Over to you: Reactions on ‘Formula E for Beginners’
Flourishing Formula E has gone from strength to strength, delighting its growing fan base. Some motor-racing traditionalists are less enthused. On the occasion of the pre-season testing taking place in Valencia this week, we look back on some of the reactions to our primer on Formula E.
Electric-car racing not only seems here to stay, it’s thriving. What in 2014 began as almost-a-novelty soon will start its fifth season, with 11 teams of two drivers each fighting 13 races on four continents to the buzz of more than 300 million fans. About half of the latter are 13-24 – much younger, says carmaker and sponsor Nissan, than in Formula 1 or other motor sports.
The kids are more than alright with e-racing: last season’s video views by under-25s grew nearly seven-fold! But as might be expected, not everyone is enchanted. A good example are the reactions to Julius Baer’s video entitled ’Formula E for Beginners’. Produced more than a year ago, the video has gathered over 400,000 views on YouTube and generated a very lively discussion among users, with almost 1,000 comments to date. Here’s a rundown of the most controversial topics in this discussion:
The cars are the same
Formula E cars look very similar, and guess what? They are. External shell (with its aerodynamics), battery, tires: all the same. Design of the power train – inverter, motor and gears – however, is left to each team. Result: a variety of innovations that have boosted energy conversion efficiencies to over 90% (compared to 20-25% in an on-road gasoline car). Some cars have two motors! The number of gears ranges from one to five. And perhaps most critically, the drivers are of course different.
Pro: Competition is focused on the two areas of most interest.
Con: It is unlike Formula 1 (if that’s really a con).
Taking it to the streets
Most Formula E races are held in city centres, not on purpose-built race tracks. That means varied surfaces, bumps, some acutely tight turns and in-your-face access of tens of thousands of screaming spectators. Each course is truly distinctive, one the locals really know, and allows very little margin for driver error. For safety’s sake, speeds and accelerations are lower for electrics, capped at about two-thirds of their internal-combustion cousins.
Pro: Each course is a new experience. The audience is really close; the competition is really fierce.
Con: It is slower than Formula 1 (although top speeds of 220 km/hour are still fast).
The roar of the race
Formula 1 racers whine as loudly as a jumbo jet. Deafening – literally – exposure can cause serious damage to hearing. Formula E cars, by contrast, come in below 85 decibels, usually considered the threshold for ear impairment. Some traditionalists disparage this, claiming that they sound like ‘vacuum cleaners on wheels’. But this isn’t true. They actually sound (and look) like electric slot-cars raced on mini-tracks for decades by eager children – just 250 times larger.
Pro: C’mon, who can be in favour of hearing damage?
Con: If you like being shaken silly by sound, you won’t get it at Formula E.
This is surely the biggest departure from conventional racing. Before each competition, Formula E fans vote by social media for their favourite drivers. The top three of the polls then receive a ‘fanboost’, a 5-second stretch of the race when their speed and acceleration limits are lifted. Vroom! Round the curve, into the lead – at least that’s the idea. Purists argue this taints fairness. And oh, do they argue! Internet chat boards overflow with indignant rants.
Pro: Surely this draws in the punters, and it raises racer profiles in an emerging sport.
Con: Well, yes, it is kind of cheesy. Now that Formula E seems here to stay, this might be quietly retired.
Mid-race car switch
In its first four seasons, Formula E battery capacities were such that each driver drove two cars, both about half the race. Around midpoint, the driver would wheel to the pits, scramble from Car 1 to Car 2, and carry on. Traditionalists were appalled, but hang on, motor racing once widely used the ‘Le Mans’ start, where drivers ran to their cars to begin. (For obvious safety concerns, the Le Mans was eventually banned.)
Pro: It’s esoteric, exciting and not dangerous.
Con: It doesn’t matter anymore – car switch ended last season. This year’s new Gen2 cars are juiced to make the whole race on their own.
Watch this space(shot)
Electric-vehicle sales grew more than 10-fold in the past half-decade. By 2030, says the International Energy Agency, electrics might make up one third of the cars on the road. So how could there NOT be a Formula E?
Pro: To motor-racing fans of all stripes, enjoy!
Con: Zero – watch, and see for yourself.