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 statement provided to 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. An arch flash is the product of an electrical current travelling through the air and making contact with the ground or another conductor.
After the Valencia incident, one individual was sent to hospital for precautionary checks and later discharged without treatment.
‘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 back to the team garage where the battery was removed following further checks and transferred to the garage of the single-supplier of batteries for 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 located in each of the garages was triggered, enabling the on-track Incident Response Team to act quickly and efficiently to contain the fire and minimise the damage caused.
‘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. Testing resumed on the afternoon of the final day after the FIA and WAE deemed that conditions were safe to continue.
The power output of all Formula E cars was limited to 300kW for the remainder of testing, although it is unclear if that approach will be maintained for the upcoming season. The Spark-built Gen3 vehicle, which is gearing up for its second campaign, is designed to have a maximum output of 350kW in qualifying and attack mode. Fast charging of the battery is being evaluated ahead of a potential introduction to 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] has assessed available data for all batteries and confirmed that none of the batteries [at the test] present the same type of symptoms as the unit that 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 has contacted WAE for comment about the cause of the Valencia fire.