After only two years since it was first announced, the FIA’s all-electric Formula E racing series is ready to make its public debut.
The opening round is set to kick off this Saturday, September 13, in Beijing, China. This will be followed by nine more races held in Malaysia, Uruguay, Argentina, the United States, Monaco, Germany and finishing at the end of June 2015 in London, England.
While other forms of auto racing — most notably top-end endurance series — have embraced things like hybrid systems and turbo-diesel engines, Formula E is the first to be purely electric. FIA President Jean Todt says it “…will offer both entertainment and a new opportunity to share FIA’s values for clean energy, mobility and sustainability.”
Because of the aggressive schedule from introduction to competition, all 10 teams and their 20 drivers will use identical open-wheel race cars designed by Spark-Renault, with collaboration from other racing heavyweights like Dallara, Michelin, Hewland, McLaren and Williams.
We already know each driver will be using two cars per hour-long race — drivers will swap from one to the other during a mandated pit-stop — which was a decision made by the FIA in the name of safety. Neither battery swapping nor fast charging are developed enough to do it with acceptable margins, or at least not yet.
“Technology takes time to develop, just look at the evolution from ‘brick’ phones to smartphones and desktop computers to tablets,” explained Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E. “In the same way, we believe electric cars need time to evolve, and we’re just at the beginning of the electric-racing era — this is very exciting. At present, our batteries last 25-30 minutes, but as technology improves — our goal will be to run the entire race with one car and one battery.”
The series has come up with some interesting ideas on how to spice up the racing. While racers will have access to the car’s full 200 kw (270 horsepower) during qualifying sessions, the series will limit that to 150 kw (200 horses) once the race starts to ensure everyone has a chance to finish… But, fans can vote for their favorite drivers ahead of the race, and the top-three will earn a one-time five-second boost, which when triggered gives 180 kw (240 horsepower).
“We expect this championship to become the framework for research and development around the electric car, a key element for the future of our cities,” Agag said.
Starting in the second season, Formula E will open up development to the teams, and allow them to build their own racers that fit within the FIA’s rule guidelines, much like Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
There’s a strong American effort in the series. The Monte Carlo-based Venturi team has support from actor Leonardo di Caprio, and two other teams — Dragon Racing, owed by Jay Penske, and Andretti Autosport — have huge ties to open-wheel racing. And the U.S. is the only country to get two races, one on each coast; first in Miami in March, then in Long Beach, California in April.
Television coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1 in the United States, and you can check local outlets for broadcast times.