How this niche motorsport could transform the world we live in, and how others are failing to do so.
Motorsport is a niche interest. It’s somewhat of a technical sport with as much science as a skill. While technicalities dictate some of the most tremendous arguments, any motorsport fan will tell you that the crowning achievement is becoming Formula 1 World Champion; but that doesn’t always have to be the case. There is a possibility that the future lies elsewhere. And nobody is making a stronger case for it than Formula E.
Let’s set the scene: It’s September 2014, in Beijing. You hear there is a racing event going on in the city centre. Do you brace yourself for the sound of….nothing?
That’s right: you have just witnessed the first ePrix — what Formula E calls its races.
Formula E is an all-electric formula racing championship that aims to showcase electric motor technology and become a premier championship in the age of fuel cuts. It showcases city-centre wheel-to-wheel action on a budget and without any emissions.
In 2014, Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, in a stance that aged like milk, stated Formula E would most likely be a temporary venture to “make a few quid and that’ll be the end of it”.
That could not have been further from the truth. Formula E has proven itself to be a hotbed of innovation and electric activity, and here’s why it will probably continue further into the future as a leading motorsport icon:
One of the sadder reasons that underline its rise is the lethargy of its petrol-powered brethren in Formula 1. In 2014, when Formula E was introduced, Formula 1 had also just grown up a bit. They’d introduced smaller engines with more electric power and less fuel consumption, reducing their carbon footprint and easing into hybrid technology development. But that’s not the whole story. Formula 1 had actually compromised when they used V6 engines — engines with 6 cylinders shaped in a V — instead of the planned 4-cylinder engines with more electric power. What this means on the surface is that these cars were using more fuel and emitting more greenhouse gases. But what it actually meant was that Formula 1 was serving a different class of cars.
Formula 1 has a history rooted in technology that helped road cars, with a lot of developments making their way back to improving highways — something that may not have been done at the same speed if they hadn’t been incorporated into the sport. But in 2011, when the new 4-cylinder engines were disclosed, Formula 1’s oldest team, Ferrari, protested: they didn’t want these smaller engines. Being used to V8 engines from which they can funnel technology into their road cars, Ferrari threatened to veto the regulations on the basis that the engines had no relevance in their road cars. Meanwhile, Renault, another company with an F1 team at the time, was outspoken in vehement support for these new regulations. This mattered because Renault sells 314 times the cars Ferrari does, and at much more affordable prices; the reach of Renault accounted for nothing. Formula 1 is serving the elite; a firm as luxurious as Ferrari cannot be let down valued at the expense of a consumer car firm.
Another reason for Formula E’s growing popularity is the number of big names in its line-up: Porsche, Audi, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes, Mahindra, and Jaguar.
Formula 1 has only Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Alfa Romeo, and soon Aston Martin. While this looks like a star-studded line-up, you have to remember, these small car companies are the definition of luxury, of elitists — apart from Renault.
That’s not going to hold forever.
In times where technological developments have to trickle down to the little guy, Formula E is going to win the sponsors, teams, and fans. Jaguar has already started using Formula E technology in its electric road cars: the use of silicon carbide temperature control gauges vastly improved fuel efficiency. McLaren used Formula E tech in the hybrid power system of its P1, showing that even the elite teams are considering moving. This, compared to F1 tech only really being used in Hybrids in Aston Martin, Ferrari, and McLaren, means that Formula 1 really isn’t serving the automobile industry. Formula E is.
And that’s the end of the debate.
Most importantly, however, one of the biggest reasons Formula E is the future is because it has a true commitment to the environment, one that shines through in its technology and regulations. In 2014, Formula E had battery power so limited that the competitors had to run two cars: drive one for half of the race, then pull into the pits and get into a second car.
But that changed when Generation 2, or Gen2, came about. By 2018, the Gen2 car meant that competitors could run on one car over the same distance; simply, the energy capacity had doubled. And that’s what this sport is all about.
Formula E is s a sport that is constantly growing, constantly evolving, constantly looking out for the little guy, rather standing still and serving the elite. With an ever-increasing roster of teams, the event regularly published its carbon footprint calculations, ran news campaigns on environmental preservation, and generally stayed in touch with its roots as an environmental endeavour. It was — and is — a sport that cared about its aims and never wavered; this is showcased best when you look at how Formula E’s cars are made.
Formula E is often accused of being Formula 1, just slower and quieter, but that really isn’t the case. Formula E actually provides a standardised car that reduces development costs for teams and makes the competition fairer. This also means that teams focus more on electric power. A massive cost-cutting aspect is a switch to using only a few sets of one all-weather tyre compound year-round, as compared to the nearly-50 sets, each of which consists of 5 different compounds, that F1 uses. Formula E has taken the best parts of Formula 1 and made them better, while taking the worst parts and speeding over them — pun intended.
But all of this falls short in comparison to the fact that Formula E is still quite a way behind the generally-accepted standard in electric road cars: Tesla. The Tesla Model X has double the power of a Formula E Gen2 car, and a larger range. This may seem like an ominous sign for a sport vying to be the premier in its field, but there is a perfectly good reason for this discrepancy: age.
Formula E is in its infancy, with development only recently getting off the ground. But in these five years, the motor power has already doubled in its four seasons — that’s development enough. Formula E is both a hotbed for attracting fans and brands to the electric bandwagon, and a hotbed of technology for cars, much like Formula 1 was designed to be and has been to an extent.
The sport shows what cars can do. But more importantly, it’s not technology for the sake of technology, or a half-hearted attempt to change to hybrid cars: it’s a bold new step in a different direction without hesitation or qualm. The point of this podcast isn’t to show that Formula 1 and petrol-powered cars are becoming obsolete, or that they must be relegated to second place; it’s about how Formula 1 can be resurrected into a newer and cleaner alternative. By getting rid of waste, fully embracing hybrid technology, and appealing to bigger sellers rather than smaller luxe dealers, Formula E’s focus on environmental impact also makes it a hard sell.
But if you are an F1 fan, don’t worry! Formula 1 has something even better to offer: the middle ground. Hybrid power would act as the bridge between petrol and electric while the world reduces its emissions, making it easier to switch to electric in a few years. Because that’s what racing should really be about: the push to the edge of physics.
— to medium.com