• Jonathan Brannan

IS FORMULA E THE FUTURE OF MOTOR RACING?

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

This article was originally published on January 16th, 2019.


Last month, we got our first look at the new breed of Formula E cars that will be taking the track in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia for the first race of the 2018-19 season.


The season continued on Saturday in Morocco, at the third running of the Marrakesh ePrix. With Jérôme d'Ambrosio (@thereal_JDA) winning an unpredictable North African showcase.


Formula E is leading the global charge for renewable energy, but can it be the future of motorsports?

All-Electric Racing


The initial idea for Formula E came back in 2012, from FIA President and former General Manager of Scuderia Ferrari Jean Todt.


The idea being that the FIA should demonstrate the potential of sustainable mobility. While pushing innovation in the industry and promote reducing people's carbon footprint.


Todt's idea was quickly picked up by Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag. Turning the vision into a reality, agreeing to a twenty-five-year contract with the FIA. The all-electric racing series premiered two years later, in 2014, with its first ePrix in Beijing.


The fifth season will see all races take place on road circuits in the center of some of the most iconic and eye-catching cities in the world, from Paris to New York.


As the series grows, they have managed to bring in some recognizable names. The most significant addition to the 2018-19 line-up is Felipe Massa (@MassaFelipe19‏). The former Ferrari and Williams driver retired from F1 last year and is racing for Venturi.

Nick Heidfeld (@NickHeidfeld), is another driver who spent a decade in Formula 1, and former Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne (@JeanEricVergne), is the current reigning champion.

The teams include some of the world's biggest car manufacturers Audi, BMW, and Jaguar. Mercedes, who have dominated F1 for the past five years, will also enter Formula E in the 2019-20 season.


Furthermore, Leonardo Di Caprio co-founded the Venturi team along with chairing the racing series' sustainability committee.

Leonardo Di Caprio visiting his Venturi team. Credit: etonline.com

Equality


For some, the "E" in Formula E can also stand for equality.


Traditionally, women have been a minority in motorsport. However, Formula E has been looking to tackle this problem.


So far there have been three female drivers in Formula E, Simona de Silvestro (@simdesilvestro), Katherine Legge (@katherinelegge), and Michaela Cerruti.


Former Williams' reserve driver Susie Wolff (@Susie_Wolff) became Formula E's first female team boss, taking the helm at Venturi.


"I thought the whole gender issue was over when I stopped racing!" she told CNN. "But I can also see that it's causing quite a lot of interest with me being a team principal."


To go from a novelty to the norm is, what Wolff describes as, a "two-step problem."


She explains, "The first issue is there's not enough role models, enough women that are visible to inspire the next generation.


"That leads to the second problem, that we simply don't have enough women entering the sport."


Formula E has been looking at being the change by offering opportunities. Even going as far as to stage a unique initiative for female racers in collaboration with the organizers of the Saudi Arabia ePrix.


The teams were encouraged to run a female, in addition to their regular drivers, at the Ad Diriyah test. In total, nine females took part, making it the sport's highest female participation event.


"It was a great initiative," said Tatiana Calderon (@TataCalde) who tested with DS Techeetah.


"Sometimes people don't want to give you the chance to express all your talent so 'forcing' the teams to take a female was great.


"It's a big challenge, you only have one day to give a good impression and you need to gain the confidence and trust from the team."


Formula E founder and chairman Alejandro Agag now plans to make these inclusive tests an annual event.


"We will have tests for women at least once a year," said Agag. "It is part of my agenda."


"The more track time women have in the car, the more chances there are that we can get one or two competing in the championship."

Fanboost


Compared to some of its carbon-belching cousins, Formula E has chosen to further break a host of racing taboos.


The most controversial differences however are during the race the 'attack mode' and 'fanboost' features.


'Attack mode' is new to the 2018-19 season. It will give drivers an extra 25 kW of power.


Drivers will need to arm their car by driving off the racing line, through the Activation Zone. At this point of the track, drivers can secure extra speed for a few laps. Giving the driver the edge to keep ahead of the competition. Fans will be able to recognize if the driver has activated 'attack mode,' as the Halo on the car will changes color.

During the Saudi Arabian ePrix race winner, Antonio Felix da Costa (@afelixdacosta) managed to benefit from the new feature during the closing stages of the race. However, Geox Dragon Racing's José María López (@pechito37) missed the activation zone and ended up in the wall.


Furthermore, fans can also affect the race from the comfort of their own home, through 'fanboost'.


The'fanboost' feature has been part of Formula E for the past few seasons. It offers viewers the ability to vote on which drivers get extra power during the race. Utilizing the Formula E app, social media and Formula E website fans choose the driver they think deserves the extra power. This takes place on the week building up to the race, and during the first 15 minutes of the race.


The five drivers who win the vote receive an extra 100 kilojoules of energy, which they can deploy in a five-second window during the second half of the race.


The 'fanboost' feature has helped Formula E reach the key 13-24 demographic. Formula E fans are considered to be younger, more urban, and more affluent than other race fans, meaning that they are more likely to buy environmentally conscious products.

Speed


When Formula E first arrived on the scene, one of the main criticisms the series received was that the cars were too slow for top-level single-seater racing. This may have been the case in 2014 when the top speed of the cars was about 140mph.

However, this season sees the introduction of Gen2 cars, which will be able to reach 180mph. That means they are edging closer to their Formula 1 counterparts, which can reach up to 230mph.

Many have mentioned that the new Gen2 looks a lot like the Batmobile. With sleek bodywork featuring swooping arches.


With faster cars and a bolder look, Formula E has a real chance of making motorsport fans sit up and pay attention.


The sport was developed primarily with sustainability in mind. Therefore, the series powers its cars with a battery that uses 100% renewable fuel, and tyers that, as well as lasting an entire race, can also be recycled afterward.


This has led to efficiencies of 90% compared to 20% from a conventional gasoline engine.

Most parts are standardized across all of the teams which makes for incredibly close racing.

Meanwhile, spectators are encouraged to use public transport to get to events, with no public parking available. This is made easier by bringing the race to them in the center of the cities.


With the car-manufacturing world looking to switch to developing almost exclusively electric cars within the next couple of decades, Formula E provides them with the ideal arena to develop and test new technology at a competitive level.


In the first five seasons, Formula E has received incredible support from major sections of the world community. The young are flocking to races in their cities and major corporates have become willing sponsors.


Sir Richard Branson, recently predicted that in four or five years from now, Formula E will overtake Formula 1 in popularity.


Formula E’s outreach is to those who are genuinely concerned about air quality issues and want to make life-changing decisions that will have a positive effect on our planet.


Formula E is part of the future