Everything you ever wanted to know about Formula E but never dared ask 10 minutes spent reading
Formula E

Everything you ever wanted to know about Formula E but never dared ask

Gerald Enzinger
10 years as editor-in-chief at SportWoche, and working as a journalist at racetracks around the world for 20 years. Writes in Austria for media outlets including Autorevue, www.motorprofis.at, and the Kleine Zeitung.

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship is generating and enthusing more fans than ever. The previous races of the fifth season were excellent advertisements for the world’s most modern motorsport, and with it the voestalpine European Races. Most significantly, this championship has also succeeded in attracting fans with no demonstrable interest in motorsport to date. So for all those newcomers, here are a few answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Formula E.

What is Formula E?

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship is the brainchild of Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag. Working previously in Formula One, his tasks included acquiring sponsors. Once he had a customer who, for ecological and noise reduction reasons, no longer wished to advertise in Formula One, realizing this had ceased to be consistent with his company’s image. That encouraged Agag to think about establishing a race series which placed greater value on promising drive alternatives and sustainability. A few years later he convinced Jean Todt, President of the world motorsport federation FIA, that his idea had merit, and the first race in this new championship was run in Beijing, on September 13, 2014.

What is Formula E vision? How does it impact the topic of sustainability?

Formula E is the world’s first fully electric international single-seater motorsport series. It provides a platform for testing and developing road-relevant technologies in a competition environment, and for improving the design and functionality of electric vehicle components. It also serves as a catalyst for developing and applying sustainable mobility solutions throughout the world. Formula E believes that electric vehicles represent the future of mobility and are the solution to sustainable transport and combatting climate change.

Formula E reflects the idea of sustainability by reducing the carbon footprint as far as possible and having a positive impact on mankind and the environment. This is practiced in all areas:

  • Energy: The Formula E cars are almost emissions-free and driven using 100% renewable energy supplied by their revolutionary Formula E glycerin generators.
  • Tires: The unique tires are hybrids which have been specially developed by Michelin. They can be driven in all weather conditions, will last for the entire race, and can be later recycled.
  • Circuits: Formula E is a road racing series, run directly over temporary circuits in the heart of the world’s largest cities including Rome, Paris, Berlin, and NYC.
  • Spectators: Formula E brings fans to the city centers in order to encourage the use of public transport. That’s why there are no parking lots in Formula E for the spectators. The races can also be followed live online and in 360°.

What exactly is a formula car?

There is no uniform definition of a formula car. The term “formula car” usually specifies a race car with exposed wheels and only one seat.

How do you define a Formula E race car?

The Formula E car is a “monoposto,” but not really an “open wheeler” with completely exposed wheels. The 18-inch wheels are partly covered. However, the suspension remains visible, and that qualifies a Formula E car as a formula car.

What is the key characteristic of Formula E?

Gen 2 Car

„Gen2“

Formula E features a single chassis type which all the teams must use. With the start of the 2018/19 season, the FE18 Spark Racing Technology—better known as Gen2—replaced the Sport SRT_01E which had been driven for the first four years of the championship. In the first year of Formula E the cars also raced with identical powertrains. However, since the second year of the championship, registered manufacturers have been permitted to develop their own e-motors, inverters, transmissions, rear suspension, and software. Now nine different powertrains are produced, and only three private teams buy theirs from competitor teams. This year welcomes two further premium German manufacturers, Porsche and Mercedes, so that, for the first time in the history of motorsport, all the four major German marques—Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche—are competing against one another at the same time, as works teams, in a race series. There are twelve teams with 24 cars and drivers at the start in total, so that the maximum number of competitors has been reached.

Is the battery also a uniform component?

Yes. The battery is a uniform component developed in a cooperation between McLaren Applied Technologies, Sony, and Lucid Motors. The battery stores a total of 54 kWh of power of which the drivers have 52 kWh available during the race (analogue to the 28 kWh of useable power in the uniform Williams Advanced Engineering battery used in the first four seasons).

