Editors Note: Anil is a passionate Formula 1 fan and a recent Chemistry graduate (MSci). His experience of studying Chemistry at degree level has developed his knowledge and interest in renewable energy which, combined with his love of motorsport, has led to him becoming very interested in the future of Formula E and the impact it can have on the motor industry. He is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Formula eDiary, a website providing news and updates on Formula E.
The 13th September 2014 will be a landmark moment in the history of motorsport. A racing series comprised of fully electric vehicles, built on the promise of fan interaction and great racing across the most famous cities in the world, will debut on the streets of Beijing, China. Many were sceptical when the series was first announced but judging by the interest at the final and most recent test at Donington, Formula E could become the wake up call that motorsport needs.
As I watched the cars lap the Donington circuit it became apparent just how fantastic these cars are to watch. Compared to the faster and louder F1 cars that are often bolted to the ground, the lack of downforce and the significant amount of torque produced by the cars makes extremely difficult to drive. The cars were regularly going sideways through the chicane and many drivers were struggling both in and out of the hairpin towards the end of the lap.
It was at this point that it occurred to me that this series shouldn’t be considered as a slower, electric version of Formula 1 or WEC. If anything, they resembled supercharged electric go-karts where driver skill and mechanical grip are the most important factors. As someone from the Virgin team told me, “it’s definitely not about aero”.
That said it would be foolish to consider Formula E as a simple spec series. The series is designed to enable manufactures to develop the battery technology after the first season is over. It’s here things get interesting; could we see cars that can finish a whole ‘e-prix’ (yes, that does take some getting used to) on one battery without the need for the driver swapping cars? Maybe the batteries themselves could become lighter or they could eventually store more power and discharge faster allowing for more powerful motors to be used.
It’s these developments that can have a real impact on the motor industry, particularly in cities where electric cars have enormous potential. As such, it seems fitting that all the races will take place exclusively on street circuits. Whilst this may disappoint some, particularly those who have attended the Donington tests, would watching electric cars on purpose built racing tracks make the same impact? Even to those with little knowledge of racing cars, electric cars racing around the streets of London and Beijing just makes sense. It’s interesting, different and somewhat progressive.
Now, you may be reading this and wondering what I have to say about that one thing that’s got you questioning the validity of Formula E as a true motorsport.
If DRS was controversial, fanboost has certainly made people sceptical about the series. Let’s be clear, it does make a huge difference but only in principle. It’s a power boost that will last for 5 seconds and will certainly have as much, if not more effect, than say a DRS attack during a Formula 1 race. The question we all want to know is whether it will ‘ruin’ the racing and that’s a question that I can’t answer. What I do believe however is that it won’t significantly affect a race let alone a championship. It’s worth remembering that the driver with the boost could be 15th when he activates it; it won’t suddenly take him to the front. It’s also worth remembering that the layout of these tracks will make overtaking very difficult so even with the fanboost a good defensive drive could render the attack useless.
The idea behind fanboost, as well as other ideas such as each race having a soundtrack or giving away free tickets for the race (take note Bernie), is to simply get the fans involved and talking about the event more. In an era where social media is so powerful and the fans want to communicate to one another, should we neglect the concept of fanboost and consider it as another gimmick? In such a progressive series, featuring teams from across the planet as well as female drivers, is it fair to criticise one the very ideas that makes Formula E unique?
Formula E is not trying to compete with F1 nor BTCC or WEC because it’s a completely unique series targeting a more diverse fan base. Should we as experienced motorsport enthusiasts challenge ourselves and try and see the vision behind the series with fresh eyes?
In the long term Formula E will be judged by the improvements and advancements it brings to battery technology and the motor industry as a whole. To get that far though it will need to prove to be a series worth watching and that will be determined by the racing and fan interaction it provides.
Street racing can be both spectacular and processional and we can only hope that the racing is much more of the former than the latter in the sports premiere season.