#FormulaE – The Next Frontier?

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Anil Parmar from Formula eDiary (@FormulaEDiary)

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.  

FormulaE - 4 BeijingThe 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.

FormulaE 3 DonningtonAs 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.

Fanboost, right?

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.

Formula E - Virgin

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18 responses to “#FormulaE – The Next Frontier?

  1. Thanks for the reminder Anil. I’ll be puttiing my support behind the Series itself and Heidfeld and Buemi in particular.

  2. I’ve gotta say, having a race series try to push forward a new power source by featuring races where the drivers have to switch cars half way through seems kind of self-defeating. I realise new technology always has issues – all those turbo blowups in F1 in the 80’s probably wasn’t great for selling turbo powered cars, but still. What’s the message being sent out here. “Yes, electric cars can be fast. But you need to buy at least two of them.”

    I suspect watching drivers frantically unstrapping belts and running around the pit lane trailing safety stuff behind them is going to be hilarious. Why on earth didn’t they just shorten the races, or have two heats, or anything?

    I don’t like the fan vote in, either.

    • The end goal is to develop the battery technology so there is a clear, measurable improvement year on year. Switching cars does highlight the problem with current technology, but developing the technology and potentially having 1 stop races is a great way of measuring the success of Formula E. It’s much better than say, having a 20 lap race and moving towards 25-30 lap races in the future.

      I understand your concerns though, and I think many share them with you. Out of interest, will you be watching Beijing?

      • Out of curiosity, yeah I will watch it (if it’s being carried on the sports channels I have). I remain skeptical about the approach they’ve taken, but it’ll be interesting to see the new paradigm emerge.

      • I agree with Mark on the length issue. For the first season – a spec series to establish it – it might have been wise to run 2 short races, i.e. the max they can currently go. F1 also had a ‘test season’ in 1949 – won by Alberto Ascari, now usually forgotten about.

        When development kicks in (season 2), that’s the time to lengthen distances, and this in itself ‘sells the fact’ that the cars can now last longer, with strategy coming in as an added extra i.e. more power with stops, or durability with enough speed.

        I’m also coming around to fan-boost, as it fits in with a new paradigm. I saw a chart giving Bruno Senna the most twitter fans, followed by Jaime A, while some have barely any or no account. It’s good to let the fans ‘have a say’ in awarding ‘DRS/push to pass’ if it will help freshen up stale racing, or attract younger fans to the sport.

        • Perhaps ‘fan boost’ can boost Senna up to where he would have been, if not for losing ten years of racing education! But I can’t see it overshadowing the racing, hope I’m not wrong in that..

    • Oh Mark….Such commonsense….don’t see any of that here too often.
      Completely with you.
      What still gets me is the aerial entourage to ‘showcase’. Green it aint.

  3. @mark Jones
    With you there.
    In sport (almost) everything that needs explaining, rather than being clear for anyone who watches, is bad.

    Just look at fanboost, DRS, 2 compounds per race, top 10 starts race on qualyfying compound… Etc

    Outside the racing they do lot of good stuff which F1 should look at: a soundtrack per race is a good idea – I proposed one per driver to lighten up the podium in F1.

    Q: is development allowed for chassis? Then I see a grim future full of aero

    • Aero will always remain very simple as it’s not an aero series and it never will be. In it’s first year the chassis will be fixed but after the first year the chassis can be developed (mainly the rear of the car). The benefit of this is that development costs will remain relatively cheap and the focus will be on developing battery technology, as opposed to aero.

      For what it’s worth, I saw the cars a lot at Donington and they have much more mechanical grip than aerodynamic grip…they were going sideways through the chicane!

      • Yeah more power than grip is the way to go, but I’m just wondering what happens if the big companies enter and go on a Spending Spree. There’s my aero concern.

        I just hope it forces change in F1 – or the Collapse.

        • Well, we could have Audi or Mahindra as the ‘manufacturers’, if that’s how it developed. Will they try and minimise drag rather than lump on aero? Perhaps the circuit design could also try and hint towards this direction (straights and chicanes).

  4. Off topic

    LDM would leave his ferrari role on Oct 13 and Sergio Marchionne would be new president, claims Adam Cooper and Reuters reports

  5. Saw the season shake down at weekend on ITV 4 it was enough to make me want to watch the event. Not sure if practice, qually and race are shown or just race but will be keeping an eye on it, plus none of the events clash wil any F1 races so it’s win win

    • Thanks for the comment! It’s a shame the first race is in Beijing as most people will only catch the race (9am I believe) but I think I might have to record the other sessions and watch them back at one point!

      Great to see that you’re interested 🙂

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