Formula E: Where Great Racing Meets Road Relevance

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Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Anil Parmar (editor in chief – FormulaEDiary.com)

If you watched the Miami ePrix, you’ll be well aware that what started out as a fairly dull race proved to be an absolute cracker, with strategy playing a pivotal role in the end result. Prost’s first win in the series makes him the championship leader for the time this season, but the real winner was Formula E itself. We have now had five different winners in as many races, and a championship battle that will likely go down to the wire.

With the Long Beach ePrix taking place this weekend, there hasn’t been a better time to watch this fantastic new series.

The fascinating thing about Formula E is just how varied the races have been. Whereas Miami proved to be strategic race where teams and drivers were required to carefully manage the power available to them, the fantastic race in Punta Del Este was a race full of dramatic overtakes, safety cars and even last lap heartbreak. The only common dominator in each race, other than Nick Heidfeld’s continued bad luck, is that picking a winner at the beginning of each weekend is nearly impossible.

It’s interesting to compare this to Formula 1, which according to the world’s media and many vocal fans, seems to be going through a crisis. The term dominance has always been thrown around in Formula 1, from Red Bull’s success to the success of Williams in the early 90’s. Today, there seems to be some resentment from fans and a certain Mr Horner towards Mercedes’ dominance, although Vettel’s win in Malaysia will keep everyone quiet until at least China.

Part of Formula E’s unpredictability comes from how important strategy is in determining the final result. Just five races in, we’ve seen a number of high-profile strategic mistakes and it could be argued that Miami showed this better than anywhere.

Virgin’s bizarre strategy mistake gave away a nearly guaranteed win for Sam Bird. The high probability of safety cars also makes the races unpredictable; with walls in close proximity it’s not surprising to see drivers that push hard make mistakes.

The only real disappointment so far has been the technical and mechanical issues suffered by a number of drivers.

In Miami, we saw several drivers with energy management problems and it’s become clear that ‘overcooking’ the battery is very easy to do, particularly when in traffic. This therefore gives the leader a clear advantage as cooling becomes much easier, however for now it hasn’t really had any kind of negative influence on the spectacle.

The suspension updates brought to Miami were much-needed after the failures in Argentina even though this appeared not to work for Bruno Senna. He saw two mechanical failures in Miami that may have been caused by the bumpy nature of the circuit.

All street circuits require a set up compromise in terms of ride height however Miami proved to be an extreme, far bumpier than any street circuit I can recall.

For a new series, reliability problems aren’t unexpected but I must admit that it doesn’t create a great first impression to new fans of the sport. After all, these are racing cars, not toys.

I wrote a piece for this site before the Formula E season began where I suggested that the success of Formula E should be determined by the impact it has on the electric motor industry and the improvements we see year on year.

As powertrain development kicks in from season 2 onwards and we move to cars with 250kW of power for the 2016/2017 season and beyond, I truly believe we’ll see the electric motor industry benefit from the Formula E’s R&D. I also believe we will see engineering talent being developed by Formula E manufacturers.

I’m under no illusion that once powertrain and suspension development starts we are likely to see a more spread-out field and this may lead to one team dominating – as is happening in F1.

If this does happen, it should not be seen as a negative, because the series exists to develop this technology and ultimately the spending will be directly relevant to those manufactures and not just limited to a race on a Saturday afternoon.

Marc Priestly, ITV 4’s Formula E technical analyst recently claimed, “as a spectacle and as a breeding ground for engineering talent, Formula E is proving to be without equal”.

I believe he’s somewhat underselling the incredible potential of the series. If you haven’t watched an ePrix yet, watch the Long Beach race this weekend. You won’t regret it!

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9 responses to “Formula E: Where Great Racing Meets Road Relevance

      • I’ve only seen highlights so far (paywall) so I can’t say too much about the racing itself but I like the concept. The Formula E has made a lot of smart decisions and while being different it’s still exciting to follow. I especially like that they seek interaction with fans and that when development is going to open up they target the right areas (drive train and batteries). I hope that when development opens up they are going to be open about it so that the technology doesn’t make the racing any more complicated than it already is. For a casual fan it must be pretty difficult to understand why some cars are better than others because of different driving styles, available fanboost, energy usage, etc and if you add more it might be too much. Personally I don’t mind but I do recognise that it is the weak spot of the series 😉

  1. I have been watching the first Formula E races, and I am surprised how they managed to get so many things right right from the get-go. The drivers are basically who is who of the open wheel racing. Most of them have completed many ladders of open wheel junior racing series, and some had quite a bit of F1 seat time. The racetracks look clever, the skylines look beautiful, tickets sell, and there is a lot of close racing right up to the end of race.

