Formula E Demo In Las Vegas (Baby!) on Monday

[hr] [dropcap]C[/dropcap]ould Formula E be the turning point for interest in electric vehicles amongst car guys? The FIA-sanctioned racing formula will race for points for the first time in September, but this coming Monday, January 6, will see the first public demonstration of the vehicles in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fully-electric race car completed its successful test debut earlier this year and will now be showcased to invited guests, media and the public during a special event at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino – driven by former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi.

Formula E, as the name suggests, is the Formula 1 equivalent for electric vehicle racing. This could be a tide-turner for those who remain ambivalent about electric vehicles, those who don’t see an application for them in their own lives. This is an electric vehicle ‘event’ that they can get interested in.

A quick primer on the series.

The Cars

Teams will be encouraged to pursue their own design within parameters set by the FIA, but the first series will see a common vehicle used. The vehicle has been developed by Spark Racing e_racing_carTechnology, out of France, using the expertise of several well known companies as contributors. These include McLaren Electronics Systems, Williams, Michelin and Renault.

The cars have a minimum weight (with driver) of 800kg and a maximum battery weight of 200kg. The engines will make a maximum of 276hp, though full power is only available at certain times through race using a ‘push to pass’ function where permitted. Regular race power is 180hp, so the ‘push to pass’ function is a real boost when available.

Here’s the car in an early media event. Warning: you won’t find this overly inspiring, but bear in mind that this test vehicle was limited to just one quarter of the power that the race cars will have. This was just a media event to prove the concept, get some buzz and shoot some photos.

Teams will have two drivers each and there will be two cars per driver.

Races include pitstops where the driver changes into the second car.

The Series

The Formula E season will start in September 2014 and continue through to mid-2015. There are 10 races scheduled in this 9-month period. As with Formula 1, there will be a drivers championship and a constructors championship.

The series will see races in the following cities:

  • Beijing, China
  • Putrajaya, Malaysia
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Punta Del Este, Uruguay
  • Buenos Aries, Argentina
  • Los Angeles, USA
  • Miami, USA
  • Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Berlin, Germany
  • London, England

The Teams

Ten teams have been tentatively approved by the FIA for participation in the Formula E series. Final confirmation is yet to come but these teams have been publicised on the Formula E website, so it’d be surprising if they’re not there in September.

Drayson Racing (GB) – Formed by a former UK Science Minister, Lord Drayson. I hope they use similar T-shirts as the ones used by Lord Hesketh’s team back in the 70’s. They’ve already built one electric racer using a Lola chassis and claim a record for the fastest speed set by a lightweight electric vehicle.

China Racing (China, duh) – This team has grown out of the former Chinese A1GP team. Not much else known.

Andretti Autosport (USA) – The Andretti name should be familiar to all racing fans, even if you’re not familiar with the details of the family’s success. This team is headed by Michael Andretti and they have teams in multiple racing series in the USA right now.

Dragon Racing (USA) – Another Formula E team from the USA featuring another famous surname – Penske. It’s not the more familiar Roger Penske, however, but his youngest son, Jay. Jay made his money in publishing and we’ll see if he squanders it in Formula E. You know how to make a small fortune in motor racing, right? Start with a big one.

e.dams (Fra) – How surprising, a French team named after cheese πŸ™‚ . e.dams was co-founded by Jean-Paul Droit and a guy named Alain Prost, who I’m sure knows absolutely nothing about racing but plenty about cheese. OK, more seriously, Droit has led his Dams team to wins in multiple different race formulae and Prost won 4 F1 World Championships and 51 Grands Prix. They know their stuff.

Super Aguri (JPN) – Super Aguri was involved in Formula 1 in the mid-2000’s. The team is headed by former racer, Aguri Suzuki. I guess Super Aguri sounds more credible than Super Suzuki although the alliteration must have been tempting.

Audi Sport ABT (Ger) – Given that Audi seems to eventually dominate most forms of motorsport it enters, this might be the team to watch. The ABT Sportsline team on which this Audi team is based has won five DTM titles in Germany. Vorsprung Durch Elektrisch Technik?

