Long Beach, Tech Gen’s HQ, went abuzz this past weekend as the city hosted the sixth “ePrix” of Formula E’s inaugural season. Ten teams and twenty drivers competed in the event, with Brazil’s Nelson Piquet, Jr., of China Racing taking top honors. The event attracted an eclectic mix of entertainers, entrepreneurs and policymakers.
The crowd made for an unusual audience, but then again Formula E is an unusual event–one that may point to the future of Grand Prix racing.
Formula E: its history and future
Jean Todt, president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), organized Formula E in summer 2012. The series’ first race was held at Beijing in September of last year, followed by events at Punta del Este, Uruguay; Putrajaya, Malaysia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Miami, USA. With the Long Beach ePrix finished, Formula E’s remaining events are in Monte Carlo, Berlin, Moscow, and London. The season concludes in June.
Formula E teams all run the same model of car, the SRT_01E, the result of a collaboration between a French start-up, Spark Racing Technology (SRT) and Renault. Frédéric Vasseur, a long-time motorsport engineer, founded SRT in 2012 in order to develop the FE prototype. The car measures 16.4 x 5.9 x 4.1 ft.
A Dallara chassis, made up of light composite material, forms the car’s “skeleton.” The chassis’s lightness is necessary given the heaviness of an electric power-train. Even with cutting-edge hardware, the Spark-Renault car weighs in around 1,800 pounds, which is about 400 pounds more than a comparable F1 car and about 1,000 pounds less than a typical small sedan.
A Rechargeable Energy Storage System (RESS) delivers power to the vehicle’s engine, a McLaren “e-motor” that’s attached to the rear axle and generates up to two hundred kilowatts of power. The e-motor is mated to a Hewland five-speed transmission, allowing the SRT_01E to sprint to 60 MPH in three seconds and reach a top speed of 140 MPH.
Ten organizations compete in Formula E:
- Andretti Autosport
- Audi-Abt Sportline
- China Racing
- Dragon Racing
- Driot-Renault Motor Sport
- Mahindra Racing
- Trulli Grand Prix
- Venturi Grand Prix
- Virgin Racing
Each race lasts between forty-five minutes and an hour. As in traditional FIA GP, points range from 25 for first place down to 1 for last place. The most points at the season’s finish determine the series’ champion. As of this article, the Driot-Renault team leads with two victories.
Formula E attracts Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Washington–the centers of influence in the Digital Age. Those three centers can popularize series’ green-angle as the future of motorsport. If they do, Formula E will expand or serve as the basis for standard GP racing.
That latter concept is controversial. One would estimate at least nine out of ten traditional gearheads flipping out over the idea. Given the widening menu of consumer electric vehicles and the greater electric input in gasoline and diesel engines, however, one should not discount an all-electric future as a possibility.
Even so, the precedent for all-electric racing is not a bright one. The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) organized a two-wheeled counterpart to Formula E. The series lasted just one season with six events (out of a planned eight) and no championship.
It’ll be up to the FIA, manufacturers and Formula E’s fans to determine whether the four-wheeled series will suffer the same fate.
This full length video featuring the FIA Formula E Long Beach ePrix 2015 is courtesy of FIA and ITV4