This Friday kicks off the seventh season of Formula E, an all-electric single-seater racing series designed to push the boundaries of e-mobility. And if you haven’t already jumped onboard — or if you like the concept but haven’t quite convinced yourself to really dive in — we’re going to give you everything you need to know before the first event.
The first hints of Formula E began floating around back in 2011 after the president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA, the sanctioning body that organizes tons of international racing competitions), Jean Todt, presented the idea to two politicians — Alejandro Agag and Antonio Tajani — as well as actor Teo Teocoli. The idea was a hit. Agag took on the task of really organizing things, and the series was officially announced as ready to hit the track in 2013.
The whole goal of Formula E is to bring racing — and electric vehicle technology — to the people. The series races almost exclusively on temporary street circuits in cities like Paris, Berlin and New York, which means it’s a lot easier for the average population to attend an event than it is to get to a racetrack way out in the middle of nowhere.
If you watch other international single-seater series, you’ll likely be familiar with FE’s format. The championship consists of 10 teams, each of which has two drivers. The big difference is that all the racing action takes place in one day: There’s one 45-minute practice session, one 30-minute practice session, one qualifying session and the race, which is timed out at 45 minutes plus one lap. For qualifying, drivers are divided in four groups of six and sent out to qualify in groups. The fastest driver of each group goes on to a final round of qualifying, which sets the front three rows of the grid. These events usually take place on Saturday.
Each session has different limits on the amount of power that can be used. During a short Friday shakedown, teams can only use 110 kilowatts, since this is mostly for letting drivers get to know the track. During practice and qualifying, teams can use 250 kilowatts.
A few times a year we’ll get a double-header race format. That means (in most casses) that there will be one day of racing on Saturday, followed by a second on Sunday. The only difference with the Sunday format is that there will be one practice session instead of two.
Yes, there are some gimmicks. Formula E has been experimenting with ways to get fans involved, so it tried out a lot of different ideas to make that happen. There’s FanBoost, where fans vote for their favorite driver to get a little extra boost of power at some point in the race. There’s Attack Mode, which is a certain section of track that drivers can pass through to get an extra burst of energy to use for, say, passing. Some fans argue that takes away from the purity of racing, but this is Formula E. It’s new, fun and exciting. Why not try out some wild ideas?
But one big point of pride for the series is that the car batteries are able to last the entire race now — if you use them right. In the first few seasons, drivers would need to make a pit stop to jump from one car to the other. Now, there are no pit stops necessary (unless you sustain some damage).
Formula E’s seventh season is the first that will run with full FIA World Championship status, placing it at the same competition level as Formula 1 and the World Rally, World Endurance and World Rallycross series.
The DS Techeetah racing team is heading into its second season with one of its drivers as reigning champion. Antonio Felix da Costa will be looking to repeat his championship title, but his teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, will also be looking to become the first three-time champion in Formula E. Expect a stiff fight between these two drivers all season.
You can also expect the longtime teams to have a little bit of an edge. Mercedes-EQ and Porsche have both done well, but it’s been obvious that there’s been a gap between the performance of new teams and that of the ones that have been around from the beginning.
And expect some chaos. FE has a reputation for being something of a mess — tight street circuits and wide cars means there are sometimes crashes on the first few laps or when things get hot and heavy. It’s also pretty likely that we’ll see some at the season opener, since Saudi Arabia is the first night race the series has ever had.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, expect a lot of flexibility this year. Fans may or may not be allowed at events; teams may or may not be required to stick to strict bubbles; certain races may or may not happen. We’re facing the first race on a proper track this season, and it may not be the last as more and more FE track locations are transformed into testing facilities, vaccine distribution centers or temporary hospitals.
Formula E cars are in their second generation of technology and preparing to evolve to the third. That means the series has evolved from its initial form but still has room to grow. In terms of specs, here’s what you need to know:
- Length: 203 inches
- Width: 70 inches
- Height: 41 inches
- Ride height: 2.9 inches (max)
- Wheelbase: 122 inches
- Minimum weight, including the driver: 1990 lbs
- Maximum power: 250 kW or 335 horsepower
- Maximum power available in a race: 200 kW, or 270 horsepower
- Maximum power regeneration: 250 kW
- Maximum speed: 174 mph
- 0-60 time: 2.8 seconds
- Brakes: brake-by-wire
- Tires: 19-inch MichelinPilot Sport all-weather tires
- Halo driver protection
The points format for Formula E is similar to that of other FIA-sanctioned series. First place secures 25 championship points, with each of the top 10 drivers scoring, with 10th getting a single point.
There are also other opportunities to score points in FE. The driver who scores pole position secures three points. The driver with the fastest lap in qualifying scores one point. The driver with the fastest lap in the race scores one point (but only if that driver finishes in the top 10).
Team points are calculated by combining the points of both its drivers.
The 2021 Formula E season calendar is a little bit…unfinished right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has really thrown some monkey wrenches into the whole “organizing a season” thing, and with its opening races already postponed, FE decided to announce races only in chunks that it feels confident will happen.
So, right now, the calendar looks like this:
- February 26 and 27: Diriyah, Saudi Arabia
- April 10: Rome, Italy
- April 23: Valencia, Spain
- May 8: Monaco, Monte Carlo
- May 22: Marrakesh, Morocco
- June 4 & 5: Santiago, Chile
After that, events and dates are up in the air, but Formula E’s new CEO, Jaime Reigle, is confident that we’ll see races in Seoul, New York City, London, Berlin and Mexico this year.
A race series isn’t really a race series without its drivers, and Formula E has great names you might recognize from IndyCar, Formula One, DTM, the World Endurance Championship and more. Let’s run you through the teams, drivers, and liveries lined up for 2021.
Drivers and teams whose names have been highlighted are former champions.
Drivers: Lucas di Grassi (No. 11), Rene Rast (No. 33)
Drivers: Jake Dennis (No. 27), Maximilian Guenther (No. 28)
Drivers: Nico Mueller (No. 6), Sergio Sette Camara (No. 7)
Drivers: Antonio Felix da Costa (No. 13), Jean-Eric Vergne (No. 25)
Drivers: Robin Frijns (No. 4), Nick Cassidy (No. 37)
Drivers: Sam Bird (No. 10), Mitch Evans (No. 20)
Drivers: Alexander Sims (No. 29), Alex Lynn (No. 94)
Drivers: Stoffel Vandoorne (No. 5), Nyck de Vries (No. 17)
Drivers: Oliver Turvey (No. 88), Tom Blomqvist (No. 88)
Drivers: Oliver Rowland (No. 22), Sébastien Buemi (No. 23)
Drivers: Edoardo Mortara (No. 48), Norman Nato (No. 71)
Drivers: Andre Lotterer (No. 36), Pascal Wehrlein (No. 99)
Formula E has tended to be difficult to watch, and things can be different for every race. The best way to tell how to watch FE in your area is to check the Formula E website. In the United States, here’s where you’ll likely find certain events:
- CBS Sports Network: races
- CBS Online: practices and qualifying
- Formula E YouTube: practices
- Formula E Facebook: practices
- Formula E website: practices
- Formula E app: practices
If you want to get in the mood for racing, there’s also a full race archive available on Formula E’s website, along with an incredible documentary about the series produced by Leonardo di Caprio called And We Go Green (which is also available on Hulu).