My cabbie, Sanjay, has a supernatural amount of patience. We have been trying to get to Hyderabad’s Formula E circuit for over 40 minutes and have been directed from one police barricade to another, over flyovers, across level crossings. But he dismisses it all calmly: “First Formula E event in India and in the city, so there will be some teething problems.”
It’s the day before Hyderabad ePrix, the India leg of the global all-electric racing competition, and about 2.5 hours to Shakedown, the first time the cars will be on track. The purpose is to check the cars, see how they handle, and tune out any niggles, a sort of debugging round.
Also read: Can Formula One racing ever go carbon neutral?
My pass gives me access to the pit lane and the garages and I walk about fascinated by the frenzy of activity. Teams are busy working on their cars. At the Jaguar TCS garage, the two cars to be driven by Mitch Evans and Sam Bird are being assembled, the crew focussed and undistracted despite the chaos around them.
The Formula E World Championship is now in its ninth season, and nine teams, including India’s Mahindra Racing, have competed in the championship since season 1.
Phil Charles, the racing technical manager for Jaguar TCS, explains the sequence of events that will lead up to the race and emphasizes how sustainability plays a part in the larger scope of things and not just by having cars with zero emissions. He adds: “The team has spent valuable time working on the simulator to familiarise ourselves with this new track. It looks fantastic: it has decent tarmac with just a few bumps from the start/finish line on the way up to T1. On top of that, we will experience ambient temperatures of around 30 degrees so it will be a challenge for the drivers.”
Soon it is time for the ‘Shakedown’. This is the first time I hear the sound of a race car powered purely by inconveniencing electrons rather than burning hydrocarbons. They are definitely not quiet, but they aren’t deafeningly loud like Formula 1 cars. At an F1 race, earplugs are de rigueur. Here in Hyderabad no one wore them.
The sound is like a whine at a medium pitch frequency. What isn’t different from a Formula 1 race, though, is the sound of the tyres on the track. The cars are just as quick: In the hours to come, they will hit speeds in excess of 200 kph, and if a straight is long enough, even 320 kph. Right now, though, the drivers aren’t pushing hard because the objective is to get a feel of the cars, check the steering and the suspension.
The cars return to the pits and the crews return to fine tuning the cars. Ninety minutes later, it’s time for the first free practice, when the drivers put in laps on the track to perfect their technique. Since this is a new circuit, none of the drivers have driven it before and it is an even playing ground in terms of the knowledge of the track. The race comprises 32 laps of a 2.83km street circuit, positioned on the banks of the heart-shaped Hussain Sagar Lake. There is a complex and interesting entry to T3, and several corners have tricky combined entries and exits. Overtaking looks possible into T3 and T6 so it should be an exciting race.
I am back at the circuit the next morning at 10.15. There is a lot of cheering going on as drivers battle it out for pole position, by being the fastest during qualifying. The most fervent hurrah erupts from the Jaguar TCS crew because Mitch Evans takes pole. The cars are soon back in the garages to get juiced up before the race, scheduled to start three hours later. I walk around the pits whenever there are no cars on the track. Guests are on the track trying to get photographs and selfies. With 15 minutes to go, the race director shoos everyone off the track except for the cars and drivers.
Rishad Saam Mehta is a Mumbai-based author, travel writer and budding travel video maker.
Also read: Why the Hyderabad ePrix is a big deal for India