As Formula 1 fans since Spa of 1998, we started watching Formula E this year—in time for the start of its sixth season. And it’s chaotic fun on an electric scale.
ABB FIA Formula E began life in Beijing for its first race in September 2014.
The sport is backed up by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobil)—the governing body of motorsport. Spanish businessman and politician Alejandro Agag created the series.
However, the FIA’s president (Jean Todt) thought of a city-based electric series in 2011.
Agag took up the concept and it’s what we have today—Formula E. In the present season we have 12 teams with two drivers each, as with F1.
Except the sport is a lot different. In fact, it’s made clear efforts to distance itself from its petrol-driven counterpart. Here are a few key differences:
- Everything happens in one frantic day—practice sessions, qualifying, and the race.
- The race takes place over 45 minutes, plus with one added lap after that (kind of like how Le Mans works).
- Energy management is essential (more on that further below).
- There’s an Attack Mode that works like F-Zero on the SNES, where drivers drift off the racing line into energy lanes. That gives them a boost during the race.
- Almost every track is a street circuit, all located in cities such as London, Santiago, Monaco, Miami, and Beijing.
- There’s also a Fanboost feature. Fans vote for their favourite driver on social media. The winner gets an electric boost during the race.
We’ve only seen three races so far. Formula E has gained a reputation for being a bit chaotic and unprofessional at times, but the racing certainly is engaging.
It’s nuts. The cars are very nippy and, because it’s all street circuit based, all sorts of manic action takes place. The main things we’ve noticed are:
- Contact is frowned upon but okay. It’s not uncommon to see drivers barging by competitors, or nudging into the back of them, and then using that as an advantage to overtake.
- It’s pretty standard for a driver to have a bit of bodywork hanging off the car and to drive into a wall to try and dislodge it.
- The field is much more competitive and the eventual winner not overly certain.
- Formula E is mad. Every race is manic carnage and a bit all over the place.
Now, from a technical viewpoint the cars are impressive pieces of kit. They’re nowhere near as fast as F1 cars and easier to drive—aerodynamics isn’t as essential.
But energy management is, which creates a unique bit of car management through a race. Many drivers are often right at the limit about to run out in the final few corners.
Simply as it’s electric-based, many motorsport purists are against it. That’s not “proper” motorsport, apparently.
However, it hints at the future of F1. Whether the “back in my day” fans like it or not, the sport most evolve if it wants to survive in the climate crisis, environmentally conscious era.
But we like it! It’s great. Many F1 “rejects” end up there and it’s unfairly seen as a sport for drivers not could enough for the pinnacle.
At present, French racer Jean-Éric Vergne (whose F1 career petered out in the Red Bull driver programme) is the Lewis Hamilton of the sport with two titles.
Former F1 stars such as Felipa Massa and Nick Heidfeld are (and were) there, too, plus Alain Prost’s son.
And, well, the more big names it attracts the brighter a future it will have.
We’re flagging it up as this could well be the future of motorsport. F1, rallying, whatever else has to adapt and become environmentally friendly.
Formula E has led with a major example. And it’s damn good entertainment to add into the bargain.