SPORT An E-ducation : What makes Formula E so different?
One of the most common questions that racing fans ask is, “What makes Formula E so different?”. Having watched racing events that have been around for generations, it’s always a challenge to get into a new type of motorsport. Formula E is only about 8 years old. As the Founding Partner and Official Timekeeper of Formula E, we’ve witnessed the sport constantly trying to find ways to improve, engage, excite and attract more fans. And even though it’s young, the sport’s fan base keeps growing exponentially every year. The cars evolve, the racing gets faster and faster, the strategies become more streamlined, the thrills and spills keep grabbing more and more eyeballs. But to answer the question at the top of this article, we’ve put together a few reasons why racing in Formula E is different. So make your way to the starting position.
A unique concept
Just the idea of being all-electric makes Formula E different from other motorsports. When Formula E was first mooted in 2011, almost every other racing event in the world was still running on fuel. Formula E is one of the main inspirations for the budding electric races we see now. So before we get into the nitty gritty, the cars and strategies, it’s worth highlighting that the whole concept of Formula E itself makes it an outlier. A future-thinking motorsport for a world that needs fresh thinking.
ZOOMING IN: THE ENERGY MANAGEMENT
It’s like playing chess at high speeds
Energy management. Hitting your energy targets. Saving enough energy for the end of the race. All of this makes race strategy essential, and unique, in Formula E. It’s often described as playing chess at over 250km/h. Electricity brings a whole new thrill to motorsport. Your race strategy and targets are designed using complex softwares that run several different race and energy outcomes. These softwares base the outcomes on temperature changes and the relative pace and energy efficiency of the competing cars. The teams and drivers have to be aligned, so they can be proactive or reactive to the multiple strategies provided by the softwares. Safety cars, yellow or red flags, race pace, energy usage. All of these uncertainties create new strategies that the teams can use to their advantage.
Creating a level racing field
The Gen2 cars you currently see on track are the second iteration of all-electric open-wheelers in Formula E. They’re all designed to race against a strict set of regulations that determine what teams can do to them.
The idea is to level the racing field. Formula E seeks to make the competition as tight as it can possibly be. Across the board, the chassis, battery, aerodynamics, tyres and the fundamentals are all the same. This is unlike other motorsports where some teams have a little bit more freedom to modify their parts to stay ahead of the rest of the grid. The limited development costs also make it easier for more teams to enter Formula E and challenge for silverware.
At the same time, Formula E offers scope for maverick engineering to make the difference. Engineers, teams and manufacturers can create their own all-important powertrain and software, as well as the car’s rear suspension and its setup.
ZOOMING IN: CHASSIS
Precision is everything
The perfect racing line. Zero technical issues. Street smarts. All of these things are important to achieve success in any motorsport. But they’re even more important in Formula E. With a grid that is this tight and margins that are so small, every turn, every lock-up, every corner, every change in strategy can be the difference between a podium finish and defeat. The competitiveness and the tight circuits mean the racing is unpredictable. There are regular crashes and lots of overtakes. Almost every race tends to end with different pole-sitters and podium finishers.
ZOOMING IN: THE STEERING WHEEL
Driving that’s closer than ever
Since Formula E cars are all equally competitive, it takes a lot of effort for drivers to take charge of a race. One tiny mistake and there’s always someone behind you, ready to pounce. 10-second gaps don’t really exist here. From first place all the way to the back of the grid, the stakes are high throughout a race.
Most of this is down to the way Formula E cars are designed. During a combustion engine race, chasing cars often have to deal with streams of dirty air from the cars ahead of them. This reduces the chasing cars’ aerodynamic grip and overheats the tires. But in Formula E, the electric powertrains don’t spew out hot and heavy exhaust gasses. And the wings and bodywork don’t produce excessive downforce. All this means that Formula E cars can race each other nose to tail. There’s also a diffuser purpose-built into the cars that helps spread airflow away from the rear of the car, to allow for even closer racing. And closer racing equals more exciting racing.
Another differentiator? The city street circuits of Formula E. These winding, narrow circuits make racing even more unpredictable and suspenseful. Overtakes can be risky, so you either squeeze past your fellow drivers, or you get left behind and invite a crash. In Formula E, no circuit is easy. So you need street smarts, quite literally.
An electric dream team
Did we mention that apart from being the Founding Partner and Official Timekeeper, we’ve teamed up with Porsche to put together a Formula E team? No? OK, here goes. The TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team entered the sport during the 2019/20 season. With some silverware already in our cabinet, we’ve got our eyes on the big electric prize. Together with our drivers Andre Lotterer and Pascal Wehrlein plus a talented group of engineers and visionaries, we’re giving Formula E an extra boost of energy.
Just the beginning
We’ve covered the concept, the cars, the strategies, the racing styles and the circuits. But this is just the start. There are so many other reasons why Formula E is different. Its sustainability goals, its social and cultural impact, its education programs, its push for better technology. We’re going to cover all of these things in our E-ducation series. So stay tuned.