Mahindra Racing – The only team based in India and built on the industrial resources of Mahindra’s global operations, including vehicles and other machinery. These are the guys I’d like to get a pit pass for – the food in the hospitality area would be amazing.

Virgin Racing (GBR) – It was inevitable that either Virgin or Red Bull would be involved in this series, wasn’t it? The statements from Team Principal Alex Tai confirm that Formula E is a perfect brand fit for Virgin and the series will provide a wonderful atmosphere – no mention of technical capability. I’m sure they’ll hook up with the right people, however, as they usually do.

Venturi (Monaco) – The food might be good at Mahindra but the razzle-dazzle will be in the Team Venturi tent. Take an aspiring French electric car company, add in a bit of Hollywood celebrity in the form of team co-founder Leonardo Di Caprio and then base the whole thing in Monaco. Venturi claim the over-all electric vehicle land speed record (495km/h) and will be shooting for 700km/h in the near future. The powertrain for that record-holding vehicle is to be a base for their own Formula E vehicle when manufacturers build their own from 2015 onwards.

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All jest aside, if Formula E can provide the advances in EV technology that Formula 1 has provided for ICE cars over the years, it’s going to be a very valuable series. If EV’s are going to become mainstream, they’ll need better battery technology in order to provide greater range. Racing can be a great proving ground for such technology.

Of course, the viability of the series will depend upon whether or not people get interested in it. Bums on seats and eyes on TV’s – that’s what matters.

I really hope they succeed. It’ll be fascinating to watch this develop.

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10 Comments

  1. What as minute…..2 CARS? Why don’t they “refuel” by changing batteries?

    2 cars just reminds you how impractical electric cars really are. I don’t think most people could afford a second car halfway on their journey!!

    Sound like an exhibition race to me.

    I have seen lots of electric motorcycle racing and that is all about battery and power management.

    1. There is that downside.

      I think everyone just has to accept that this is a shortcoming of the powertrain. It’ll be a red letter day when EV racing progresses to a point where they can run the race with one vehicle.

  2. As you know Swade I think electric is the future…of normal everyday transport that is. I really don’t see racing turning electric until the masses have had a change in thinking patterns. Specifically they will have to have somewhat of a disdain for ICE cars. This will not happen until a significant majority are EV owners. Until then the sense of “occasion” a screaming ICE brings to the race will win out.

    EVs feel great from the perspective of the driver. Watching someone drive one however is rather boring. I see formula e being a failure. The cars could easily have been designed with swappable packs. Nothing ground breaking with the concept. Sigh.

  3. Oh dear, not another “push to pass” racing series.

    Those “made for TV” rules killed Indy, killed Nascar, and are killing F1. It seems that the more viewers they lose, the more some genius at the sanctioning body is convinced it’s because they haven’t made the rules artificial enough.

    Let’s put it this way: if the TV commentary consists almost entirely of some guy explaining the “magic button” rule, you don’t have a show. It has all the narrative impact of watching someone reformat a hard drive.

    The other problem, of course, is that there’s nothing quite as similar as two 200kW motors.

  4. lol…. i’m a big racing fan, endurance fan, Le Mans series, World endurance championship…you know, real racing, not the inflated, egocentric, fixed series Like F1 and the like (absolute top of racing my arse…), but this is the first i’ve heard they will actually have to change car during a pitstop… and it has me laughing all over the floor !!!
    It’s nonsensical and obviously highlights the biggest flaw (well, besides digging a big old hole next to the track to mine for minerals for the batteries…but that’s another story :p )
    IMHO, this is just a some silly PR ideas that have taken a life of their own and somehow (unthinkeably) actuallly materialized…. this can have no future…. i see it running for maybe a second season and that’ll be it… reality will kick in asking for it’s paycheck.
    Motorsport is a buisiness just like anything else, if it’s not sustainable, it’ll end, simple as….
    The only reason F1 has lasted as long as it has, the way it has been for the past 2 decades, is because, 1) it’s preys on you the fan to pay extortunate tickets for admission, and for anything you consume at the track…. and 2) the artifical bubble it has created for itself in where it can persued sponsors that’s their sponsormoney is indeed well spent….
    That’s 1 thing, if the racing is any good, but the whole F1 systeem is build around making sure the topteams stay the top teams…. so as a final insult to any racefan, this means the actual racing is pritty shite πŸ™‚

