Formula E is an electric single seat race series that is held on tight and technical street circuits all over the globe.
I watched quite a lot of the championship’s inaugural season back in 2014-15 but for some reason I haven’t really been following it since.
An advertisement came up for the London E-Prix this year at the ExCeL I thought I’d pop along. Outside of classic car conversions I’ve not really had an awful lot to do with electric cars here, and as that technology is becoming more accessible I feel I really should be starting to get a bit more involved.
We’ll start with the venue. London’s ExCeL is easily accessible with links to both the new Elizabeth tube line and the Docklands Light Railway. Obviously being in London there are loads of nearby hotels and restaurants if you’re travelling to the event from further afield and both Formula E and ExCeL itself provided plenty of catering options.
The track ran around and through the ExCeL centre. Being electric the cars don’t produce any emissions which means that they can safely run indoors, which a significant section of the track was, including the paddock.
Running indoors is really interesting! Building temporary race tracks in convention centres and other big indoor spaces opens up a lot of opportunity. Electric cars that are the size of a classic Mini or perhaps a Legends Car would really thrive in that environment as the tracks for them can be tight and will focus on acceleration and cornering rather than top speed.
The indoor section of the track was also on the first floor (floor 2, if you’re reading from a part of the world that doesn’t use the U.K’s weird level numbering system). This meant that the cars would have to deal with pretty steep elevation changes, provided by ramps that I assume would typically be used to bring vehicles and supplies in and out of the upper floor of the convention centre.
Indoors you also had the Allianz E-Village.
This was the hub of the event with food vendors, live music and a number of different displays including a big activities centre for the FIA’s Girls on Track program and a small gokart track for the kids.
There were also BMX displays from the Drop and Roll Tour.
Motorsport UK also had a stand showing off their ‘StreetCar’ initiative, which is a scheme designed to promote motorsports that you can partake in a completely standard road car such as autosolo and cross country events.
They had a modified Tesla on the stand which actually looked really good as a race car.
The bank of simulators were a popular draw throughout the day. These were letting people drive a Formula E car around the ExCeL circuit.
There was a lot going on, but the E-Village took up a massive area in one of the halls of the convention centre, and I can’t help but feel there were some missed opportunities. Especially since the E-Prix is such a popular event. There were several thousand people there.
It would have been nice to have seen a couple more stands from auto manufacturers. There are a number of OEMs who field teams in Formula E such as Mercedes and Jaguar. They produce electric cars and one would have thought the E-Prix would be a great marketing opportunity for them.
Nissan, however, did bring out a single seater concept called the Ariya which was based in the atrium away from the E-Village. Ariya is also the name of Nissan’s new electric crossover.
There are also a number of companies based in the the U.K who are converting classic cars to electric. The E-Prix could have been a great opportunity to show off some of their projects and to get people talking about converting their cars.
Finally I would have liked to have seen a stand from the BRCA (British Radio Car Association). Much like MSUK’s StreetCar program, radio controlled racing is an affordable way of getting into motorsport. The 1/12 scale GT12 cars don’t need a lot of space, are run at clubs all over the country and aren’t too ‘techy’. They’d be a perfect introduction to the sport for the general public.
The E-Village obviously wasn’t the main attraction though, we were here for Formula E!
2022 is the last year of the ‘Gen 2’ car.
All of the Formula E teams use the Spark SRT05e chassis built by Spark Racing Technology and Dallara (Dallara have a really long and interesting history as a chassis builder. They’ve done a lot of work in IndyCar, Formula 3 and they work with Haas in Formula 1). They all use a 56kWh battery provided by McLaren Applied Technologies, all have Brembo supplied brakes and all run on a Michelin control tyre.
The individual teams are allowed to build their own motors (rated to a maximum of 250kW or 335hp) and gearboxes.
Most teams seem to use a single speed gearbox (which I assume is a simple pinion and spur reduction system like what you’d find on a RC or slot car) but four speed sequentials have also been used.
The E-Prix actually consisted of two rounds of Formula E. One set of qualifying and a race was held on Saturday and the other on Sunday. I was only there for the Saturday round so that will be my focus.
Formula E’s qualifying format is absolutely brilliant.
Two groups of 11 cars go out for a standard 10 minute qualifying session. The four fastest cars from each group then go into a knockout stage. The knockout stage is a single lap, timed shootout between two cars. Whichever car sets the fastest time then proceeds to the next round. The car that survives to the end will start in pole position for the race.
As a spectator it was so much fun to watch and made qualifying so much more interesting! Especially since there were only 10ths of seconds separating the two cars.
In the final battle Stoffel Vandoorne in a Mercedes EQ car was beaten by Jake Dennis in a Avalanche Andretti car who got to take the pole in his home country’s race.
The racing format is pretty standard. One interesting feature is the ‘fanboost’. Fans vote on their favourite drivers during the first half of the race, and during the second half the favourite 5 drivers get a power boost which they can deploy for 5 seconds.
On Saturday’s race Jake Dennis managed to hold off both Mercedes to take a home victory.
Formula E was interesting. If I’m being critical I think the E-Village could have been expanded, as I explained above, and ideally I think that Formula E could use a support series of some kind as there was a long period of down time on track between qualifying and the race itself.
The format is excellent. I really enjoyed the qualifying and racing on such a tight circuit was really fun from a spectators perspective. I really like the idea of racing indoors too and using convention centres as race tracks. Hopefully in the future as electric motorsport becomes more prevalent (which it will) I hope we’ll see more indoor racing.
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By Richard Francis