Many people think the offseason is a time to sign out of the work email account and relax for a few weeks.
The reality is that it often isn’t that but the time when teams can focus on their new car.
Gerry Hughes has witnessed a fair few of these over the years. “Most people think, in the offseason, all the teams take a break, hang their boots up, and it’s not busy”, he comments.
“Actually, in reality, the summer, the offseason, is the busiest time. If you look back a couple of months ago, season four, we were racing the current car, we were developing, and manufacturing the season five car and we’re already looking at the concept for season six.
“So the championship and the way it’s organised, the way the season’s run, it’s a very busy time”.
Another change for this season is the introduction of the new Gen2 Formula E car and the result of this, is that all of the teams have had a little bit of learning to do. “First and foremost, throwing back to the advancement in battery technology, we’ve been able to cover more mileage.
“And we haven’t had to work around some of the limitations of the previous generation cars. There have been slight changes in terms of how we go testing.
“There are some other technical changes; like the brake by wire. Those technical challenges have meant that we’ve had to get on top of those in terms of how do we get the best out of those systems, learning about the systems”.
Ultimately it’s similar but different. “The way that we go testing hasn’t fundamentally changed but it’s just allowed us to do it a slightly different way, utilising a single car with almost double the capacity in terms of energy.”
Speaking of testing, it was an interesting week for the team, and on the rest day, there was a chance to take stock of how it had been going so far. “The three days of testing at Valencia are essentially, a sort of extended dress rehearsal for the NIO Formula E team.
“It’s not been without incident or issue. I think all of the teams here that are going through these three days of testing are up against it in terms of preparation or final preparation for the first race this season in Saudi. But, it’s a learning exercise for us and for the other teams.
“It’s still a relatively new car, we’ve done our 15 days worth of manufacturer testing over the summer but, you know, we’re still learning with every single lap and so, if the weather clears and we can complete the day tomorrow, I think we’ll feel that we’re in a much more, or a better position that we were certainly at the start of the test.
“So it’s been two fairly hectic days so far, hopefully, we can run tomorrow and gain some more data and if we can do that, then I think we’ll be better prepared going into Saudi but so far, so good!
“We’ve signed off the two race cars which were completed in terms of a build just before the test event and you know, we’re just running through our systems checks and making sure that we’re happy with all of the equipment and the powertrains particularly before we go to Saudi.”
Gerry used to work in the British Touring Car Championship in the SuperTouring era and was part of Alan Menu’s two championships in 1997 for Williams-Renault and in 2000 for Ford.
This was the era where the technology was starting to play more of a role and the budgets were rising accordingly. In fact, the Ford Mondeo’s used in 2000 cost £1,000,000 each and then another £3,000,000 to run them.
When asked if the level of technology in Formula E was comparable to the end of the Super Touring era, Hughes said: “I think, at the end of the day, it’s a racing car regardless if it’s got an ICE in it or an electric motor.
“I think what is relevant with Formula E is the fact that it has a direct, and there is a direct relationship with the road cars. So, there is what they call road relevancy, in terms of what we’re doing here on a daily basis and what’s happening with the tide of change in the automotive industries.
“It’s great to be involved in Formula E at a time when the technology is taking the next major step forward and that over time, we will see these levels of technology percolate into the OEM side of the business.
“So, and of course, being part of NIO, which is a road car manufacturer as well. We’re perfectly placed, obviously, utilise technology not just in the race cars but also our road cars”.
When asked whether the team could challenge for the title this season, Hughes wouldn’t predict anything but did want to improve on last season. “At the end of the day, we’re not in it just to take part. We are in it to win the championship.
“We are putting all of those elements in place to ensure we have the best fighting chance of doing that. So I’m not going to make any predictions here and now in terms of where we’re going to finish season five because that’s almost an impossibility but we were not happy with our finishing position of eighth in the championship.
“We finished sixth in season three. So clearly, we obviously need to put our best foot forward. My mission statement every single day is to continue improving. We need to make some improvements and the driver change, the car change, everything we’re doing around the car means that we’re putting our best foot forward to enable us to do that”.
Aditional reporting by Rob Lomas.