What are the major differences between Formula E and Formula One?

The primary difference is naturally the powertrain. Formula One uses six-cylinder hybrid engines, while Formula E exclusively uses electric drives. Formula One cars have a significantly higher maximum speed and faster curve speeds. But when it comes to acceleration, the two race cars are already on a par, speeding from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.8 seconds. But there is one major difference: Formula One teams build their cars themselves; in Formula E identical cars are manufactured and made available to the teams. This guarantees that the teams compete on a much more level playing field. The proof: seven different teams won the first seven E-Prix in the last season.

Who takes pole position in a Formula E race, and why?

Races run on circuits work like this: all the cars simultaneously complete a certain number of rounds of a closed circuit, with a single line serving as the start and finish. The cars usually start from a slightly staggered arrangement, in rows of two. Consequently, there is a huge advantage in starting as far at the front as possible, especially on a tight city circuit. For that reason, drivers need to be as fast as possible during the separate qualification training in which a single lap is timed. Usually it is the driver with the fastest qualifying time who starts in pole position, with the second fastest a few meters behind on the other side of the asphalt lane. In Formula E the standard qualification format has been slightly modified: the drivers are first divided into different qualifying groups, driving the qualification training according to a fixed starting sequence. They have six minutes to drive. Afterwards, the six fastest drivers in the qualifying rounds compete again in a “Super Pole,” racing to secure starting places 1 to 6. The times from the first part of the qualification training are ignored in this round. The fastest driver in this group gets to start the race from the Julius Bär pole position, as well as being awarded three championship points. Starting in season 6, there is also a point for the fastest driver in each qualifying group.

How long does a race last?

The race is run over 45 minutes, and when the leading car crosses the start and finishing line they drive one more lap. This system has been particularly challenging for strategists to date. As no one can precisely predict how many laps will be completed in total, the energy management must be calculated with extreme precision and adapted to the conditions and events during the race itself (rain, safety car phases, etc.). However, two changes in the rules are likely to have a significant impact. From now on, one kWh of the overall available energy will be deducted from each car for every interrupted minute of the race. This is intended to prevent racing at “full throttle.” During the last season, the first featuring the Gen2 cars, there were too many safety cars and red phases during which energy management played almost no role. Correspondingly, there was little recuperation. In addition, during an interruption the race itself will be paused, unless the race director decides otherwise. This should ensure that in future the race is run over almost exactly the planned distance.

Are there pit stops?

Formel E

During the first four seasons the drivers had to change cars because the drive batteries didn’t have the capacity to cover an entire race distance. From last season onwards this has been possible, so that every driver can now compete without a pit stop. But if there is a technical defect requiring repairs to be undertaken, the car can be driven into a special side lane—the pit—where minor repairs can be made. As a rule, and in contrast to other race series, this rarely happens in Formula E.

 

 

 

What is the Formula E race format? Are there special rules?

The ABB Formula E Championship races include several very innovative modules which generate more race action and are particularly familiar to younger generations of spectators who are accustomed to video games. They include, for example, the FANBOOST. Six days before the race, and up to 15 minutes before the start, fans can select their favorite driver. The five drivers who have been chosen by fans to qualify for the prized FANBOOST are awarded a substantial boost of additional power which they can apply during a five-second window in the second half of the race. It’s ideal for an important overtaking maneuver, for example. Since 2018, the races have also featured an Attack Mode. In order to launch the Attack Mode, drivers have to charge up their race car by diverging from the racing line and driving through the activation zone where they collect an additional 35 kW of power. In its first year, an extra 25 kW was available to drivers in the Attack Mode. Drivers who secure the additional power—that means speed—then have a couple of laps in which to use this power to drive in a more offensive manner. This gives them the chance to more easily overtake a few of the cars ahead of them. Spectators can spot the race cars currently in Attack Mode because their Halo systems (security bar over the cockpit) are illuminated.

What makes the series special for fans? What happens during a race weekend?

E-Village

E-Village with festival character.

