The ABC of Formula E
Get ready for season 4 with our exclusive Formula E glossary, explaining all you need to know about the first all-electric street racing series – from A as in ‘acceleration’ to Z as in ‘Zurich’.
Acceleration: A Formula E car is able to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in only three seconds, before reaching 225 km/h (140 mph), the maximum speed allowed by the rules of the FIA Formula E Championship. The racing cars could, in theory, run much faster, but the top speed has been capped for safety reasons. Most Formula E races take place on street circuits in city centres with narrow roads and little runoff – not on purpose-built racing circuits as the ones used by Formula 1 cars.
Battery: Every team uses the same battery technology – lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 28 kWh. With the arrival of new 54 kWh batteries during the 2018/19 season, capacity will nearly double and the current mid-race battery swap will be eliminated. The racing cars will then be pushing out at around 220 kW, a 30 per cent increase in output. That means higher speeds and, hopefully, more excitement.
Cooling systems: One of the biggest challenges faced by Formula E engineers is offsetting the excess heat generated by the electric motors. Simultaneously, inbuilt safety systems automatically restrict the performance of the racing car when it gets too hot, slowing it down while it cools. To prevent the loss of speed during a race, cooling systems using radiators and cooling fluid in closed loops have been designed to maintain ideal operating temperatures.
Drivers: Each of the ten Formula E teams has two drivers, many being former Formula 1 drivers. The most successful e-racing driver to date is Switzerland’s Sébastien Buemi who won the two first Formula E Championships. In season 3, he came in second behind Brazil’s Lucas di Grassi. Both will compete in season 4,which opens in December 2017.
Engine: A Formula E motor not only needs to be able to deliver top speeds and increase overall efficiency, it must also be reliable under racing conditions and consistent in its power delivery, as well as remain small and light enough to fit into the single-seater racing car. As FIA’s regulations have become more lenient, each team is now allowed to develop its own engine solution, with a maximum of two motor generation units (MGU) linked to the rear axle of the racing car.
FanBoost: Formula E fans can support their favourite driver through this unique online voting system. The three drivers who obtain the most votes ahead of a race are awarded a ‘FanBoost’ – a power boost of 100kJ that lasts about five seconds – a great advantage when attempting a crucial overtake. You can cast your vote through FIA’s website or their official app.
Gears: Electric cars do not necessarily need gears. Formula E racing cars do, however, use a gearbox to make the most efficient use of the power delivered from the battery via the motor. During the first Formula E season, all teams used a five-speed gearbox. The rules have since been relaxed, enabling the teams to choose between having a single gear all the way up to four gears. Some teams have chosen to keep the original five gears.
Hong Kong: For the second year in a row, Hong Kong will open up the 2017/18 Formula E season on 2 December 2017. The race will run on a nearly two-kilometer-long purpose-built urban track containing two hairpins and ten turns at the Central Harbourfront. Two races, rather than just one, will be held during this year’s event, with six new drivers joining the grid and 14 drivers returning, including two former Formula E champions.
Investors: A number of investors from around the globe finance the FIA Formula E Championship through the Hong Kong-based consortium Formula E Holdings – FEH. The London-based entrepreneur Enrique Bañuelos and the racing team owner and CEO of FEH Alejandro Agag have been along since the foundation of FEH in 2012. Other shareholders that have since joined are Liberty Global, owner of British television network Virgin Media, Julius Baer, New-Wave, the parent company of China’s equivalent to Twitter, Weibo, and the media company Motorsport.com.
Julius Baer: As the exclusive Global Partner of the electric street racing series, Julius Baer has been present since the first inaugural race of the FIA Formula E Championship, which was held in Beijing in September 2014. Julius Baer recently extended its global sponsorship until the end of the 2020/21 season. As Global Partner of the series, Julius Baer not only has extensive branding rights on the track, but is also represented by its logo which appears on all of the racing cars.
Kilowatt: Formula E cars have 200 kW, equivalent to around 270 brake horsepower, at their disposal throughout the practice and qualifying sessions. During the ‘E-Prix’ – the race itself – the maximum power is limited to 180 kW, which is 10 kW more than the championship’s previous seasons. The winners of the FanBoost vote are awarded additional energy for a total of five seconds during the race.
Lap: As the set-up of each street circuit is unique, the number of laps per race varies between 33 and 46. The length of a Formula E circuit varies between nearly 2 and 3 kilometers, with the total distance raced ranging between 80 and 100 kilometers.
