When the all-electric racing series’ new season starts up this month, Formula E drivers will have something extra on their steering wheels: a turquoise “Attack Mode” button that gives a power boost to pass someone or maintain a lead. But, like all passing aids in racing, there are some rules around it.
Passing aids tend to sound like something out of Mario Kart, but they’re fairly common in actual racing. Formula One has the Drag Reduction System that gives cars an aerodynamic advantage, IndyCar has the push-to-pass boost system, and now, Formula E has “Attack Mode.” All of their uses are limited, so cars don’t shoot past each other on random intervals like a bad game of pinball—or Mario Kart.
But Formula E’s Attack Mode is perhaps the most complicated and limited of the three. The series announced it Monday, saying it would be in effect starting with the 2018-2019 season opener in Saudi Arabia next weekend.
While F1 limits DRS to certain track areas when one car is less than a second behind another and IndyCar limits the length of time drivers can use push-to-pass during a race, Attack Mode has a few more stipulations: In order to activate it, drivers have to move to a certain area of the track that’s off of the preferred racing line. Once they’ve moved off the line and onto the designated slower area of the track, Attack Mode will activate and give the car a temporary power boost from 200 to 225 kilowatts, or from 268 to 302 horsepower.
Formula E said in its announcement about Attack Mode that drivers will be able to use it at any time during the race from the second lap, whether they’re trying to pass or retain a lead. But to prevent races from turning into pinball, Formula E said its governing body, the FIA, will decide “the precise time period and amount of activations” allowed before each race.
The really interesting thing about how Attack Mode is set up is that Formula E seems to have a good idea of how to work it into broadcasts without much explanation, or the need to focus on one driver for each use. The press release said the Attack Mode activation zone outside of the racing line will be rendered on the track for each broadcast, and drivers using any sort of power boost will have their halo cockpit-protection bars lit up a certain color. Cars using Attack Mode will have blue rendered on their halos, while the Fanboost driver’s halo will light up magenta when they’re using their power bump to 240 kilowatts, or 321 HP.
While the Fanboost temporary power upgrade given to drivers who win a fan vote will probably always be debatable, regulated passing aids are normal in high levels of motorsport—also debatable, but less isolated. But, if anything, Formula E has at least found a good way to communicate them on a broadcast. It’s easy to understand and tells viewers what’s going on inside the car when it’s going on, which is a good thing.
Whether or not it produces good racing as well, we’ll just have to see.