E-zipping into the future

Formula E, Motori Italia, CC BY

Imagine you’re at a racing circuit. The tension is rising, fans are cheering, your pulse is racing with adrenalin. Suddenly Formula-1 style cars zip by and take your breath away – lightening fast, but no louder than a lawn mower. And they don’t stink. You’ve just experienced motorsports’ latest iteration, Formula E.

In case you missed it, Formula E (“E” for electric) just kicked off in Beijing on 13 September 2014. Between now and June 2015, 10 teams of two pilots – including a female duo, a motorsport first – will compete on urban circuits in cities across the globe, with the grand finale taking place in London. For its inaugural season, all teams will drive the same car, the zero-emissions Spark-Renault SRT_01E. But beginning in season two, Formula E FIA, (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) will open up the championship, giving teams and carmakers the chance to show what’s possible with electric vehicles (EVs).

Exciting stuff, right? While I certainly think so, others like Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel have yet to be convinced. In a recent interview (in German) he called the new take on his sport “nonsense” that he could in no way be excited about. In reality, Vettel has no reason to worry: the Formula E is not seeking to replace or compete with Formula 1. Just like EVs on the road are not (yet?) a 100% replacement for combustion engine cars, but rather a complement. Formula E is a new sport with a growing, open-minded fan base – not only tree-hugging environmentalist types – and it’s giving the latest generation of innovative, high-performance EVs some much-deserved attention.

Now let’s talk specs for a minute. When I heard that Formula E cars emit around 90 decibels – comparable to a lawnmower – I was imagining them accelerating to lawnmower speed. Nothing against lawnmowers but they’re not exactly known for their velocity. Well, I was wrong. Completely wrong, in fact. Formula E engines have a maximum of 272 horsepower and can accelerate to up to 225 km/h! However, the battery life at such high speeds is around 25 minutes, so pilots switch to a second EV halfway through the race, adding an exciting twist to the race as the clock keeps on ticking.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it across the world to Beijing for Round 1, but I’m hoping to be at Round 9 in Berlin on 30 May 2015 so I can witness the high-performance EV cruising through the city on the Spree. What do you think of Formula E? Are you going to watch the races – either in person (entry is free of charge!) or on the telly?

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