A unique feature for fans is the ability to directly influence the outcome of race via the FANBOOST. The event itself is carefully designed to reflect the needs of the spectators: the circuits are usually located in city centers and are easily accessible, while, before and after the race, attractions and activities focusing on e-mobility and the technology of the future are available for the whole family. There is also very close contact with the drivers: with everything from autograph hours through to the electric race itself, there are many ways in which the stars are directly involved.

Are the drivers professionals, and what did they do before Formula E was invented?

Formular E Fahrer & Fahrerin

The drivers in Formula E are some of the best in the world. They started driving in karts as youngsters and, year for year, have usually been among the best of their generation worldwide. Only in Formula One will you find some race drivers who are better. However, in contrast to Formula One, you can’t “buy your way in” to Formula E. That means all 24 drivers currently on the Formula E circuit have been selected purely on the merits of their sporting performance. As a result, the overall quality is simply unique. All the drivers are total professionals, with several coming from Formula One. When time allows, some also drive in other race series, usually the World Endurance Championship WEC (e.g., 24 h Le Mans), or in the DTM, the German Touring Car Masters.

What can a driver do to be faster than their rivals?

On one hand, the team can make a difference through its preparations. Although the cars themselves are the same, the teams use their own drives or other manufacturers’ drives. It’s also possible to create several differences by means of the set up. The driver, in turn, is required to use the simulator to prepare well for each circuit. During the race itself, the actual elements which differentiate the drivers are the lines driven, behavior during duels, the feeling for how a situation or the circuit develops, and the tires. Energy management is also vital. The way the driver brakes, steers, and accelerates, as well as exactly where they do this, helps determine not only speed, but also power consumption. The aim is to use as little energy as possible to drive as fast as possible.

Why doesn’t Formula E drive on proper circuits like the other race series?

E-Prix Paris

E-Prix Paris in the heard of the city

Historically, and at the beginning of the series in particular, it was difficult to build a race car suitable for standard racetracks, because you need lots of tight curves in which the drivers break often and sharply in order to recuperate as much energy as possible from braking. This rarely happens on a racetrack with fast curves. The founder of the series, Alejandro Agag, quickly realized that cities were anyway the ideal location for Formula E racing. This is because tightly bending circuits are good for recuperating energy, and also because the idea behind Formula E is to drive in city centers, rather than round circuits somewhere in the countryside. As the huge potential for electric vehicles primarily lies in cities—and this is a development which cities are encouraging—city racing is a good fit. Now at 14, season 6 offers the greatest number of E-Prix races to date. Three new circuits have been added to the race schedule: Seoul, Jakarta, and a course around the port of London where the season finishes with two races on a single weekend. London has already hosted ABB FIA Formula E races, but they were driven in Battersea Park.

Have any women driven in the races?

Frauen-Bewegung Formel E

Susie Wolff as successful team leader

Yes. We have tried to support women in Formula E right from the start. To date, Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro (4 races), Italian Michela Cerruti (4), and Englishwoman Katherine Legge (2) have all been at the start. De Silvestro is currently also the reserve driver in team Porsche. Ex-Formula One test driver Susie Wolff is now the boss of team Venturi. Edo Mortara’s win in Hong Kong 2019 was the first in the history of top class racing in which a women was in charge of the winning team.

Where are the cars built?

Spark Technology and Dallara (an Italian chassis manufacturer) build the cars together and make them available to the teams. They will also be used in the 2021/22 season. Only prior to this last season will there be a further aerodynamic update: this year the cars remain effectively unchanged. Generation 3 cars will be introduced following the 2021/22 season and should once again reveal significant enhancements.

What can the teams influence, which elements are predetermined?

The teams are permitted to develop the e-motor, inverter, transmission, rear suspension, and software for the registered manufacturer. In addition, for each race they can jointly agree on a race strategy which is primarily determined by the layout of the particular circuit, the sequence and number of curves, braking zones, and straights, as well as the nature of the asphalt surface.

Formel E

pit lane

Gerald Enzinger