Controversial ruling in Chile

There was a lot of action going on during the ABB FIA Formula E Championship race in Chile yesterday, but it wasn’t over when the chequered flag fell, making the red mist descending over some of the teams.

From that round, the minimum pitstop times were no longer in place, which meant that the faster a driver would be able to get out of his first car, into the next one, get the seat belts done and leave the pits again, would be a gain compared to the competition.

That in itself is slightly controversial from a safety point of view, in case one of the seat belts wasn’t correctly mounted.

But it wasn’t in that area, that the problem from yesterday appeared.

In the post race scrutineering for race winner Jean-Eric Vergne, number two Andre Lotterer and P8 in the race, Jerome D’Ambrosio, the FIA scrutineers found some modifications to the head rests on those three cars, so the drivers would be able to get in and out of the cars quicker.

Since all cars are build by Spark/Dallara, that part should remain the same on all cars, and has nothing to do with the individual modifications that the teams are allowed to do regarding the drive train.

The stewards decided to give the team a fine of 15.000 Euro per participant – i.e. 30.000 to Techeetah and 15.000 to Dragon Racing.

Jean-Eric Vergne, Techeetah
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Since the head rests is a part of the homologation of the car, just like the front- and rear wings plus the suspension is, it was a clear breach of rules. There were critical comments across the paddock, with other teams being unhappy about Techeetah and Dragon Racing would get away with a fine only, when it was clear competition advantage, due to the modifications.

The winner Jean-Eric Vergne did the fastest pitstop of everybody, where he took 46, 847 seconds from pit in to pit out. The typical time across all the field was around 49 seconds or more at all the other drivers – except for Andre Lotterer, Sam Bird and Felix Rosenqvist. The commonality between Bird and Rosenqvist is that they are among the smallest drivers in the field, making it easier for them to get in and out of the cars.

Sebastien Buemi finished the race in third 1,959 seconds behind Vergne, and 1,154 behind Lotterer. He was 2,796 and 1,271 seconds slower in his car swap than Vergne and Lotterer…

To be fair, the time is measured from pit in to pit out, so a potential hold due to cars driving past your pit box would be included in that time too. So there is a chance of some inaccuracy there.

But when the cars are fighting for thousands of a second on the track, then 2,796 seconds – or 9,839 seconds in the comparison between Jean-Eric Vergne and Edoardo Mortara, with the latter being among the tallest in the field, a massive time difference.

The FIA announced along with the fines, that their scrutineers would send out further information regarding the head rests, and what if anything would be allowed to modify on them, prior to the next round in one month’s time in Mexico.

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