A Beginners Guide to Formula E

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What is Formula E?

Formula E is a single-seater all-electric racing series that recently got FIA championship status, currently in its eighth season. There are eleven teams of two drivers, boasting big names including Mercedes, Jaguar, and Porsche.

How does a Formula E race work?

E-Prix races last for forty-five minutes, with no pit stops. The race time is shorter than traditional motor racing because of the energy capabilities of the cars. The shorter race time and lack of pitstops mean strategy differs from Formula One, as preserving energy becomes as crucial as speed.

Instead of DRS (Drag Reduction System, a temporary overtaking aid introduced in Formula One in 2011), Formula E has the wonderfully named ‘Attack Mode’, which is used to deliver an extra 25kw for three minutes, allowing for more action and overtakes. Like DRS, attack mode can only be used in specific activation zones. When in attack mode, visually striking blue LEDs light up on the drivers’ halos.

The races take place in the heart of cities (Monaco, Seoul, Rome, New York, and London, to name a few), meaning drivers race wheel to wheel in tight street circuit conditions, surrounded by the recognisable scenery of urban metropolises. 2021 saw Formula E’s first night race at the Diriyah showground in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Car Specs

Formula E cars use all-weather tires so races can take place in all conditions. The max power of Formula E cars is 250kw, which is used primarily in qualifying mode. Race mode is usually lower, at around 200kw, as conserving energy is a major part of team strategy. All the cars have identical chassis, batteries, and tyres – the components teams are allowed to develop are the electric motors, inverters, gearboxes, and cooling systems.

In 2020, Formula E became the world’s first sport to achieve a certified net zero carbon footprint

Race Format

All elements of the E-Prix are held in one day, making Formula E easy to watch.

– Shakedown (15-minute session to check car and track conditions)

– Free practise one and two

– Qualifying – which got a new format in the current 2021-22 season, Season 8. The new ‘Knock Out’ style splits the drivers into two groups (A and B) based on championship standings (odd number positions in the championship to group A, even to group B), that battle to set the four fastest times in each session.

The fastest four from each group then progress into the duels stage, where the fastest eight then race in a quarter-final, the fastest four in a semi-final, and the fastest two compete for pole position in the final. This means the starting order is determined by lap times in duels between drivers, as well as positions in groups.

Why you should watch Formula E?

Unlike Formula One’s ‘its lights out and away we go’, Formula E races begin with the words ‘and we go green!’, words that are central to the premise of the sport. In 2020, Formula E became the world’s first sport to achieve a certified net zero carbon footprint, the goal to combat climate change dating back to its inception in 2014.

Commitment to carbon neutrality goes beyond the cars to include event sustainability. The Diriyah night race was lit with fully sustainable lighting, using LED light clusters powered via renewable sources. Formula E has been hailed as the future of motor racing, as traditional motor race drivers such as four-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel raise questions about the environmental impacts of their sports.

The appeal of Formula E’s electric racing is more than environmental. Over time, fans have watched the battery technology of cars develop, evolve and better the sport. Early Formula E races were criticized because battery capacity was limited to 28kWh, meaning drivers were only able to complete 12 to 17 laps (roughly half a race) and teams were forced to make a pit stop and complete the race’s second half in a second single-seater. Formula E, like the world of regular electric cars, is not a finished project, but a unique laboratory of innovation.

Technological advancements and environmental considerations aside, the street circuit wheel-to-wheel conditions and the greater reliance upon driver skill and strategy rather than speed and best car allowed by the attack mode function makes for exciting racing, with less team dominance than is seen in traditional Formula racing.

In season seven (2020-21), eleven drivers from six different teams won E-Prix. Formula E can be watched on Channel 4, All4, Eurosport and the Formula E Website, or, if you enjoyed the behind-the-scenes nature of Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’, ‘Formula E: Unplugged’ can be found on the official Formula E YouTube channel.

Image: _chrisuk via Flickr

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