Saturday, July 20Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

A Review of Formula E

Beijing, Saturday 13th September. At the site of the former Olympic park thousands of fans gathered for the inaugural Formula E Grand Prix. It’s the most recent addition to motorsport and everyone was waiting in anticipation. Even Leonardo DiCaprio was getting in on the act – he’s co-founder of one of the teams.

So what is Formula E? Put simply, electric motor racing with zero emission cars. Ten teams have two drivers, who in turn have two cars each. For the first Formula E season every team has the same car meaning that everyone is equal on a car-performance level. There are currently 9 races on the calendar, with the final being held in London in June 2015. The one-day event is action packed, meaning fans don’t have to travel to and from the circuits over three days as they would at other events. There are two practise sessions in the morning, a qualifying session, culminating in a one hour race later in the afternoon. Why? The hope is that the new technologies developed by the teams will filter down into our road cars, making them even more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Three drivers are given an extra 30 kilowatts to use during the race, thanks to the innovative concept “Fan Boost”. Prior to the race, fans can vote via the FIA’s official website for their favourite driver to receive a power boost for five seconds – in Beijing this was Lucas di Grassi, Bruno Senna and Katherine Legge.

4pm local time in Beijing, and the race is about to start. Nico Prost (son of Alain) of Edams Renault is on pole position, ahead of Lucas di Grassi of Audi ABT. His teammate Daniel Abt is in third, with Franck Montagny of Andretti in fifth and Nick Heidfeld in sixth. Brits Sam Bird and Katherine Legge are sitting 12th and 16th respectively.

The cars are, of course, quiet, so there was a DJ present to provide (questionable) music for the crowds to listen to whilst they watched the race. The music was apparently not meant to infiltrate the television feed, but when it did it was distracting rather than complimentary.

The race itself was one of two halves, with a huge crescendo on the final lap. Almost everyone made it round the first corner with no issues, apart from Bruno Senna who had contact with another driver resulting in damage to his car and his retirement from the race and the safety car being deployed. Montagny pulled some impressive overtakes in the time before the first pit stop, at one point nearly running his teammate into the wall. There were a few battles for position, however there was just one problem – it didn’t feel that racy. While the corners were very tight, the straights looked too wide, meaning that overtakes on track looked too easy. The second half of the race was short on overtaking moves, and did become quite dull.

The first of the pit stops began on lap 13 of 25. In other motorsports, the driver comes in for new tyres, maybe some tweaks to his car or sometimes even a new steering wheel. In Formula E, the driver brings the car into the garage (a big tent), where a second fully charged car is sitting waiting for them. The driver then hops out of Car A and into Car B and drives out of the garage to continue the race. Only they can’t, because no matter how quickly they can get out of one car and into the other, the driver has to wait for over a minute for safety reasons. Hopefully, as the season progresses, the minimum pit stop time will be reduced to still be safe, but allow the drivers to gain more time.

The race will probably be mostly remembered for the final corner on the last lap. Nick Heidfeld of DiCaprio’s Venturi Team was catching Nico Prost in first place. As it came to the final corner, Heidfeld was in a position to try to overtake Prost, who decided to take defensive action – right into the path of Heidfeld, causing him to lose control of the car, hit a high kerb, and be launched into the air. It was a nasty accident but luckily Heidfeld walked away unhurt. This accident led to di Grassi winning the race, with Montagny in second and Daniel Abt in third. Only the results weren’t final yet – Abt was given a penalty, and third place was awarded to Sam Bird.

All in all, the race was not the most exciting ever held in motorsport. But the innovation and the aims of the new formulae are to be lauded. There is definite room for improvement, which may come next season when teams can develop their own technologies. Hopefully, this will increase the competition between teams, but we must be cautious that is doesn’t create a spectrum of capabilities that unfortunately exists in F1 today. The innovation of this new sport is intriguing and promising, and so I will be first in line for tickets for the season-ending London ePrix.

The Malaysian ePrix takes place on Saturday 22nd November.