Formula E sees return to car swaps in single-seat racing
When the inaugural FIA Formula E race runs this weekend in Beijing, it will be the first international single-seater race to allow car swaps in almost 70 years.
WHY WILL THEY SWAP? Simple, with each race lasting around an hour, which, because of the high speeds and general demands being placed on the electric drivetrain, the batteries will be depleted long before the hour is up. So, each driver is allowed two cars, and there are two drivers per team, and drivers are required to swap from one car to another to complete the race.
For season one, which kicks off this weekend, each team will run four Spark-Renault SRT_01E Formula E cars, with the cars/teams based at a purpose built central workshop at Donnington Park during the off-season. From season two, Formula E will become an ‘open championship’ allowing teams to design and develop their own cars – in accordance to the technical specifications set out by the FIA – and showcasing their electrical energy innovations in a competitive, racing environment.
Now, back to the car swaps. While car swaps, mid-race, these days in single-seat racing are a no-no, some of the most famous racing drivers in the good ol’ days regularly used two cars to get to the finish line, according to a report by Formula E.
Indeed, Sir Stirling Moss, back in 1957, jumped out of his misfiring car and into team-mate Tony Brooks’ car, so determined was he to win a British Grand Prix in a British Car. Don’t worry about Brooks, he was nursing injuries he’d sustained during Le Mans that year and while he’d had enough pluck to qualify on the front row he struggled to keep up and so kept his car “nicely on the boil” just in case it was needed. And it was.
According to Formula E: “Called in after 25 laps, he was hauled from the cockpit by mechanics so that Moss might spring gymnastically in. The switch took 13 seconds and Moss resumed with a vengeance in ninth place. He was third by lap 69. At which point the leading Maserati detonated its clutch and the chasing Ferrari punctured on shrapnel.
“Moss and Brooks shared the plaudits – and points – for that momentous victory at the British GP. And nobody railed against the use of two cars to end Britain’s 33-year drought.”
The third such instance (in the first seven years of the Drivers’ World Championship) of a race being finished after one driver swapped into another car, Moss’s victory in 1957 was to be the last with the practice being banned from 1958. Shame.
Car swapping to finish the race was common back in the day and saw some exciting races, like the 1955 Argentinean Grand Prix where Juan Fangio, racing in sweltering conditions – 52-degrees C at track level – kept off the pursuing Ferraris which each needed three drivers to get them to the end, while Harry Schell, also in the race, piloted three Maseratis yet still couldn’t make it to the podium.
Another instance of a driver jumping out of their car to let a team-mate finish the race, reports Formula E was the maiden British Grand Prix at Brooklands: “Though Robert Sénéchal was battling for the lead of the maiden British GP at Brooklands, he could stand the heat no longer and jumped out – into a bath of cold water – so that Louis Wagner, whose own car had caught fire earlier, could complete the victory”.
Other race series’ around the world, including Indy and NASCAR in the US have seen drivers swap into second cars to finish a race. But, until the Formula E race this weekend in Beijing, never before will an entire field be required to swap into their second car.
Formula E says, “For a championship that’s about pioneering innovation it’s fitting that’s it’s something completely new, albeit with very strong links to what’s happened in the past”. Read about more car swap stories, and more about Formula E here.