The new era of Formula E finally arrived last weekend at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia and as we all saw, the event was a big success.
The welcome received by the whole paddock was amazing and the circuit was one of the best we have raced on.
It was a real challenge in dry conditions, let alone in the wet and then the damp that we experienced in the modified qualifying session.
It was certainly a weekend of firsts for the team. The first race of Season Five, the first at this new venue, a completely fresh technical package, interesting changes to the race format and even a new identity as we became Envision Virgin Racing.
The team knew that with very limited pre-season testing we would be using the first few races to fully understand the Audi powertrain and optimize the package to get to the front.
I have competed in Formula E since the beginning and it gets more and more competitive every season, so when you make such wide-ranging changes then it will naturally take some adapting to.
The effort and the dedication shown by the boys and girls at Envision Virgin has been immense and I know this will be rewarded eventually.
We also saw the efforts made by the organizers last weekend. The delays in getting track action going were handled pretty well. It was just unfortunate that there were a few rivers running across the circuit.
I went out to inspect them with race director Scot Elkins and everyone was doing their best to get a track which was suitable to drive on. Safety was the key factor on Saturday, as it always should be.
There wasn’t any Free Practice to speak of, so we really had nothing to go by before going straight into qualifying.
Ultimately what compromised us in qualifying was getting a penalty for a power spike when we went over a bump. It was a bit harsh to be honest and we weren’t the only ones.
But the performance was quite good and we qualified fifth in our group on merit.
Without the penalty I would have started ahead of [Jerome] d’Ambrosio, so I really think a podium finish could have been on.
But you know, a penalty is a penalty and we have to swallow that as a team.
Before the race I had the incredible experience of meeting Wayne Rooney, Manchester United’s and England’s all-time top scorer.
He was at Ad Diriyah checking the race out and it was an absolute pleasure to meet him, show him the car and tell him a little bit about Formula E.
The race itself was reasonably uneventful and because we started towards the back of the field, progress was always going to be tough.
With so many new challenges we were pleased to see the checkered flag and it was obviously a good opportunity for some data collection.
The whole team are now looking forward to the next event in Marrakesh next month where we will be pushing like hell to get points on the board.
But our Saudi Arabia adventure didn’t end on Saturday, as there was an important in-season test the day after the race. Robin [Frijns] and I were straight back on it and we were joined by Amna Al Qubaisi.
Amna is just starting out in her career and I have been on the same grid as her father Khaled Al Qubaisi. It is great to see a new generation of talented drivers coming through.
The test was very productive, and I was pleased to top the time sheets in the afternoon session, after Robin did the same in the morning.
But most importantly it gave us some more valuable insight into the package and how we can put all the promise in to some positive results next time out in Morocco on the 12th January.