    • Indeed, it is surprising just how much they’ve got right this year. The only disappointment has been the long gap between races..That said, I’m expecting a much bigger calendar next year (likely around 15 races) so hopefully that won’t be a problem.

  2. “With the Long Beach ePrix taking place this weekend, there hasn’t been a better time to watch this fantastic new series.”

    Anil, would you consider adding exact info on when the ePrix takes place (up to GMT corrections)? I for one am not sure if there is even quali there, if action is on Sat/Sun, etc.

    • Hi mate,

      All the action takes place this Saturday (they somehow cram everything into one day…very impressive). The race itself takes place at midnight here in the UK, with coverage starting at 11pm on ITV 4. Qualifying will start at 7pm and can be streamed live via the formula E website (www.fiaformulae.com).

      If the start time is a bit too late for you, there’s a highlights show on ITV 4 on Sunday morning, at 9:25 am.

      I think that’s everything..I hope you’ll give it a chance?! Qualifying itself is really interesting and the format works really well. Give it a go 🙂

  3. @Anil Palmer, nice piece.
    I’ve found myself quite enjoying Formula E so far. It’s like comparing apples and oranges to compare it against F1. It’s definitely only going to get even more interesting to follow the development curve of the series. I’m guessing that a couple of primary goals for the teams once the regs are opened up, will be to really concentrate on getting rid of the car swap mid-race (battery tech has expensive R&D unfortunately I have made a suggestion further down) and also improvements in the re-gen systems, to make them more efficient, effectively allowing a driver to use a higher power setting for longer.

    I just hope that the ‘aero monster’ doesn’t rear it’s ugly and winner start to be decided by who has the best aero/CFC department.
    I would like to see them keep the body work and wings all the same for everyone (obviously they have some balance/set-up adjustments on the wings as they do already) and have the chassis along with the power-train thrown open to innovation and development. Not the energy store (batteries), because it will stop them using ‘exotic’ materials for their batteries that are not practical for applying to every day long term use, plus there are plenty of other people out there developing battery technology and it’s very expensive R&D. So the energy store would be supplied through the FiA at a specific size, weight, configuration and capacity, same for everyone. Each year however, there will be a review of the battery technology used by the series and as more efficient and sustainable batteries are developed, the FiA in conjunction with the teams and PU suppliers will decide on the battery configuration and capacity for the next season, this way, by natural progression, the mid race swap will eventually get eliminated, (but it does help to keep the race alive as we have already seen), if you combine the my proposed year on year improvements in battery tech and any steps made in the re-gen department, it may not be as long as you think until the car swap is a thing of the past. Also the suspension pick up points and the components that make up the suspension itself would all be standard to the series. This would keep costs down in the wind tunnel and aero departments, but still allow the power-train to be integrated into the chassis the best way for each particular team and their PU supplier, as we have seen in F1, this has proven essential with all the ancillary electrical systems associated with the very complex PU’s and their cooling requirements. Also by doing this, the emphasis is on the motor, re-gen and energy management, not the entire car, meaning that this is where all the engineering effort and resources will be concentrated, pushing the boundaries of the technology, which, I am sure will have much more directed ‘road relevance’ for the manufacturers who are involved than F1 has ever given. I could even see some manufacturers trying to come up with a way of recovering energy from the front axle as the majority of braking happens at the front, so if you could design a generator unit/dynamo that only recovered energy and didn’t provide extra drive, the driver could effectively harvest at least twice the energy he does currently, this would help with getting rid of the car swap too.

    I’m a bit of a geek, that’s why F1 never gets boring for me even if some of the races are less than stellar. So I hope Formula E can show some great engineering innovation and help make youngsters think electric cars are cool.
    Exciting times a head I hope, just hope Jean Todt doesn’t screw it up.

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