The inaugural Formula E race took place in Beijing this past weekend. A few short years ago it was just an idea. Now it has opened an exciting new chapter in the world of racing bringing a fresh approach and solid talent pool to the mix.
The main idea behind Formula E is that of a global electric racing championship focused on high performance and energy efficiency, which are really two sides of the same coin (though performance is much more exciting to watch than efficiency). By using quiet electric race cars and packing all the sessions into one day, the organizers are able to bring the action and the glamour to the masses in ten urban centers around the world in this season’s championship.
While it is said to have cost $100m to launch the series, that’s comparatively inexpensive considering it costs more each year to run a mid-field Formula 1 (F1) team. Though racing is not inexpensive, this could well turn out to be a great investment for founder Alejandro Agag and his backers.
Cars By Consortium
The cars are all-electric and built by Spark Racing Technology, incorporating components and systems from big names such as Dallara, McLaren, Williams, Renault and Michelin. Powered by 150 kilowatt (kW) motors (201 hp), they can reach modest top speeds of about 140 mph.
While power is nominal, torque is undoubtedly prodigious and instantaneous. Acceleration is quick. Battery capacity is still very limited, so the races are a brief 45 minutes, with each driver using two cars. Even then getting to the finish is really tight; drivers eke across the finish line with barely any charge left.
The cars use fairly flat, low downforce front and rear wings because there isn’t enough energy available to overcome the extra aerodynamic drag of high downforce wings commonly seen on cars on street circuits.
Compared to F1 cars the relatively low speed and low drag/downforce design makes the Formula E cars less aerodynamically sensitive. Because of that they should be able to race much closer together.
The big concern about the lack of loud engine noise is, in my opinion, unfounded. While certainly less noisy, electric cars at speed are not silent simply because there are other sounds present such as tire and wind noise. At speed they emit a pleasant high-pitched whir. Somewhat surprisingly, the Formula E car uses treaded tires that are closer in size to those of street cars. This is likely to negate the need for rain tires.
Despite its modest performance and somewhat odd appearance, particularly due to the fairings in front of each tire, the Formula E car is a great platform from which to develop further technology. There is little doubt it will continue to improve in performance in the coming seasons.