Get to know F1’s all-electric sibling at the intersection of motorsports and green technology: The Formula E World Championship.
Five years ago, if you said the word “motorsport” to your average American sports fan, the first things that would come to mind would be either NASCAR or IndyCar. Fast-forwarding a couple of short years and one highly popular Netflix series later, we now find ourselves entering a new golden age of auto racing in this country of ours.
Buoyed in large part by the success of Netflix’s original docuseries Drive to Survive, Formula 1 has never been more popular in the US than it is now — such that there are already well-attended Grand Prix events in Austin and Miami, plus a Las Vegas race coming in 2023.
The popularity of Formula 1 has opened the door for other racing championships to vie for coveted space in the consciousness of the American sports fan. One such championship that you may not have heard of is poised to be the next in line to do just that: Formula E.
Formula E is an all-electric (hence the “E”) open-wheel racing championship that has an exclusive license from motorsport’s governing body, FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) to act as the only single-seater, all-electric competition in the sport until the year 2039 at the earliest. This means that if Formula 1 wants to shift to all-electric between now and then, they’d have to make some sort of deal with Formula E to obtain the right to do so.
So, how does it all work? A few quick basics:
- There are a total of 12 teams on the grid, and each team fields two drivers, just as in Formula 1
- Races are currently 45 minutes long, plus one final lap to decide the winner.
- Each season features 16 races as of this time, with each race being held in an urban center track built into the heart of some of the most iconic cities in the world, including New York, Berlin, London, Mexico City, Vancouver, Monte Carlo, and Rome, the site of this weekend’s double-header.
- Seven manufacturers participate in Formula E, including Porsche, Jaguar, Nissan, and Mercedes, with even more premier brands like Maserati and (reportedly) McLaren ready to sign up to go racing next season.
In spite of still being a start-up relative to long-established championships like Formula 1, Formula E has enjoyed an impressive rate of growth in recent years. In 2021, its races were viewed and streamed by over 300 million fans worldwide, which is even more impressive when you consider the lack of real awareness or market penetration in North America, specifically the United States.
Notably, the growth of Formula E as a sport tracks closely with the evolution of electric vehicle technology — as design, engineering, and execution have improved, so has the quality of the racing. When the championship began in 2013, EV technology was much more primitive than it is today; each driver needed two cars just to finish a race due to battery limitations.
When the championship debuted their “Generation 2” car in 2018, they were able to solve that issue while still achieving top speeds of 173 miles per hour.
Unlike combustion engine racing, energy/battery management is a fundamental element of the sport, as drivers need to be cognizant of how much battery they are consuming during a race. By the time the final lap rolls around, most cars will be under 1% battery life.
Each driver also has the ability to utilize two time-limited energy boosts, affectionately known as “Attack Mode.” Certain drivers may also use an additional energy boost called “Fan Boost,” which is only available to those who have earned a sufficient number of votes from supporters.
The current season is the final one that will feature the Gen 2 car, as the game-changing Generation 3 car is set to debut next campaign, which begins in January of 2023. In addition to being faster and lighter, the Gen 3 car will also have the one thing every EV owner (or prospective EV owner) wants: Fast-charging pit stops.
The move to the Gen 3 car is what prompted the likes of Maserati to have an entry in the championship and premier manufacturers like McLaren to kick the tires (pun 100% intended). With recognizable motorsport names like Andretti and Penske in the fold, it is only a matter of time before an American audience of auto racing fans and EV enthusiasts alike flocks to the exciting and uber-consumable sport.
Those gearheads enamored of Drive to Survive and/or glued to Formula 1 weekends from practice laps to the checkered flag will be impressed to see that several current and former F1 drivers cut their teeth on the Formula E grid before making their leap, including Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon, and Romain Grosjean. The best team on the grid in recent years has been the DS Automobiles, a luxury French automaker owned by the Stellantis group, which also sports other companies like Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, and Jeep under its umbrella. Led by two former champions, Jean Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix Da Costa, DS has won two of the past three team championships.
Last year’s team championship was won by Mercedes, which is owned and helmed by the Team Principal of the German luxury carmaker’s F1 team, Toto Wolff.
If you’re interested in further fun facts, Formula E race telecasts feature IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti on color commentary. And if you need a storytelling component to get you jazzed up to watch a race, the Championship produced a feature-length documentary about the sport that was co-produced by an actor by the name of Leonardo Dicaprio.
Entitled And We Go Green, the doc should give you a good sense of Formula E’s who, what, why, and how with a taste of the access and personalities fans of Drive to Survive will appreciate.
As we take increasing steps toward to an all-electric future, it only stands to reason that motorsports will do the same. That means Formula E is here to stay, and there’s never been a better time to get a ticket to ride.