Successful First Year of Formula E: Positions Electric Racing For Growth
The inaugural year of Formula E, the electric vehicle racing series managed by FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) concluded last weekend. The viability of a relatively quieter and slower single-seat fully electric series—one that requires drivers to jump from one car to the other at the halfway point—was initially questioned. Yet, the first season proved to be fascinating, competitive, and exciting. Moreover, rule changes slated for the second season promise to amp-up both industry involvement and public engagement, while advancing the technology.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group and chief of the Virgin Racing Formula E team, stirred controversy during the final event in London, when he favorably compared Formula E to Formula One. “I think in four or five years you will find Formula E taking over from F1 in terms of number of people watching the races," he said to the BBC. “As time goes on, the clean energy type of business will power ahead of other businesses.” Formula One racers and fans, not surprisingly, responded by dismissing the electric series as boring.
Short Intense Races
Branson has reasons to be sanguine about Formula E. First of all, the races were indeed fun to watch. In the first race in Beijing, Venturi’s Nick Heidfield tried to use a burst of stored electric power to surge ahead in the final corner, only to have the leader Nico Prost of E.Dams-Renault cut left, clipping Heidfeld’s car, and sending him into the wall. Lucas di Grass of Audi Sport ABT took the checkered flag.
The competitive field saw only three drivers winning more than one race. The championship for the first season came down to the final lap of the last race in London, with Nelson Piquet Jr. beating Sebastaian Buemi by a single point. Englishman Sam Bird earned his second win of the season in front of a home crowd, but only because Stephane Sarrazin (who crossed the finish line first) ended the race with an empty battery, resulting in a battery-consumption penalty unique to the electric series.
“Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the final would turn out like this,” said Alejandro Agag, chief executive of Formula E. “It was an incredible day and we achieved what we set out to do, putting on a great motorsport show in one of the most important cities in the world.”
In fact, the promise of Formula E springs from the unique challenges facing racecars powered by electric motors and batteries. For example, the 30 kilowatt-hour battery packs provide only so much range, forcing a midway car swap, and condensing the race down to less than one hour. That means fans are engaged from start to finish for those 45 minutes or so.
The choice of venues—major world capitals mostly without a racing tradition—added a global cosmopolitan dimension. The locations included Beijing, Moscow, Berlin, Miami, and Buenos Aires. Next year’s schedule is expected to include Paris.
With a successful year completed, a growing fan base is looking forward to rule changes in the 2015-2016 season. The changes offer the greatest promise of furthering the cause of electric vehicle technology, not just for racing but also for everyday EV drivers. In the first season, every team drove an identical car. But next year, teams will be allowed to develop their own powertrain—electric motor, inverter, cooling systems and the gearbox.
In this way, Venturi, McLaren, and Renault—makers of consumer and exotic electric vehicles—will use Formula E to push the vanguard of the technology. We might see the use of hub motors to power individual wheels, a design considered for many years. There will be at least eight suppliers developing electric powertrains for next year’s competitors.
Next year will, in turn, pave the way for an even more impactful rule changes in the 2016-2017 season: teams will be allowed to develop their own battery chemistries, as well as the arrangement of cells and battery management systems.
Drivers who use plug-in electric vehicles for daily driving will be able to cheer their favorite racers, while supporting the advancement of automotive technology that displaces the use of petroleum.
New to EVs? Start here
Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
Buying Your First Home EV Charger
You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.