If the weekend’s first-ever FIA Formula E race in Beijing taught us anything in absolute certainty, it’s that the new Dallara-built chassis is extremely tough.
Nick Heidfeld found that out first-hand after getting walloped by Nicolas Prost as he tried to overtake the Frenchman for the lead on the final corner of the final lap.
The contact pitched Heidfeld into a spin, and a temporary corner kerb acted as a ramp that launched his Venturi-entered car into the air. The German flipped upside down and smashed into the flimsy looking barrier that was in front of the decidedly less flimsy catch-fencing.
It was a scary accident. Heidfeld wriggled out of what was left of his car and jogged in the direction of Prost, who was wandering away from the scene of his crime with as much French nonchalance as he could muster in the circumstances.
Heidfeld looked ready to apply a solid right-hook to his aggressor, and no-one would have blamed him, but he showed his class in his restraint.
Prost initially denied responsibility, which was unsurprisingly not a view shared by the race stewards who handed him a grid penalty for the next race. Prost and Heidfeld, who are team-mates in the same endurance racing team, later used the healing medium of Twitter to make up.
Although it was far from the ideal start for either Heidfeld or Prost – one of whom was about to make history as the first Formula E winner, an honour which instead went to Lucas di Grassi – it ensured the new electric racing formula was plastered all over the papers and television news.
It was a shame the fight for victory ended that way, though, because it was shaping up for a tense end, the kind of climax the series organisers would have hoped for to prove the worth of their brave new concept.
With all the drivers having a limited amount of power to use, Heidfeld appeared to have eked out his car’s energy more effectively than Prost, who opened up a lead of more than three seconds at one stage of the race.
The possibility of using such divergent strategies could prove to be the Formula E championship’s trump card in future races – as long as at least one driver is prepared to go for broke things should get exciting in the closing laps.
Promising stuff, then, although it's clear the series is a work in progress. The format of mid-race car changes is going to take some getting used to, and some of the teams might struggle to get on the pace with the race format being condensed into just one day at most circuits. It's also quite odd to let the momentum peter out by having such a lengthy interval before the next race in Malaysia on 22 November.
On the other hand, it gives the championship organisers plenty of time to assess what went well and fix what didn’t – and for the Venturi team to stick Heidfeld’s battered car back together.