We drove the DS Virgin formula E car under heavy rain: the best way to understand why Formula One riders deserve our utmost respect.
For reasons I do not know, St. Peter implies me. Not always. Only when I try to use a means of transportation to amuse myself. It always rains there. It rains when I take my bike out of the garage for a ride. It rained in Fiorano when I tested LaFerrari, the most powerful car I drove in my life. It rains if I go to the beach convertible. It does not matter station or place. I think if I go to the desert I make it rain. So when the DS Virgin team offered Quattroruote a test in their Formula
One single seat, I hesitated a lot before accepting, terrified to revive the tradition and ruin the experience. I decided to go when, analyzing statistics, I saw that in four seasons it had not rained at any GP in Rome. Luck was on my side.
But the numbers deceive. And in Magione, track chosen for being meandering like the classic street races, it rains. The DS Virgin team tells me, as soon as I enter the pits, that the spare car has no spare parts and there is no way to recharge its batteries. Perfect conditions to make a newcomer feel comfortable – just not. And he was also nervous because the cars, despite the uninformed ironies (a Roman taxi driver, at the weekend of the race, called them “Formula 1 for vegans”), asks for respect. With 5 m in length and almost 1.8 m wide, it has the most obvious aesthetic difference compared to F1 on the rear wheels, much smaller because of the power of only 271 hp (for 880 kg of car).
A quick recognition of the circuit, some suggestions (like not using regenerative braking, even to test the autonomy, about 80 km) and a vague recommendation to go slowly, but not too much. In a robe and helmet, I enter the claustrophobic cabin (after moving the pedalboard), I start, I put on the headphones (not because of the noise, that there is not, but to listen to the team) and I enter the lane.
The exchange has three gears, but the first is only for the start and the third, for the rare stretches where it is 200 km / h. So you do it all on Monday. The first few meters are covered in pit lane mode, to feel the direction answers. Things get more serious on the straight when you “pull the brakes” off the batteries. The performance is not terrifying, even because I am somewhat accustomed to driving cars ranging from 0-100 km / h in 3 seconds.
The only difficulty lies in learning to control the accelerator, because – as in all electric vehicles – the torque is always immediately available, and in its entirety. On a Nissan Leaf, it is the most pleasing and surprising feature. When you are in the wet, the pedal stroke is millimeter and the tires do not heat up, it becomes an exercise in sensitivity almost impossible to perform without errors. Any accelerated has to be made with the wheels straight: just half a degree of steering wheel for the rear escape, which is only placed back straight with a very fast backstop. And if you give too much gas (or better, energy) too soon, your over-stellar nature appears and you end up overturning the curve: now I know why the drivers, in the closed corners, are already unbalancing the rear and waiting for the plug. As I enter the pit lane, I do this maneuver almost involuntarily, because, after closing the trajectory to avoid errors, I make a manual correction in the following over-matting.
I reopen everything, take a kick in the back, fast arrival in the zebra, but control well. And then I delude myself thinking I’ve got the hang of it. In the following braking, I do not remember that the rear tires are cold. I arrive too fast and I’m still stepping on the brakes when I try to throw the lead into the curve, but I lock the rear wheels and squeeze. No harm beyond the moral wound of having erred in a sluggish stretch. The rain gets stronger, and it is impossible to hit the points of tangency. Brake miles before, let the car slide without leaning on the accelerator, do not “pull” the direction: few emotions, but I finish without a disaster.
Final verdict? Besides the renewed awareness that – at the wheel, as in other points of life – we should never confuse passion with talent, I ended with an unconditional admiration for the category’s drivers: I can only imagine the commitment in the race, when you have to worry, in addition of strong walking, with many other aspects, besides managing the charge of the batteries. The cool thing is that, three days after my test, the “my” DSV-03 piloted by Bird won the ePrix of Rome. Maybe as a tester I would not contract, but as “hot-spot” until I could have some future.