The FIA has issued its explanation for the battery fire that disrupted the Formula E World Championship’s official pre-season test at Valencia last week.
In a written statement, Racecar Engineering, the global motorsport federation gave the background to the incident, which occurred during checks after Robert Shwartzman’s DS E-Tense FE23 stopped on track.
The fire occurred in a dedicated pit garage where the WAE Technologies battery pack had been taken for inspection by the supplier’s technicians.
The FIA confirmed that, during the manual examination, there was an ‘arc flash’ and sparking that resulted in a localised fire. Arch flashes are caused by an electrical current traveling through the air that makes contact with another conductor or the ground.
One person was hospitalized for precautionary measures and then released without treatment after the Valencia incident.
‘During on-track testing, the automatic battery safety system was triggered in a race car causing the car to stop with the safety light illuminated,’ read the FIA statement.
‘Standard procedures followed, with the driver leaving the car once authorised by the FIA e-Safety Delegate and the rescue team and the car coming back immediately to the quarantine area.
‘Following full safety checks, the car was declared HV [high voltage] Safe and proceeded to the team garage, where the battery after further inspection was removed and transferred to a garage that only supplies batteries to Formula E cars.
‘Later on, while being manually inspected by the battery single-supplier team, there was an arc flash and some sparking, that resulted in a localised fire. The emergency alarm system in each of these garages was activated, allowing the Incident Response Team (IRT) to respond quickly to the fire.
‘One person was sent to hospital for precautionary checks and discharged without treatment.’
The rest of the opening day’s track activity and the entirety of the second day were called off as a precaution and to allow initial investigations to take place. The FIA and WAE deemed the conditions safe enough to resume testing in the afternoon of the last day.
It is unknown if the Formula E cars will maintain this power output for the new season. Spark Gen3 is set to launch its second campaign with a 350kW maximum output in attack and qualifying mode. The fast charging of the battery will be evaluated in preparation for a possible introduction of races in 2024.
The statement continued: ‘The investigations and findings provided by the single-supplier of batteries for Formula E cars, and reviewed by the FIA confirm that use of the battery packs in line with the single-supplier’s recommendations and requirements are within acceptable safety tolerances for a motorsport environment and therefore acceptable for on-track activity to go ahead.’
‘The single-supplier of batteries for Formula E cars [WAE] The data available for all batteries has been assessed and it is confirmed that none of them are defective. [at the test] The unit will show the same symptoms as when it failed.
‘The batteries are of the same specification as used in all twenty-two cars and sixteen races last season. In addition to the normal monitoring, and to mitigate risks, a series of additional safety measures have been introduced including reducing the power output to 300kW and investigating with immediate effect any potential issue or similar occurrence.’
Previous examples of fires in electric motorsport include the 2019 MotoE paddock blaze, in which the entire field of motorcycles burnt down after a short circuit ignited the batteries, and this year’s battery-related incident at Lydden Hill that destroyed Special ONE Racing Team’s fleet of RX1e cars and led to the FIA World Rallycross Championship suspending the class.
Racecar Engineering WAE was contacted to get a comment on the cause for the Valencia fire.
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