Formula E: is it all change for F1?

Formula E Race Car

There’s a new auto-racing championship coming to London later this year.  Ten teams, 20 drivers and 40 very fast cars will be rocketing around a circuit in Battersea Park for the final races of this year’s event.  But this is no ordinary racing competition.

It’s the first season of the world’s first fully-electric motor racing series, and the only thing these cars will be burning is rubber.

Formula what?

Formula E – for ‘electric’, of course – was conceived in 2012 and began its first season in Beijing in September 2014.  It’s hoped that the competition will do more than just dazzle spectators.

It could also pave the way for further technological advances and a newfound popularity for electric consumer cars, too.

Formula E’s CEO, Alejandro Agag, claimed that London could well be where we see the series’ first ever champion crowned, making it ‘a fantastic spectacle for the city and a great platform to showcase sustainable mobility and clean energy’.

Of course, the new competition also shows Formula One adapting to changing consumer – and sponsor – awareness of environmental costs and business energy use.

The Spark-Renault SRT 01E

To some people, the term ‘electric race-car’ might sound like a pure contradiction. But this is no milk-float event.

The Formula E car has a top speed of 220kmph, and can shoot from 0 to 100kmph in just 3 seconds.  And according to McLaren, who supplied the car’s electric motor, their system has the highest power-to-weight ratio of any automotive motor in the world.

‘Electric motors produce almost instant torque and acceleration, delivering both performance and efficiency,’ explained Peter van Manen, managing director of McLaren Electronic Systems.  ‘We can look forward to some exciting racing.’

Batteries not included

An electric car with such power needs an impressive source of electric energy.  The SRT 01E gets its juice from Williams Advanced Engineering with a 1000V, 200kW lithium-ion battery that charges in just 90 minutes, lasting a whole season with no loss of power or performance.

Williams’ managing director, Craig Wilson, thinks that the demands for improved technology as electric systems are tested to their limits should lead to real improvements for future consumers, too. ‘We can use Formula E as a means of improving storage density, charging times and lifespan and this learning will trickle down into regular electric vehicles,’ he predicts.

But will it still wow the spectators?

A few diehard racing fans might take some convincing: without the ear-splitting engines and the stench of burning petrol, it might just not be ‘the same’.

The Formula E cars have a noise level of around 80 decibels. That’s somewhere between an ordinary car and a bus, and certainly nothing compared to the deafening whine of a conventional Formula One car.

But for many spectators, the need for speed and the chance to see racing at its highest level in their own capital city just might be enough to win them over.

Sam Bird, a British driver who competes for the Virgin Racing team, said the Battersea track had ‘fast straights, high-speed bends, as well as some challenging chicanes and braking zones’.

‘I think the London ePrix spectators will be treated to some close, fast racing with plenty of action and overtaking.’

Has the idea of high-octane no-petrol racing peaked your interest in an all-electric future? Join the discussion on LinkedIn or Google+.


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