Matthew Brabham was the reserve driver for the Andretti Autosport Formula-E team for the first round of the FIA’s all electric series, held in China and is enthused about the forward progress of the Championship.
Following a successful test session in the electric-powered Dallara chassis last month in England, the 20-year-old was drafted into the squad to assist drivers, Franck Montagny and Charles Pic at the circuit which circulated the Beijing Olympic precinct.
It was a tremendous success for the Andretti Formula-E team and its two French drivers. Montagny finished second and Pic came home fourth in the dramatic event, that saw the two leaders – Nico Prost and Nick Heidfeld collide on the final corner, Heidfeld rolling into the barriers.
Brabham’s key area was to work with the team and drivers on the strategy to maximise the battery power on the electric cars. He walked away from China believing that Formula E has a fantastic future and with a majority of the field featuring international drivers with modern Formula 1, Indycar and Sportscar experience it bodes well.
“The whole setup is extremely professional, it is very much to the spec of Formula 1 in terms of the paddock layout, the pit area and how the event runs,” said Brabham upon returning to his US base.
“I was a little concerned about the racing product being diminished by the power saving and the different strategies that teams would employ, however the race was entertaining, there was a lot of passing and you couldn’t ask for anything more – coming down to a last lap, last corner pass for the win.”
The Prost/Heidfeld crash was the major talking point after the race. “It was a huge crash, massive. I think that once everyone realised that Nick was OK from the crash they were quite relieved and were impressed at the strength of the vehicles to withstand something that big. In any form of racing, you can’t ask for much more than to have the lead come down to the last corner on the final lap and with it being so dramatic, it should generate huge pickup around the world.”
Brabham believes the Andretti Formula-E team was one of the best prepared heading to China and were able to take advantage of that preparation. “The engineers and team members at Andretti Autosport were really on it right from the very beginning when I first went to the test in England,”he explained. “A lot of the other teams were working to get their heads around the systems and the cars, but the Andretti guys knew what to do from the start. The cars we always knew were going to be good in the race. In qualifying there’s no real strategy that you can do – everyone is going flat out and they’re even, so it comes down to the setup. The Andretti Autosport team I thought were among the top guys from testing – they always moved forward in race scenarios based on strategy and we were able to do that in China – all of the hard work the team put in paid off.”
The results from Montagny and Pic places the American team, operated by Michael Andretti, at the head of the teams’ points standings. Brabham observed that the drivers with Sportscar experience acquitted themselves quickly to the Formula E power saving (drivers are required to swap cars mid-way through the race).
“The guys that have been racing Sportscars I think were finding it easier than some of those from other Series,” said Brabham. “The way you go about the power saving within the Formula E car is very similar to fuel saving they have to engage in Sportscars, so it was no real surprise to see guys like Heidfeld and Prost that have been racing World Endurance right up the front.”
Matthew was in China off the back of a stellar opening year in the Indy Lights Championship, where he finished fourth overall, including a win on the Indianapolis road course.
The Brabham family is no stranger to innovations in motorsport – Matthew’s grandfather, Sir Jack changing the course of the Indianapolis 500 forever in 1961 when he turned out the first ever rear-engined car at The Brickyard. It is therefore fitting that Matthew was involved in the inaugural Formula E event.
“I think the motives of Alejandro Agag (Formula E CEO) and what they are trying to do with the green nature of the Series is really cool. They have some great ideas to get fans involved, like the Fanboost (where three drivers are given an additional 180kW of power for five seconds) and the on-track ‘EJ’, who plays a unique soundtrack for each race. It was an extremely professional setup – right up there with F1. The racing was great and there were some good talking points to come out of it. So if they can keep that going and keep the media interest up – I think it has some great potential.”
After a busy 2014 program, Brabham – who divides his time between Florida and Australia’s Gold Coast – is currently working towards his plans for 2015, where he is aiming to stay in the US and expand on his Indy Lights successes.
The next event on the FIA Formula E Calendar will be in Putrajaya, Malaysia on November 22.
By Brabham Media