A lot of racing fans and personalities have criticised Formula E. They say it’s not ‘pure’, that there is no racing without the sound, power and performance of a proper internal combustion engine. Last year Sebastian Vettel, in keeping with a theme of food related insults, even called the championship ‘cheese’. I agree that there are some irritatingly gimmicky features, and it does feel odd to see the car’s maximum power measured in Kilowatts instead of BHP. I’ll also admit to some disappointment that the performance figures don’t compare with those of F1, but it’s important to remember that Formula E isn’t trying to compete with F1 or any other racing championship. It’s a new concept, still in its infancy, which is, according to the official website, ‘designed to improve the image and perception of electric vehicles and to encourage more people to buy and use them.’ It is a new kind of racing and can only be appreciated if separated from its petrol engined cousin. At this early stage it’s designed to be pure entertainment and as I have detailed here – it doesn’t disappoint.
1. The Liveries
I’ve never seen so many pretty racing cars in one place before. I mean damn – there are some serious lookers out there, and in a year where F1 has seriously underwhelmed in that department it is a welcome escape. There are blues, yellows, greens, reds, oranges, purples and silvers everywhere! It’s a like a racing rainbow of joy! My favourite livery is the striking blue and orange of Amlin Aguri but there are plenty of other good ones too and they’re all pretty imaginative. Aesthetically speaking, this championship is the best around at the moment.
2. The Sounds
Ok so the engines don’t scream in agony every time the driver touches the throttle and there aren’t even pained exhaust notes to keep us happy, but there are still many sounds for racing fans to enjoy when watching a Formula E race. The actual sound of the power unit – described as ‘modern’ and ‘futuristic’ by the official website – is an acquired taste, but there are plenty of racing sounds to provide reminders that what we’re watching is proper motor racing.
I think what fans find so appealing about noisy racing cars is the violence of it all. When you hear an engine singing at full revs it means that everything is being pushed to the limit and implies that the car couldn’t go any faster, and that is certainly the case in Formula E. From the tyres squealing, to the scraping of car floor on street circuit tarmac, you’re constantly accosted with the lesser heard noises of a racing car at speed. If you’ve ever driven a proper racing go-kart then you’ll understand the noises that I’m talking about. They’re pretty…satisfying. Stop and listen during Saturday’s race and I promise, listening to a racing driver thrashing a racing car, you’ll fall into a trance of racing fever.
3. The Sights
Don’t close your eyes while you’re listening though because you’ll miss a lot of cool things. The actual Spark-Renault SRT_01E isn’t bad to look at if you like your single-seaters, and at speed they are as spectacular as any racing car. The combination of low grip street circuit, treaded tyres and instantaneous power delivery from the PU makes for some pretty unruly racing cars. They certainly don’t look as glued to the track as other single-seaters do. A lot of people still complain that F1 cars look too easy to drive, but that’s not the case in Formula E. Rather than hoover up the track ahead of them like a Scalextric, they slide around the lap and leave no doubt that the driver is working very hard behind the wheel. This could be a handy antidote for those who complain about how unspectacular F1 cars are.
4. The Racing
The way the cars handle definitely has positive repercussions for the racing, which has so far been wildly entertaining. There hasn’t been a race yet that hasn’t been totally enthralling, something which can’t be said for many other racing series right now. The drivers’ aforementioned struggles mean mistakes are never far away and passing opportunities are frequent. It doesn’t just take mistakes to trigger overtakes though. FE is currently a one-make series which means that it is driver skill and not the car which is the limiting factor in a wheel-to-wheel battle (I don’t think I’m the only fan who wishes that F1 could be more like that) and that definitely helps with the proportion of passing manoeuvres. Any fan thirsty for on track action will not be disappointed by Formula E, particularly in the opening laps when the tyres are cold and the cars slip and slide around in a helter-skelter train of chaos that has you on the edge of your seat!
There is still plenty to enjoy if you’re a more of a “thinking fan”, the kind who gets their kicks from strategic battles fought out amongst engineers and canny drivers. The drivers have to save energy throughout both stints of the race and the onscreen graphics allow us to see who is doing the best job. It can be very exciting watching the leader trying to cruise to the end while a driver who has saved more attacks him in the final laps. Also, just like in F1, the lap a driver pits on is crucial. Getting it right or wrong can completely change the race. More than once already, a driver has jumped from outside of the top ten into the fight for the podium thanks to the timing of his pitstop. It definitely adds to the unpredictability, which as F1 proves regularly, is the mother of entertainment. It doesn’t matter how sure you are about how the race will pan out, in a series where the entire race can turn on a dime, you’ll rarely be right. I certainly haven’t been yet.
5. The Two Car Format
As mentioned above, the pitstops can totally change the race and that is all thanks to the car changes that take place mid-way through the race. Alongside the tactical and strategic mystery it induces, there is a lot more to like about the format too. Watching the car changes is pretty entertaining, wondering if any drivers or mechanics will makes mistakes and cause delays. It’s similar to watching the bike changes in a wet Moto GP race, or even an F1 pitstop, where missing the marks or a dropped wheel nut can create havoc.
There is also the interesting element of drivers trying to continue their stint with car damage or mechanical troubles because they know they have another car waiting for them. I won’t forget seeing Bruno Senna continuing to race as his car crabbed around the track with broken suspension. It was very interesting to watch, not to mention pretty impressive too. It’s always disappointing when a driver drops out of a good battle in F1 because of bad luck, and I like that it doesn’t have to be the case in Formula E. The second chance afforded by the car changes is, I think, a good thing and I wish it was set to be a permanent feature of the championship. As we know, Formula E is a vanguard of sustainable technology, and therefore development is constant. The championship has already announced the intention to eliminate car changes in the next three or four years. My advice: enjoy it while it’s here.
So if you watch the race this weekend remember this list and enjoy the show because it doesn’t disappoint.