Is Formula E the Future of Motorsports?
2014 will see the advent of a brand new class of open-wheel race cars, as the FIA-sanctioned Formula E series debuts next September. As its name implies, Formula E is all-electric, and the cars themselves bear more than a passing resemblance to current F1 racers albeit with much less complicated aero work. The chassis for the Spark-Renault SRT_O1E is developed by Dallara, which also provides the backbone for IndyCars; the powertrain and electronics will be coming courtesy of McLaren Electronic Systems. Rounding out the list is Williams, who supplies the 200kw (270hp) motor. These being electric vehicles, noise generated by the motors is virtually nil, which presents a problem not only from an entertainment perspective, but also from a safety standpoint, as the pit or track crew will have little audible warning of fast-approaching cars. For the fans, there’s a high pitched, futuristic Jetsons-like whine, while an artificial rumble will be active in the pits to warn crews. The tire supplier chosen for the 10-race series is Michelin, so hopefully the cars won’t be shod in rubber purposely designed to be shredded à la Pirelli in F1.
With the car and motor nailed down, the next step is to make sure there are teams that can actually compete. Formula E will support 10 teams total, each with two drivers. So far, six teams have been announced: Dryson Racing (whose Technologies division created a bio-fuel LMP1 car), China Racing (an A1 GP team), Andretti Autosport (IndyCar), Dragon Racing (IndyCar), e.dams (a new team co-founded by Alain Prost), and Super Aguri (Formula 1). The provisional calendar, which is to be approved next month by the FIA, will include locales such as Beijing, Monte Carlo, London, and Los Angeles.
One of the most attractive aspects of the series is that Formula E Holdings will not charge the host cities a fee for presenting the race, making Formula E extremely attractive compared to other racing events. Formula 1, for instance charges (Price) for each race, not counting the additional expense that governments pay for the privilege of bringing F1 to their country. The tentative schedule also suggests that Formula E cars don’t necessarily require a proper track to compete, so they could theoretically be held anywhere with ample space and decently paved roads.
In the beginning, Formula E cars will suffer from the typical electric vehicle shortcomings: an unfavorable power-to-weight ratio and battery range. That last point is why the motors, while making 270hp, are limited to 180hp in the race: to conserve charge (the rest is available on tap as needed). The power unit is also why the car can only be driven hard for 25 minutes before the driver must swap for another car, and why the top speed is set at 150mph.. Each team is allowed two cars per driver, so the races will be short and sweet, if not a little tight on charge management.
So will Formula E mark the beginning of EV dominance in motorsport? Not for now, and not for a while. There will be a limited audience at first, especially considering the lack of audial feedback that racing enthusiasts insist is one of the most important aspects of the sport. The pros are many, however: Formula E’s lack of direct competitors, comparative logistical simplicity, and the possibility of technology trickling down to road cars, one of the things that once made Formula 1 so great. Providing that the provisional calendar is cemented, the first race will be held next September in Beijing. Is it time for the EV racing revolution to begin?
Photos courtesy of Formula E