    So, it’s pritty obvious, Fomula E cannot dream to achieve such a status to make it sustainable…Hell, no other open wheels series has ever been able to come close to that, so good luck formula E lol

    So, what’s left is the other way, the sensible way to motorsport as it is done in endurance, wich it’s no so surprise, that the teams that have signed up to FE that have experience come from that background….
    However, in endurance, theres 2 ways of going about it…
    Unless you have money to burn, you start up a factory programme and focus on prototypes… that’ll usually run a few years untill the money dries or you goals have been accomplish (i.e. the money has dried up)…hello Peugeot πŸ™‚
    If you don’t have the money and give it ago, you end up looking like an incompetent twat…hello Aston Martin πŸ˜‰
    Audi has run it’s LMP programme for what 14 years in succesion now? and i don’t see any manufacterer doing something as that, any time soon :p)
    OR you go the GT route in where you prepare your street model into something raceworthy, and then try to sell as many as possible to client teams to recoup your R&D and hopefully make a few bob.
    Porsche lives this creed, and as such has been a presence in racing for over 60 years.

    Remember World Championship GT1 ? when that french turnip Ratel almost destroyed the Endurance scene with his ego tripping trying to make it more like F1 ?
    Yeah, guess how many season that ran?
    Formula E will die for the same reasons….Say, for next season you want to build you own FE style (as they are hoping will happen) …. theres 10 teams x 2 drivers x 2 cars, thats 40 cars in total (based on this season, could be less in the second season)

    It means no off the shelf, expensive parts to put togheter a hand built car = expensive
    = crashes (it’s open wheels, sprint racing, theres gonna be crashing) = more expensive
    and there only a maximum of 40 cars (wich obviously, you’ll never get to as not everyone is going to invest in your stuff) you could possibly sell to make up on R&D and try to run a profit…

    I don’t see it lasting πŸ™‚

  5. Oh, and the notion that F1 has created such big advanteges for ICE cars, is a falacy πŸ™‚
    The real testinggrounds for technologies that trickle down to street level cars is endurance racing… The likes of Audi, Porsche, Corvette, SRT to name but a few have had more track derived technology go into their street cars, it’s almost an insult to claim that F1 has had any sort of relevant influence on street cars!

    LMPs have been running 2litre 4cyl turbocharged powerplants for what, going on a decade? lol
    There is a reason that F1 powerplants the coming season will be changing to the same sort of powerplants found in LMPs… (hurry up and make it cheaper before it selfimplodes!!)
    In Endurance circles, there is a running joke that F1 is a feeder series for the WEC…. with them now turning to “our” technology to keep the thing afloat, i can see the commentary towards F1 during next years race becoming a real knee slapper πŸ™‚

    a few fun facts:
    An LMP1 car, with it’s Le Mans low downforce setup, wich is the setup wich generates the least downforce during the entire season due to the nature of the Le Mans track, generates MORE downforce then an F1 car on low downforce settings.

    An F1 car has a KERS system wich generates approx 80bhp for a few seconds a lap when pushed.
    The Hybrid systems (basicly ERS systems) on LMP1 cars such as the Audi and Toyota generate 300BHP ALL the time! obviously when certain parameters, for example, on the Audi it kicks in as soon as the car goes over 120km/h

  6. Here are my suggested rules for any racing series:

    Power shall exceed traction
    No rule shall be made that needs to be explained on every broadcast
    No rule shall be made that makes some races less relevant than others
    In-race officiating shall only be used as a last resort
    Third-party and independent press coverage shall be encouraged, especially when it is irreverent or critical
    Races should be compelling to watch in one sitting

    NASCAR (for those who follow) has broken all of these rules but the first, and went from being the fastest-growing and most competitive form of motor racing to a lame duck that has negligible TV ratings.
    F1 is trying it’s best to do the same. I don’t think that there was a single pass this year “outside of officially sanctioned passing zones” that wasn’t reviewed at length and then overturned. Next year brings the introduction of a playoff format where the first two-thirds of the season don’t mean squat (thanks for watching…wait, where did everybody go?)
    I like almost everything about endurance, except watching it.

