Formula E: Kraft(y)werk in Berlin

The Berlin Formula E round was a surreal affair in more than one way, as Sam Smith explains

Formula E: Kraft(y)werk in Berlin
Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Abt
Nelson Piquet Jr., China Racing
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Abt
Start action
Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Dragon Racing
Sam Bird, Virgin Racing
Nelson Piquet Jr., China Racing
Nicolas Prost, e.dams-Renault
Salvador Duran, Amlin Aguri
Daniel Abt, Audi Sport Team Abt
Jarno Trulli, Trulli
Race winner Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Abt
Race winner Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Abt
Fastest lap: Nelson Piquet Jr.
Nelson Piquet Jr., China Racing
Podium: Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi and Nelson Piquet Jr.
Third place Sébastien Buemi, e.dams-Renault
Sébastien Buemi, e.dams-Renault

It was a slightly surreal weekend in Berlin for the latest round of the ambitious FIA Formula E Championship last weekend.

The days of David Bowie and Iggy Pop strolling Station to Station in their self-imposed mid-seventies European rehab are long gone, but Berlin still has a dystopian feel to its efficient public transport and cultural richness.

Wherever you went, it seemed the relentless tempo of Kraftwerk's seminal Autobahn echoed off the stunning Kennfarben colour coded designs.

The sinuous 17-turn airfield layout which greeted us from the former arrivals gate at the imposing Tempelhof airport gave portent to another brilliantly distinctive Formula E event. Until 2008 it had been the world's oldest operating commercial airport.

While the Formula E organisers did their usual magnificent job in organizing and laying on the event last week, we actually had Oberst Rudolf Bottger to thank for being able to race there.

As the Nazi's stared defeat in the face in 1945 and the Soviet's took command of the facility, the former airport commander refused to blow up it up and instead made the ultimate sacrifice of turning his gun upon himself.

The Tempelhof site also had an intrinsic part to play in the future of Berlin immediately after the war as the incredible Berlin Airlift was orchestrated by allied troops, ensuring that the two million population of the city had enough food and water to survive in one of the wars great humanitarian triumphs.

So the history of the place had high drama and intrigue, but sadly the race didn't quite live up to the heritage. There was plenty of action as there always is in Formula E but the real drama came in the hours after the race.

ABT embarrassed on home turf

After totally dominating the race, Lucas di Grassi was a very happy man indeed. That engaging Paulista smile doesn't often break cover but it fairly radiated across the vast Tempelhof edifice last Saturday afternoon.

An hour or so later, as technical delegate Carlos Funes picked away at the Audi Sport ABT front wing, the evidence of modifications to the wheel fairings and the wing itself quickly wiped away the joy.

Was there a performance advantage? It is unlikely, but that was not the point. It was a flagrant breach of the spec chassis rules and di Grassi was, through no fault of his own, correctly penalized for the modifications made by the team.

The ABT squad thought about protesting but was dissuaded to by the officials.

'How long had ABT had these 'modifications'? Could they prove it had been done just before the Berlin round? Would they like to lose more points from previous races perhaps? No? Take it on the chin lads; it will be best for everyone involved.'

Afterwards ABT blamed insufficient time to effect repairs when really it should have just been blaming itself for not communicating with the FIA on its concerns on the self-administered repairs.

There have been dark murmurings in the paddock since the start of the season that organisers do not want di Grassi to win the title. You have to believe these are nonsense.

The conceived perception is that di Grassi, who developed the Spark-Renault from the get go knows the car so well that he has an advantage on mechanical set-up and on how to manage the power over a race.

The evidence would suggest this conspiracy theory is a non-starter. Yes, Lucas has shown to be adept at all the races so far in both of these aspects but don't forget he is one of the most technically gifted professional drivers around and was coveted by the likes of Renault, Dallara and Pirelli for his engineering feedback.

The Brazilian is simply a class act, who is a credit to the championship for his unstinting professionalism and promotion of the Formula E ethos.

With the cerebral, serious Lucas there comes a theatrical element too. His rivalry with the man who took his title points lead in Berlin – Nelson Piquet Jnr is not however pure pantomime. The antipathy is real, make no bones about that. Vastly different characters, the two have not been particularly tolerant of each other since karting days. Flashpoints between them need no spark.

This is manna from heaven for the organisers and the TV people and there will be much more to come at Moscow and London.

Manufacturers and fans

An impressive crowd visited the race at Berlin last weekend. Officially just over 20,000 came to the race but more importantly and unlike the previous round in Monaco, these were paying spectators.

Many were families enjoying the Whitsun holiday weekend and they packed out the airport apron and concourses, queuing patiently for their Bockwurst and Schnitzel.

The German race fans are key indicators on gauging popularity of new technology and there was a tangible sense of acceptance of electric race cars and whirring spectacle they create.

Representatives of major OEMs and also big automotive tech firms were at the race last Saturday. Motorsport.com spotted VW Group, BMW, KIA and ZF envoy's taking in the show and weighing up their possible future involvement. It has almost become a strapline for the series but it really is a case of 'when, not if' the major technology and OEM companies jump in to the FIA Formula E Championship.

Perhaps Nelson Piquet Jnr summed it up best a few weeks ago at Monaco when he said: "What I have learned from racing in the US is that you need to do things differently and what Formula E is doing already is getting the fans more involved. I think it is vital to do this and it naturally creates more interest for the people who will go out there over the next few years and buy electric vehicles."

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