Formula E: The Future of Racing

Sam Kessler (Online Editor)
Two years old and already a pretender to the automotive throne of F1, is it just a matter of time before Formula E is the quintessential racing championship?

Formula E is a strange beast. Despite having started as recently as 2014, it’s managed to gain a substantial following in a very short time. Its championship takes in the world’s greatest racing hubs, going so far as to formulate new tracks specifically for the competition and drawing some truly spectacular names as it does so. All of this, and the cars barely even make a sound.

That’s because, if the name doesn’t give it away, Formula E is all about electrical power. No petrol engines, not even the sort of hybrid technology that so many performance cars use nowadays, but pure, clean energy.

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To the electrical sceptics out there, it seems a travesty, an impossibility designed to besmirch the good name of the countless petrol championships out there. Look a little closer however, and you might begin to see things differently. There’s a very good chance that Formula E is the future of automotive racing.

A Formula E Grand Prix is a decidedly surreal experience. Anyone that’s been to the F1 – or within a couple miles of the track on race day for that matter – knows that earplugs are a necessity. An hour or two of screaming engines doesn’t do anyone much good, which makes the near silent running of the electric racers feel somehow… wrong.

Not that we’re complaining about having all of our hearing; it’s simply that you expect a race to be accompanied by a cacophony of engines. Instead, other than a faint whirr and the rattling of fast-running machinery, the cars are all but silent.

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It’s even stranger given that, at a glance, you’d be excused for assuming the cars were last generation F1 vehicles; they have the same kind of aerodynamic silhouette, the same driver position and chassis layout. They can even match them on paper – or come close at least – getting 0-62 in under 3 seconds. And there’s room for improvement; a lot of improvement.

Even if the upcoming Bugatti Chiron would have us believe otherwise, there’s not all that much room left for innovation in petrol engines. You can make them bigger, more efficient and throw in turbochargers galore, but they’re fast becoming an outdated track technology.

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Just look at how much things have progressed with the advent of hybrid technology; there’s simply so much scope for new advancements in electrical engines that, give it a handful of years, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the average pace of Formula E eclipses all competition. That might be a bold statement, but it’s one we stand by.

It’s not just the cars themselves that have scope for innovation either. In a current climate permeated by social media, racing in general is pretty slow to embrace the digital world; they’re engineers and mechanics, what do they care about Facebook? Formula E was, from the offset, conceived as a far more interactive experience.

Fanboost sounds horrendously gimmicky and, in a way, it is. But it’s also a uniquely involving proposition. Essentially spectators and racing fans can vote on their favourite driver and, come race day, that driver will receive a pre-ordained power boost for a limited time. Think of it like a computer game power-up for popularity.

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Strange? Definitely. Unfair? Possibly. But it connects the drivers to the spectators like nothing else. When it pays to keep the crowds on your side, you make the effort with your fans. We’re not saying current leader Lucas Di Grassi is out in front because of Fanboost, but considering he’s one of the most charismatic racers on the grid, it probably doesn’t hurt.

It’s all too easy to imagine the whole event as a kind of budget F1, essentially the prosecco to the latter’s champagne. Fortunately that’s most definitely not the case – particularly thanks to maison Mumm providing more than enough bubbles for the discerning palate.

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Timekeeping by Swiss watchmakers TAG Heuer, team sponsorship from some of the biggest names in luxury and entertainment to better the vast majority of competitions, Formula E feels as energetic and glamorous as any sporting event you care to name. It also has one major trump card over its competitors: location.

Strange as it is to hear the electric racers - or not, as the case may be - therein lies their greatest grace. Because of their silence, they can compete in the very heart of the city without any issues. In last month’s Parisian leg for example, the short, 1.9km circuit encircled the historic Les Invalides complex, bordered by some of the most breath-taking buildings the City of Light has to offer. Compare it to the comparatively bland expanses of land that surround most tracks and you see the appeal.

Since its first Grand Prix there’s been no slow build-up for Formula E, no steady raising of awareness or gathering a following. In just two years, it’s become one of the biggest events on the motorsport calendar and shows no sign of slowing, especially with the cars actually getting quicker.

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With the final races of the season taking place around our very own Battersea Park, you’ll want to make sure you get in there early. Just don’t forget to vote for your racer of choice; it might be the last race, but British driver Sam Bird could win a coup. Either way, Luca di Grassi certainly doesn’t need the help.

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