Formula E is an exciting variant of the Formula series of racing, with the most popular being F1. However, it is vastly different from its counterparts in the rules and regulations used, and one of the most popular additions to Formula E is something called Attack Mode.
Attack Mode is a temporary power boost used in all Formula E races by all drivers. The power boost is equivalent to an increase of 35 kW, which the drivers must manually initiate by pressing a button on their steering wheel and driving off the racing line at certain specified points of the track.
There are lots of rules associatedwith this power boost, regarding how and when it can be used. Below, we will go into more detail about what Attack Mode is, what the rules are surrounding it and why it is a useful and popular addition to Formula E.
What Is Attack Mode?
More Entertaining Races
Attack Mode is a feature of the Formula E cars introduced for the 2018/2019 season. It was introduced as a way to make overtakes more common, much like the addition of DRS did with Formula 1 back in 2011. However, an important reason for its addition was also the fact that the batteries in the cars were now much better.
The ‘Gen2’ cars now have a much bigger battery in terms of total power than their predecessors. This means that drivers can essentially do away with pitstops entirely, stops which used to involve swapping cars as you can’t refill a battery like you can with a fuel tank. These were essential for the 45-minute races, but they also involved a lot of strategy.
No Need For Pitstops
Pitstops are major strategic considerations in all motorsports, and so without the real need for them the FIA needed to come up with a way to keep things interesting. Enter Attack Mode, which requires a lot of strategy to use correctly, and with the many rules the drivers need to follow regarding the use of Attack Mode, it also makes for very interesting racing.
Attack Mode is activated by the driver using a button on their steering wheel. They press this button before they come up to an Attack Mode Activation Zone, similar to the DRS Activation Zone in F1. This is a stretch of track, on a corner or bend, that is off the racing line and thus presents a slower line for the driver to take, initially costing them time.
25 kW Boost
However, when they come out of this zone, they are then in Attack Mode, which gives them 25 kW more power, which is roughly equivalent to 33 horsepower. This power boost remains on until they manually deactivate it or until they run out of their allotted amount of energy boost. When in Attack Mode, blue LEDs will light up on the driver’s halo.
So, let’s discuss some of the rules surrounding Attack Mode, starting with this maximum amount of extra energy.
What Are The Rules Surrounding Attack Mode?
One hour before each race, or E Prix, teams will be told how much time they will have of Attack Mode during the race, along with both the maximum and minimum number of times a driver can use it. These rules vary by race, and the idea behind only being told an hour before the race starts is to prevent teams from running endless simulations to find the optimum strategy.
At Least Once
It adds a sense of urgency and uncertainty, which is exactly what the fans want. The drivers then must strategize during the race too, knowing where and when to use it by watching what other drivers are doing as well. The one rule that remains consistent across all races is that every driver must use Attack Mode at least once per race.
The mode is not available for the first two laps of each race, again much like DRS in F1, and it cannot be used during full-course yellow flags or under safety cars. When the race resumes, the teams will also lose 1 kWh worth of energy per minute that the race was suspended.
Yellow Flags & Safety Cars
This is an important factor for energy usage. The cars all start with the same amount of energy in the battery, and like a fuel tank this runs down faster with more aggressive driving. The extra energy offered by Attack Mode runs the battery down faster, and this is why teams must strategize about where and when to use it and when to be more conservative with their racing.
The rules surrounding race suspensions under yellow flags and safety cars eliminate the possibility of the drivers saving energy and coming out with what is effectively extra energy left over. They can still save energy during yellows and SCs, but they will come out of these periods with a correspondingly reduced amount of energy left.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Attack Mode
Very Exciting Racing
As the rules for the use of Attack Mode will vary by race, the need to strategize quickly both before and during the race makes for very exciting action. This presents a benefit to the fans, and to the teams that can do this better than the others. Pair this with the extra overtaking ability of the cars and it makes for some of the most exciting racing around.
For the teams, they can benefit from the ability to pick and choose when to give their cars extra power, and so it can really help out in wheel to wheel situations when the battle for positions is intense. Drivers may lose a position by going off the racing line, but when they come out of that activation zone, they can use the extra power to overtake once more and build up a gap.
This is also useful for those looking to overtake those in front of them before the activation zone. If they sacrifice the racing line but can use extra power afterwards, they may then get past the driver ahead. It also makes for interesting racing if drivers are forced off-line by other drivers, as they can use it as an opportunity to use Attack Mode to get back into the fight.
The teams arguably need to strategize more so than they would with traditional pitstops. The fact that Attack Mode uses up more energy compared to more conservative driving means they really need to manage their energy usage. Going longer stints with conservative driving can pay off in the end if they can use long bursts of Attack Mode to get past several other cars.
Running Out Of Power
However, if they do not save energy at the start of the race, they may not even make it to the checkered flag. This happened in the 2019 Mexico E Prix, when Pascal Wehrlein ran out of power on the final straight while in the lead, and many appreciate this kind of uncertainty that is gifted by the Attack Mode feature.
One disadvantage of the system however is the fact that the activation zones are quite narrow and thus quite easy to just miss if the drivers are not careful. This happens often, where drivers take the relative time penalty by going into the activation zone, but they then don’t stay in it until the end or miss it completely, meaning they can’t even make up for their lost time with Attack Mode itself.
This can make Attack Mode risky if the drivers are not totally committed, which could be argued as an advantage for the competitive aspect. However, as the drivers may need to make split second decisions regarding when to use it, they can lose out if they just slightly drift out of the activation zone. One remedy for this would be to make the activation zone markings clearer.
Overall, Attack Mode has been popular with fans, and the power upgrade from 25 kW to 35 kW for the 2019/2020 season made for even more excitement in the races with more common overtakes, and a bigger importance placed on energy management.
Attack Mode is a feature of Formula E races that forces drivers to think strategically at all times, all while maintaining proper energy management. With an activatable 35 kW power boost at certain points in the race, they can use it for both offensive and defensive moves, with a focus on making the race as entertaining as possible for the fans watching.