Formula E: reinventing motor sports
From Paris to New York, every big city in the world seems to want to host a Formula E race. The single-seater electric car race launched in 2014, has been ever-growing in popularity with brands like Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche wanting to take part in.
It all started back in 2006 when Frenchmen Eric Barbaroux and Pierre Gosselin had the idea to create a single-seater race through the city to get more attention from the general public. The idea of a “clean” motor sport with less disturbances seemed ideal.
The project then called “Formulec” was bought out of interest by Alejandro Agag, known in the classic Formula 1 world for bringing Telefonica to Renault F1 and Santander to Ferrari. With former Ferrari F1-team director and FIA chairman Jean Todt’s support, the sport was launched in autumn of 2014 with the label “worldwide championship”.
By season 5 (2018-2019), the Formula E should attain the World Championship status with more than 24 drivers on the grid. That should worry the Formula 1, currently having difficulties convincing brands to fight on the circuit, unlike Formula E.
Renault was the first to believe in the sport, then followed by Venturi, Jaguar and DS Automobile. It even convinced important F1 names like Andretti and Penske. The interest is ever growing.
Audi will take part in the next season starting in Hongkong. One year later, it will be BMW’s turn and there is even word that Porsche will take part too. Ferrari is said to seriously considering the possibility and Mercedes will join the grid for season 6 (2019).
10 to 20 times less money needed
Formula 1 should take inspiration from Formula E. Each championship isn’t settled until the very last race and teams aren’t exploding the budget either. They spend about 10 to 20 times less than in Formula 1, or 10 to 15 million dollars per season.
FE regulations have fixed the car’s aerodynamics to prevent costs to rise. Since season 2 (2015-2016), each team is allowed to develop its own power plant and soon drivers won’t need a second car to finish a race, thanks to better battery technology and a bigger range.
‘Promote the car of the future’
If large companies and important car manufactures are interested in this sport, it’s not only to reach a new urban public. The main reason is to accompany their electric vehicles’ marketing. They employ the old formula of “race on Sunday, sell on Monday”.
But Formula E is also seen as an open laboratory for car makers to test the limit of their technology and also for technology to evolve quicker. “The car of the future will be electric”, says FE boss Agag, “we have created a competition that matches a certain vision of automotive sports but that is also a mirror of the ‘everyday car’ of tomorrow”.
Above the sustainable development part of Formula E, this sport also attracts start-ups with new technology. Like the San Francisco Virtually Live company that created a software to watch the FE event live from home in virtual reality.
Thanks to cameras in the paddocks, on the circuit and on the stands, viewers can experience the event through virtual reality. They can even chat with other fans from the FE community and redo the race as a virtual driver thanks to a specially developed racing game.
The Formula E has still some years to go and could become an exploration field for the Formula 1. Liberty Media, owner of the F1 rights, has recently become the major shareholder of Formula E Holdings when it bough Enrique Banuelos’ share.