Manufacturers: Racing cars from ten renowned manufacturers from three continents – Asia, Europe, and North America – line up as the fourth edition of the Formula E championship kicks off in December 2017. Mercedes, Porsche, and Nissan have already announced that they will join as of the following 2018/2019 season.
Noise: Contrary to popular belief, Formula E cars are not totally silent. They produce a unique, futuristic sound reaching around 80 decibels, only ten decibels louder than the average street car and comparable to the noise level of heavy traffic. The noise made by Formula E racing cars is obviously far lower than a modern Formula 1 car’s 100 decibels and the 140 decibels produced by a Formula 1 car from the V8 engine era.
Overtaking: As Formula E drivers don’t have to rely on aerodynamic downforce, they can get right up behind their competitors – an advantage when overtaking. It can nevertheless be quite challenging to overtake in a narrow street circuit, sometimes resulting in spectacular crashes. Watch a compilation of last season’s crashes here, and the most spectacular overtakes here.
Powertrain: When the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship was launched in 2014, all powertrains – the engine, inverter, and gearbox – had to meet a fixed set of specifications. The rules have since opened up and the teams are allowed to design their own powertrains. At this point in time, nine teams have been granted homologation of their powertrain for the upcoming 2018/19 season, stretching until 2020/21. Any new manufacturers wishing to homologate their powertrains will be able to do so for season 6.
Qualifying: The starting grid of the actual ePrix race is determined by the qualifying session, where the cars go out in four randomly selected groups of five cars. Each group has six minutes at hand on the track, which boils down to an out- and an in-lap, as well as one ‘normal’ lap. The five fastest drivers proceed to the Super Pole, which allows the drivers 15 minutes to go out one by one to set their fastest lap time and compete for the Julius Baer Pole Position.
Race: The results of the qualifying sessions set the formation for the E-Prix’s starting grid. The race drivers line up on a dummy grid – a short distance behind the actual grid – and then slowly file into position to start the race. A race lasts approximately 50 minutes, with each driver making one mandatory stop to change cars. This mid-race car change will be eliminated as of the 2018/19 season when a new standard battery will be used.
Street circuits: The upcoming Formula E season will hold 14 races, including three double-headers, all set in different inner-city venues. Contrary to Formula 1, Formula E races are almost exclusively held in urban settings rather than on traditional racing tracks. The newly-added locations of the fourth electric street racing season are Santiago (Chile), São Paulo (Brazil), Rome (Italy), and Zurich (Switzerland). The season opens in Hong Kong on 2 December2017 and ends in Montreal on 29 July 2018.
Teams: Ten teams will be competing in the upcoming Championship – Andretti Autosport, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, Dragon, DS Virgin, Mahindra Racing, NIO Formula E Team, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, Renault e-dams, TECHEETAH, and Venturi. Each team is composed of two drivers, each of whom race with two cars.
Unique: There is no typical Formula E circuit. Each race circuit is unique, as the races are held in the central areas of the selected cities: against the backdrop of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty in New York, around Les Invalides in Paris, and along the shores of Lake Zurich in Zurich.
Vehicles: During the inaugural Formula E racing season, all teams raced with an identical racing car. Formula E cars still look the same from the nose to the roll hoop, all the way to the rear arrow. They do, however, now differ below the chassis, as manufacturers can use their own drivetrains, motors, etc. The upcoming 2018/19 season will also see the debut of the newly designed Formula E car, produced by Spark Racing Technology. Its shape was inspired and defined by the FIA with the aim of having a futuristic and appealing design.
Wireless: Wireless charging is already a reality on the Formula E circuit for the Qualcomm safety car, a BMW i8. The driver simply parks the car above the ground-based charging pad and as soon as the two are aligned the car’s battery starts charging without any cables involved. This is clearly technology of the future!
Xbox: The first ever ‘virtual Formula E championship’ – the Race Off Pro Series – was held alongside the real world Formula E season in 2016. Both motorsport and eSports fans were able to compete using the racing video game Forza Motorsport 6’s Xbox live lobby. The virtual championship held four online rounds, serving as a preview to the Formula E races on the streets of Long Beach, Paris, Berlin, and London.
YouTube: There are numerous spectacular, as well as entertaining, and educational videos, and interviews with Formula E drivers and experts, which touch upon the many facets of Formula E on YouTube. You’ll find a selection here.
Zurich: Zurich will host its first Formula E race on 10 June 2018, with a circuit running along the shores of Lake Zurich. Switzerland banned motor racing in the aftermath of the tragic accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955. Restrictions on fully-electric racing were however lifted in 2015, paving the way for Formula E to bring electrifying wheel-to-wheel action to the streets of Zurich.