Is Formula E the future of motor racing?

The cars look familiar, the drivers’ names you’ve heard before and the sponsors are the usual suspects. So, will Formula E be a success?

Neil Churchill July 13, 2014

If you ask any real petrolhead to name three things they most associate with motor racing, it would probably be the following: speed, noise and power, in no particular order. 

What are the chances then of a new form of motor sport surviving if it holds pretty much none of those cards? As of September, the world will find out.

In its most simplest form - and to the untrained eye - Formula E can be described as a quieter but more eco-friendly version of Formula 1. Although with F1's new, hybrid engines this year, the noise argument has somewhat gone out the window.

The brainchild of Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag, Formula E has most of the usual hallmarks of motor sport: it's acknowledged by the governing body the FIA, several of the world's most renown cities will play host to its races and a number of famous drivers and teams make up the grid. The all-important, game changing factor is of course the engines. And by engines, we mean batteries. formulae1

You can forget any V8/V10/V12 argument over which produce the better sound. Instead, the fully-electric cars make a whirring noise that will apparently reach 80 decibels - 10 more than your average road car. That said, a noise amplifier will kick in when the cars enter the pit lane, so that mechanics can hear them coming.

While the sound factor will undoubtedly split racing fans, the speed of the cars will surprise many, although they still fall someway short of the upper leagues of GP racing.

Formula E has just finished its pre-season testing at Donington Park in the UK, and the fastest lap time of 1 minute 31.083 seconds puts it around the same pace as Formula Ford cars. To give you an idea of that level of speed, Formula Ford is traditionally the single-seater car any member of the public can drive on organised track days. 

But while it won’t be the fastest motor sport series when it comes to life, Formula E will certainly look and act the part; Buenos Aires, Miami, London, Beijing and Monaco will all stage races, with rumours the last remaining track to be announced will be in the Middle East. There's the obvious point to be made here that flying around the world is surely contradictory to the sport's eco-friendly image, and it's one that Formula E's media relations team will undoubtedly be prepared for. 

As for the drivers - Sebastian Buemi, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld, Jamie Alguersuari and Mike Conway will all be familiar names to F1 and IndyCar fans alike. Jarno Trulli - one of the sport's most experienced racers - has even entered his own team, and given himself one of the driving seats.

The teams meanwhile are a mix of household names and brands that you've heard of but can't quite recall what it is they do: Audi, Virgin, Andretti, Amlin. E.Dams is partly setup by F1 legend Alain Prost - his son will drive for them. 

The all important sponsors are a mix of the usual suspects: TAG Heuer, DHL, Renault, Michelin. formulae3 Onto the power then and while refuelling isn't necessary of course, a more time-consuming and frankly alien concept is. Each driver must make one mandatory pit stop in order to change cars during the race. We still can't quite visualise this working: does the driver run into the garage to get the second car, or is it waiting in the pit box? Does he take his steering wheel? Does he trip over in the rush of it all and injure himself? 

On the face of it, it appears to be an obvious red flag for the downside of battery power; when the juice runs out, recharging takes time. It's also a much bigger change from what motor sport fans are used to and could prove to be more of a sticking point for viewers than the speed or new sound. 

But now we wait until September 13 when Formula E will officially get underway in China.

The championship has been marketed around three core values: energy, environment and entertainment. With the first two they have surely hit the nail firmly on the head - after all if they haven't, then what's the point?

But as is the way with motor sport - in fact, all sport for that matter - it is the entertainment value that will determine how successful Formula E becomes.