Formula E finally roared back into life today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the opening weekend of the 2019/20 season, with Robin Frijns setting the fastest time on a very unrepresentative circuit in terms of track conditions.
In a stark contrast to last season’s wet opening day for the Diriyah EPrix, the track was very green and extremely dusty, causing all kinds of issues for the cars and drivers alike. All eyes were on the 24 drivers as they mostly all filed out in unison when the session went green. The visibility was borderline unacceptable for the opening reconnaissance laps as the drivers paraded around slowly after Pascal Wehrlein had an early stoppage within the first five minutes of the session.
The red flag was brought out after just seven minutes for the NIO 333 Team’s Ma Qing Hua, who appeared to have hit the wall with the front end, losing all grip in the dusty conditions. It wasn’t just the Chinese driver that was struggling, however, as all drivers were tiptoeing around the tight and feisty Ad Diriyah circuit, lapping a whole 14 seconds slower than the ultimate pace set at last year’s event.
When the red flag disappeared though, the time began to slowly tumble as more grip was being found on the track, with Nissan’s Oliver Rowland and Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns exchanging fastest times. But that was all before a second red flag was out for the GEOX Dragon Racing car of Brendon Hartley that had hit the wall with the left rear coming out of the small tunnel section after passing a Mahindra on a part of the track that appeared to be breaking up, very reminiscent of Santiago’s track issues from last season.
But the session went green once again with just over seven minutes remaining, and most cars came back out on circuit as track time is absolutely pivotal in the tricky conditions as this is the first time that the cars have turned a wheel in anger since last month’s pre-season test in Valencia.
Ultimately however, it was the Formula E stalwart of Robin Frijns that finished the session fastest, with a rather unrepresentative time of 1:16.137. The biggest surprise of the session was the early pace set by rookie Nico Muller, with the 2019 DTM runner-up finishing in second place, sandwiching the two Envision Virgin cars of Frijns and Sam Bird. Defending champion Jean-Eric Vergne was down in 17th.
Formula E is back, and we still have FP2, Qualifying and Race One to come on this very green, dusty and unpredictable Riyadh circuit.
Picture source: FIA Formula E Media