Formula E: an eco challenger for the motorsport throne

Credit: Unsplash/Fabrizio Russo

Euan Findlay

As Formula 1 stagnates, Euan Findlay introduces you to the home of sustainable racing.

In the far-off land of the motorsport kingdom, there has long been a permanent ruler. A king with such a historic claim to the throne that no one would dare challenge. The king’s name? Formula 1. For almost 70 years, F1 has been the pinnacle of all motor racing series. However, far off in the distance stands a stranger. Clean cut, an electric spark in the eye – a young prince has arrived, ready to challenge for the kingdom of motorsport: Formula E. 

Formula E is the all-electric motor racing series that – since it’s conception in 2014 – has gained unprecedented traction. FE has proven itself to be an exciting and unpredictable spectator sport. With the launch of their Gen2 car regulations and, having just reported their first revenue profit and an injection of sponsorships from the 2018 – 19 season, it has never been a better time to get on board for a ride with the eco-friendly motorsport.

At its heart, Formula E was created with one thing in mind: sustainable racing. Zero-emission cars give us the thrill of racing without the polluting consequences of petrol-guzzling engines. More so, the series is exclusively raced on street circuits – meaning not only nail-biting, tight corner, close-calls for races, but easy access to public transport for spectators, reducing emissions even more. Not to mention that the series’ racing calendar is organised specifically to minimise air miles needed to travel for the teams throughout the course of the season. With the increasing migration of road cars towards the electric future, Formula E has never been more relevant. The technological developments made in producing FE power trains aren’t just for the sport. The research and development for these racing cars eventually trickle down into road car technology. This isn’t just a sport, but a testing ground for the future of automobility.

Furthermore, the world’s leading car manufacturers see the potential and benefits in being involved in the sport. The next season of FE sees the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche works teams. Not only does this mean that in an unprecedented situation, the top four German manufacturers are involved in the same sport – Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, and BMW– but it also brings the total number of manufacturers developing for the sport up to 11. 

It’s clear to see that Formula E is up and coming, but does it truly have the potential to take the top spot away from the powerhouse that is Formula 1? Well, in recent years, F1 has presented some systemic problems in the way it operates. For starters, with more and more manufacturers investing in FE, there has been a distinct lack of interest in F1 – the sport that was previously known to be on the cutting edge of technological development. It’s an expensive adventure to take, and if the world of trickle-down technologies that F1 used to dominate is no longer geared towards a fuel-burning world, the relevance of F1 fades. Formula 1 has also increasingly shown itself to be almost impossible to be competitive in. Unless you are one of the top three teams – Mercedes, Ferarri, or Red Bull – the idea of winning a race is simply not achievable. The gap between the front and midfield teams has become so large that some races are almost no longer worth watching. It becomes predictable and, in turn, boring. A sport cannot survive without competition, and the competition in F1 has slowly been losing its charm. So much so that, over the last decade, the series has only produced a total of six new Grand Prix winners. This lack of competition is reflected in the new generation’s interest, with F1 struggling to bring in the viewership of the younger demographic. 

In comparison, Formula E appears to be thriving in all the aspects that F1 is failing in. The 2018 – 19 season saw a huge spike in interest from the 16 to 35-year-old age bracket, bringing in a new generation of motorsports fans into the fray. Importantly, the competition and spectacle of the sport is in its own league compared to F1, with nine different winners from the last 13 races alone – all from eight different teams. Unlike F1, when you tune into an FE race weekend, you simply can’t guess which way it’s going to go. This unpredictability keeps the audience tuning in time and time again. The stewardship of Formula E races also seems to allow for a lot harder wheel-to-wheel racing in a time when the stewards of F1 are being widely and loudly criticised for lack of consistency and “ruining” the racing experience. It’s not just the fans who see the exciting racing of formula E as having potential, a large proportion of drivers on the FE grid are ex-Formula 1 drivers who simply didn’t really get a chance. The reigning two-time champion, Jean-Eric Vergne, is himself a product of the Red Bull racing F1 junior programme. In addition, there have been rumours floating around the motorsport paddock that Lewis Hamilton (arguably one of the best drivers in history and the face of Formula 1), is himself considering a move to Formula E once he has concluded his own career in F1. 

Formula 1 may have a claim to the motorsport throne that is, and has, been unchallenged for decades, but with the rise of electric relevance in the world and Formula 1’s continued problems, the up and coming prince of Formula E – I believe – has the best shot yet of becoming the next ruler of the racing kingdom. It’s exciting. It’s unpredictable. It’s electric.  


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