    WRC, Dakar and Moto GP still have some potential, except for the fact that coverage is absolutely abysmal in North America. Looking forward to the web-only Dakar coverage starting today: one 90-second daily video, half of which is intro and lead-out music; no coverage past the top 5 runners; 3 cliches to draw from; extensive use of the word “epic” (a word which otherwise only applies to pizza and gaming sessions).

    Formula E could have potential, except that they’ve already tied-up the rules so tight as to prevent any innovation. And the cars sound like a six year old with a whistle.

    1. I can live with those rules, all except the last one.

      I think the sport should do a better job of educating people about endurance events. Too many sports are dumbed down to cater to shortened attention spans. Endurance racing shouldn’t be one of them.

      The best alt example I can think of is cricket, which may or may not be relatable for you. The most recent phenomenon is 20-20 cricket, where players go and smash the ball around for 3 hours, one short inning each. It’s amusing, but it’s not cricket in the classic sense. In ‘Test’ cricket, a match is played over 5 days and truly tests the patience, strategy and endurance of the players. And Test cricket is thriving in popularity, in Australia at least, because the audience understands the way it’s played and it’s importance. It’s still the pinnacle of the sport.

      Endurance racing should be the pinnacle of racing, IMO. Maybe the rules need to be altered to make it so that things happen regularly, so that viewers do find something entertaining in a short sitting. We have a few 12-hour endurance races here that are very prominent on the racing calendar, so it can work.

      Bottom line – educate the people rather than dumb down the sport.

      1. Swade,

        The operative word in my last rule is “compelling.” It has to be in one sitting for the viewer, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be watching edited footage.

        Endurance coverage in North America consists of two second-rate ex-racers reminiscing about their good old days, footage of cars running laps at 7/10ths, and pit interviews that always ask the same two questions. There’s a story to be told, but we don’t often hear it.

        Like I said earlier, I love endurance racing, I pore through issues of Race Tech and Racecar Engineering, follow the latest developments on mulsannescorner.com, but I just can’t watch it on TV.

        1. Having followed Grand Am for the past 4 seasons (i.e. watched every race, full length) aswell the American le Mans series i’m abit stumped…
          And yes, i watch (or watched since FOX (yuk) took it) the original SPEED broadcasts with commentary from Leigh, Calvin and Dorsey… While yes, they are perhaps no Radio Le Mans, but those guys do know what they are talking about and it’s very rare to catch them on a mistake… quite frankly i enjoyed their commentary very much, aswell as from the pitlane reporters wich weren’t affraid to ask the tougher questions!
          That a far cry from some of the commentary you get here in europe (when it’s NOT radio Le Mans) Often times by people, you wonder if they know what they are on about…
          Dorsey Schroeder might be getting on in years, Atleast you can understand wtf he is saying all the time…. Watch a FIA GT/ Blancpain season with dear old Johnny Watson who starts eating half his sentences, or just slurs through it with some sounds that sound like it when he gets abit excited, half the cars he calls out are wrong and half the names he says he invents himself i think… :s
          ALMS had John Hindaugh from Radio Le Mans in the commentary team this season, so that was near perfection imho…

          Swade, Endurance is the pinnacle of motorsport πŸ˜‰ Anyone with abit of sense and feel for the sport knows that… it’s just that those who wouldn’t know the backend of a car even if it backed up over them and thus think F1 is “all that” , outnumber us, so the phantasy can be sustained πŸ˜€
          Beauty of it is, those involved in it; due to the background of the sport, don’t need to say it out loud. Appreciation from those who know means more then from those who are clueless or something like that πŸ™‚

          I love the 12hours of Bathurst ! I knew of Bathurst through the V8 supercars, since i’ve also been sim racing since 05 or something, and Touring cars aren’t really my fortΓ© , much less the more powerfull V8, i really don’t get on with those lol But it wasn’t until a few years ago when they let in the GT3 class into the 12hours that i took notice, and started giving it a go GT car that it really grew on me, and by now it’s become one of my favourite tracks!
          Lots of competition from Europe coming over this year to battle on the mountain, should be a real cracker !

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