Sporting Regulations of the 2021/2022 FIA Formula E World Championship.
The first of these regulations, used in all FIA World Championships and most circuit races, concerns the parameters for overtaking and in particular that only one change of direction is allowed when defending a position.
The article’s wording states that “any driver moving back to the racing line, having previously defended his position off the line, should leave at least one vehicle width between his own vehicle and the edge of the track when approaching the corner” . .
However, the regulation also requires that “manoeuvres likely to impede other drivers, such as B. intentionally pushing a car over the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are strictly prohibited”.
Any driver found guilty of any of the above offenses will be investigated by the Race Director and then referred to the Stewards.
Article 20.5 of the Sporting Regulations states that anyone ‘defending’ a position on a straight and in front of a braking area may use the full width of the track during the first move, provided that no significant part of the car attempting to overtake next to it is . During this defense, the driver is not allowed to leave the track without a valid reason.”
In addition, the regulation states: “For the avoidance of doubt, if part of the front wing of the vehicle attempting to overtake is adjacent to the rear wheel of the vehicle in front, this is considered a ‘significant part'”.
The Race understands the issue of defensive driving was specifically discussed ahead of last month’s London E-Prix, which saw two penalties imposed. These concerned Nyck de Vries and Robin Frijns, who were convicted of misdemeanors in races against Nick Cassidy and Andre Lotterer respectively.
Mitch Evans has been particularly vocal on the subject throughout the season.
“I think it should be very clear,” said the Jaguar driver.
“There are various parts of this championship that are very unique compared to other championships as we do a lot of coasting and this allows the phase of the braking zone to be exposed for the car in front and give the other car a chance to stay flat and overtake .”
Evans questioned the consistency of penalties in recent races, believing he was the victim of improper defense by Pascal Wehrlein in Marrakech and de Vries in New York. Both were not punished.
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“The consistency was really bad,” Evans said.
“Unfortunately, I became a victim of it. I think some drivers really push the limit. I feel like being able to control is a pretty clear rule. It’s a clear one-move rule.
“We saw it in London where multi-train penalties were imposed under rain. Because you have a braking phase that is just not acceptable.
“I feel like we need to do more to get the upper hand because I think it’s just a really cheap race and not fair.
“I’ve never ridden like this to be honest, so I’m probably more frustrated compared to other drivers.
“I think a lot of people are just fed up with the defensive driving that some of these other drivers are doing. Some things are really at the limit. Some of it is over the limit.
“Some drivers just get away with it.”
Evans, who believes the situation will only get worse if the penalties are not applied consistently, suggested officials may need more understanding of certain nuances of Formula E, such as how cars lift and roll in some curves to save and regenerate energy.
“It’s difficult for them to understand the racing style and the limits, but some rules have to be applied soon because otherwise it just gets out of control or can’t be controlled,” he added.
“With Gen3 it will be even faster, we will still be idling so the approach speed will be even greater.
“It feels like one of those things, how far does it go before we actually make a change?
“Do we have to have a big shunt for things to actually change? Obviously this is the wrong way.
“Hopefully we can do it as soon as possible, even if I feel like it’s a bit too late.
“I think we’re all sick of trying to fix it and making it very clear that it’s not right.
“The FIA has been trying pretty hard lately to understand what’s really important, but it’s just been taking a long time.”
Mercedes driver de Vries has come under fire this season, with his style of defending positions being questioned in both Rome and New York and London.
He admitted his sentence in London was only called into question other incidents and also the stewards’ tools on which some of their decisions are based.
“I’m happy to accept that I was wrong about London, that I moved twice and was penalized,” de Vries told The Race.
“I just struggle to understand the lack of consistency.
“We know this was a thing in Formula E last season and so much has happened and yet nothing has ever happened.”
Unlike Formula 1, not all cars in the Formula E grid have active onboard cameras, but stewards have a range of non-broadcast camera angles and video surveillance to watch when incidents are investigated.
“What annoys me a bit is that there’s still a lot of stuff going out or happening off-camera, and for some reason we don’t have enough resources to see everything,” de Vries added.
“I don’t want to name names or situations, but I know there are other things happening that ended up causing people to lose DNF due to broken parts on the car and they were overlooked.”
De Vries also highlighted what he termed “black and white regulations” that do not allow for scope for variation in styles and resources in specific racing disciplines.
“It’s difficult for everyone because we apply the rulebook as if it were law, black or white, but none of it is black and white,” he said.
“And then there’s the problem that we can’t really capture and see everything, and there’s this tremendous lack of consistency.
“I think that’s the most important conclusion and I think everyone agrees and emphasizes that.
“We have to make sure we see everything because that’s priority number one, you have to be able to see everything and then you have to find common ground to find rules that can be applied more consistently. I don’t have an answer to that.”