Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Chasing (electric) cars - Formula E is bursting into life

Published by Lukeh

In just a few weeks the FIA will begin an exciting new crusade for electric motorsport with the debut of Formula E, the much anticipated series that looks set to shake up what we know of open wheel racing. There's been a considerable amount of talk and hype over the last year or so, gradually building up as we approach the first race in Beijing on 13th September, and this week saw the final test session at Donington Park being held before the big series debut. Having attended this sunny day in the East Midlands, it led me to quite a few thoughts on Formula E and what's to come.

Forget what we're told

One of the biggest talking points about an electric series has always been the discussion of the car sound. Even in Formula 1 a change in what we expect to hear from the sound of an F1 car led to constant discussion on if it was good or bad for the sport, ultimately being forgotten behind a hugely entertaining season. It proved that the sound of a car can be ultimately fruitless to how good a race can be but Formula E has nothing to worry about.

What struck me upon first sitting in the grandstand at Donington Park was realising just how good it sounded. It comes as a real culture shock hearing something so futuristic for the first time. My initial comparison was to imagine the sound of a mini-jet engined aeroplane going past at 150 miles per hour on wheels - and I know that others agree on how satisfyingly modern it sounded too. It's also a considerable pleasure to be able to attend a racing circuit without the need of ear plugs or ear protectors against a chest-shaking sound of other series.

Formula E car by Lukeh

I was also quite impressed with how Donignton Park has had plenty of development to have the team factories all centralised alongside the Formula E HQ building. It allowed the really rather unique event of the cars literally being driven back to their respective team factories at the very end of the day which was a very strange thing to witness for all the best reasons! There may not be any dedicated racing circuits on the race calendar but it's good to see that a circuit like Donington, so famed for troubles with attempted developments in recent times, has got support like this that it can offer back to the series.

As for the cars themselves, it's good fun watching the drivers tackle corners and deal with clear cases of understeer and oversteer. Something I noticed at Donington Park throughout the day was how many adjustments were being made in corners by the drivers which seemed to suggest a real challenge for even the most experienced of drivers to get used to. Granted, the straight line speeds might not be as fast as Formula 1 but it's incredibly obvious if you go to see a race in the next year how much of a challenge it is for the drivers. It'll be brilliant fun watching them deal with bumpy street roads and tight circuits.

Before we get too old

I can't help but feel though that one of the biggest mistakes we as fans can do though is constantly compare it to Formula 1. It may sound a bit ludicrous when it has so many ex-F1 stars taking part and has such a similar name but it's important that FE managed to build it's own reputation as a solid racing series that isn't in the shadow of it's historical cousin. Formula E race days work in a completely different format to a lot of other series' in the fact it is going to try and get everything done in cities, in a day, all for the sake of making it more accessible for the fans. Although the first season will be a spec series, the following seasons will allow the teams to start pushing what electric technology can offer as a motorsport formula and it'll only grow from there as it's reputation builds. There's so much potential for Formula E's future that it would be incredibly unfair to just compare it to Formula 1 at every opportunity.

The amount of access provided in Formula E felt incredibly refreshing against my own experience of going to an F1 testing session

Of course, it's a little hypocritical of me to say this when I felt that the amount of access provided in Formula E felt incredibly refreshing against my own experience of going to an F1 testing session. One of the best things about the testing sessions at Donington Park was the fact that the circuit was completely open to the fans. It meant, even with a dodgy ankle, that it was possible to just have a sit down somewhere, take the day in, and head off to another part of the circuit and just absorb a little of the sights, sounds and thoughts for the day which was really nice.

Formula E offered a lunch time pit access though that was predictably hectic but didn't do much to restrict anything from the fans once the excessive queues had found their way in. A few drivers sat in their garages and chatted with the fans - noticeably Katherine Legge making a wonderful amount of effort with fans at her garage both young and old, and that certain Frenchman Franck Montagny happily sitting on the front nose of his car and happily chatting away with fans too. It was hectic as all pit walks are but most garages didn't have bollards to push everyone away and didn't have something to keep fans at a distance.

They're all that I can see

Taking the quick way home at Formula E testing
Credit: Lukeh

Overall my impressions coming away from Formula E were really rather good. There was a really good turnout of fans at this final test and I've read the other tests have had similarly good impressions from others coming away. Not everything is perfect though as I do have one complaint - FIA, please don't go ahead and use the build up music that was being used before simulation races! We were 'treated' to a shocking collection of bad house music along the chants of '5 minutes', 'clear the grid' and eventually just saying the Formula E name around the circuit. It seemed to suggest that it'll be used before races for the build up but it was really very strange - it really sounded like music and sound effects from a bad PS1 game. Don't do it, FIA!

If I could leave you with a final thought though on what to expect on September 13, it's to leave any inhibitions you may have for electric cars or what you think it may sound or look like and absolutely embrace something new that'll only improve with our support. The impressions so far from myself in person were really positive and I truly believe that it has all the potential to make electric powered motorsport the next big thing.

IndyCar ends in a few weeks and we're just starting the second half of the F1 season, but we will have Formula E over the winter months and that alone will at least help during the off season. The cars look great, and they sound really so much better than I could've expected. The series is going to try to bring racing to the fans and with a strong line up of drivers with considerable experience I see no reason why we're not in for an exciting season of racing with plenty of accessibility.

So... bring on some electrifying races!