Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Catching up with Formula E - A roundup of news about the exciting electric racing series

Published by Ross Ringham

Much has been revealed about the emerging Formula E series in the past few months. Here’s a whirlwind tour of developments in the new motorsport.

The car

Spark-Renault SRT_01E test debut
Credit: Formula E Holdings

The Spark-Renault racing car that all teams will use in the first season was officially unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September. It was minus some important parts - namely, the powertrain - but showed off a sleek, low-drag shape and 18” Oz wheels shod in low-profile Michelins. (A bit like my old hot hatch, then.)

Testing is underway in France: the car has clocked up more than 250km now. It uses a motor derived from McLaren’s acclaimed P1 supercar and batteries from Williams. Teams will likely take delivery of a car apiece in May, ready for them to test with in June and July.

The teams

All 10 teams for the first year have been announced.

Formula E Teams
Drayson RacingBritish record-breaking outfit Drayson Racing
China RacingCompeted in A1GP and Superleague Formula
Andretti AutosportIndyCar stalwarts led by Michael Andretti
Dragon RacingAnother IndyCar series team who recently ran Sébastien Bourdais
e.damsThe Alain Prost-fronted team based in France
Super AguriFeaturing most of the same people at the top as did in F1
Audi Sport ABTLargely made up of DTM team ABT Sportline with Audi backing
Mahindra RacingFielded by the gargantuan Indian corporation that also happens to make electric cars
Virgin RacingLed by original F1 team boss Alex Tai
Venturi Grand PrixA collaboration between French car maker Venturi and Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio

Despite valiant efforts, Vastha, Bluebird and Team Rosberg haven’t made it in; neither has Brabham, which registered a Formula E team company name earlier this year.

The races

The inaugural season runs from September 2014 to June 2015, and has been approved by the FIA. Hong Kong, which had made it onto the list, was a surprise omission from the final schedule.

Formula E Calendar 2014/2015
20 September 2014ChinaBeijing
18 October 2014MalaysiaPutrajaya
15 November 2014BrazilRio de Janeiro
13 December 2014UruguayPunta del Este
10 January 2015ArgentinaBuenos Aires
14 February 2015USALos Angeles
14 March 2015USAMiami
9 May 2015MonacoMonte Carlo
30 May 2015GermanyBerlin
27 June 2015UKLondon

The drivers

FEH has been talking about a “driver programme” – a talent pool from which teams can draw, and with which to undertake all the testing required. This is more critical than ever as the FIA has recently ruled that the development drivers can’t race in the first season.

These are some of the 20 names we might see on the grid in September 2014.

  • Lucas di Grassi: Stepped down as principal Formula E development driver in December. His F1 employer was Virgin, which is fielding a Formula E team, and he races for Audi at Le Mans, which is supporting the sport through the link with ABT
  • Takuma Sato: The Japanese driver is currently making headlines in IndyCar, but he had signed up to do some winter testing in the Spark-Renault. His former F1 team, Super Aguri, is back as a Formula E team, and team boss Mark Preston has said he’d love to have Sato in the hot seat
  • The Stig: That’s right - former Top Gear Stig Ben Collins revealed on Twitter that he’s signed up to the programme. It’s likely he’ll fill a testing role rather than contesting the driver’s championship
  • Pedro de la Rosa: The Spaniard is hotly tipped in the Spanish motoring press to get a drive
  • Leilani Munter: US racing driver and noted environmentalist with links to Andretti and Dragon, both of whom are joining Formula E grid
  • Alexander Sims: British F3 and McLaren FT driver, who has confirmed he is in talks with teams. He is already committed to electric mobility (and drives a Tesla) so he’d seem a natural pick.

Cool or controversial?

The past few months have thrown up all sorts of additional features that, depending on your viewpoint, are either truly avant garde or truly awful.

  • Exhibit one: “fanboost”, which will allow fans to bequeath drivers an extra “push to pass” boost by voting on social media during the race. Cue lots of stuff about the purity of motorsports, gimmicks – and a mad scramble by teams and drivers to build up their Twitter followers.
  • Less likely to cause abject horror and more in the style of [name any sci fi film here], introducing Qualcomm’s plans to bring augmented reality to every race. Now this really is forward thinking. The short version of their concept is: wire up every venue so that all mobile devices work effortlessly; add in extra stuff like real time camera feeds, videos of the inner mechanisms of the cars, interviews with drivers and so on; and enable features such as ordering food or merchandise, upgrading tickets or reserving a cab for the journey home. Suddenly, every spectator with a smartphone or tablet becomes more immersed in the experience than ever before.
  • Free tickets. Enough said.

The sport is developing fast and is proving a match for F1 in terms of plotline twists and turns. Be sure to check out Current E for ongoing news, analysis and opinion. Drivers are expected to be announced in the first few months of 2014, ahead of the first race in September.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and here’s to a very exciting 2014.