Formula E: An electrifying start?

by Tom Errington

It seems a long time since the FIA Formula E Championship was announced back in 2012 as the project of CEO Alejandro Agag, with the FIA keen for it to succeed as proof they were taking ‘going green’ seriously.

Three years later and the championship has seen four races while it now waits for an in-season break to end and racing to resume in Miami at the season’s halfway point.

With a full grid of 20 cars in every race and 122 laps of electric racing undertaken, now seems a good time to reflect on just how successful the series has been so far.

Formula E has had full grids in each round. Credit: FIA Formula E

Formula E has had full grids in each round. Credit: FIA Formula E

Lost in the frantic latest round in Argentina was Agag’s summary of the first three Formula E races, where he proclaimed that brand exposure has exceeded the $150 million mark.

While no doubt a huge success for Formula E going forward in terms of attracting the commercial big guns, with names such as TAG Heuer already involved, their money and exposure is only a cornerstone of Formula E’s future success.

Viewing and interest from the motorsport world is what will cause Formula E to float or sink. So far it looks the former, with promising TV numbers that have reached 56 million for the first three races. With Formula E embracing social media, the 1.45 billion social impression is an impressive number.

The numbers are good and will certainly help promote the green-centred technology that the likes of Qualcomm got involved for and is a key aspect of Agag’s desire for the electric vehicle to have a better image.

So with the series’ aim looking to be in good health and feasible, the real question is whether the world of motorsport have taken to the new racing.

It certainly appears that the drivers have. Andretti Formula E team’s coup of Jean-Eric Vergne is certainly the biggest name to have raced in Formula E, but it’s not just talent from the F1 world that’s taken to the electric series.

Sebastien Buemi of e.dams-Renault, the current World Endurance Championship champion, has impressed while fellow sportscar talent Lucas di Grassi of Audi Sport ABT finds himself a title contender in a grid stacked with quality.

Lucas di Grassi is one of many star names in Formula E.

Lucas di Grassi is one of many star names in Formula E. Credit: FIA Formula E

With Di Grassi’s team-mate Daniel Abt willing to miss the GP2 season finale to focus on Formula E, the drivers are certainly taking the championship seriously.

Names will always help a fledgling series, but so will looks and Formula E is blessed with one of the most attractive single-seater cars, the Renault-Spark.

The Renault-Spark aids Formula E with its striking looks.

The Renault-Spark aids Formula E with its striking looks. Credit: FIA Formula E

There’s been careful attention paid to aesthetics outside of the car too. With new technology hindering pace and lap distance, Formula E’s avoidance of famous circuits bar Monaco, means there won’t be any comparisons between the slower Renault-Spark and the likes of F1’s lap time differences at the likes of Spa or Silverstone.

Yet this carefully constructed image has been dented a few times. The season opening race at Beijing was a largely dull affair, with the Beijing ePrix layout seemingly heightening a pedestrian looking race. It was unsurprising considering there had only been five days of testing at Donington, but it was hardly an ideal start.

However, the moment of late drama that saw e.dams Nico Prost stupidly collide with Venturi GP’s Nick Heidfeld not only made sure the race would live in the memory, despite the previous laps, but also showed how safe the Renault-Spark is and should be a feather in the cap for all involved.

A more permanent damage, which started in Beijing, has been the sight of the grid pulling into the pits to change car, with the sight of a driver jumping out of a car into another still looking bizarre to viewers four races in.

This highlights the fact that Formula E is in constant development, and probably always will be as it relies on the electric industry, but the step forward inside the first year is there for all to see.

This was seen when the Beijing bore was followed up by the exciting Putrajaya ePrix. One race down, familiarity on the up saw closer racing, with Mahindra Racing’s Bruno Senna having a storming drive through the field, while Trulli GP’s Jarno Trulli defending against Nelson Piquet’s China Racing car also a highlight.

The race also began the sequence of a different race winner every round, with Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird joining di Grassi on the top step, while Buemi and Amlin Aguri’s Antonio Felix da Costa have joined the list since as each race continues to surprise and thrill.

Antonio Felix da Costa has become the latest driver to win a race.

Antonio Felix da Costa has become the latest driver to win a race. Credit: FIA Formula E

The circuits have played a great role in this, both positively and negatively. The Punta del Este ePrix and Buenos Aires ePrix pushed the cars to their limits of speed and gave some challenging corners.

While this has been positive, the negatives have been that this has caused problems for the car. The continuing suspension failures have to be resolved by either removing the difficult sausage kerbs or by improving the suspension within the car as the issue becomes more and more regular.

Formula E has been criticised for each flaw, but with the series being so new it seems unduly harsh. What should be praised is the championship’s adaptability, made apparent by the abandoning of a formation lap for a short run up that appeased all on the grid.

The elephant in the room, FanBoost, is the other side of Formula E. Considered a gimmick, it appears that way when drivers and teams ask or beg for votes. It looks ridiculous, but who can blame them when it gives an advantage?

Formula E breaks new ground and that should be encouraged not chastised and Formula E’s drive to be unique has created more good than bad and with more than half the season to go, the championship looks set to continue the excitement and crucially, have a long term future.

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