Welcome to the weird world where the race cars are quiet, a post-Dieselgate Audi still has a factory racing effort, and Faraday Future’s name is actually on a real-life, complete working car that exists. I’m off to Formula E to see if the so-called electric future of racing is one worth getting excited about.
[Full disclosure: Formula E wanted us to check out a race and drive one of their cars so much ahead of their upcoming New York ePrix in May that they paid for my travel and lodging to the Mexico City ePrix.]
Formula E is one of the most interesting new series in racing as an entirely electric series committed to sustainable technology. As the series opens up more items for development, it’s a much-needed place for manufacturers to develop and improve electric vehicle technology—which is exactly what they’ll need to use with more frequency as regulatory demands for fuel consumption become harder to meet worldwide.
To the cynics, however, it’s a buzzword-laden startup deck come to life, complete with an upcoming support series for autonomous cars and the infamous “FanBoost” which is determined by online votes. The cars lack the visceral kick-in-the-gut sound of a rowdy race-tuned internal combustion engine. They’re slow in comparison to many of the existing fan-favorite series, too—with only the equivalent of 270 brake horsepower in max power mode, and built to run on less grippy, less quick grooved Michelin tires for maximum road-relevance.
Formula E drivers still must swap cars mid-race as well, as the batteries won’t last the whole time. Fortunately, Formula E is fixing that next year, and mid-race car swaps will be a thing of the past.
But does any of that matter? What I’ve seen every time I tune in to Formula E is some good, close racing among many of the names you wish had gotten a better shot in other series, like Formula One and the World Endurance Championship. If I ignore the temptation to cringe upon any mention of “FanBoost,” it’s a fun time.
So far this season, Renault e.dams driver Sébastien Buemi leads the championship after winning the first three races. Mexico should be interesting, however, as Mexican ex-Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutiérrez makes his debut in the series driving for TECHEETAH. Before the race, we’ll even get a rematch of that off-track sim racing battle that was screwed up by a FanBoost glitch between gamer Olli Pahkala and Mahindra driver Felix Rosenqvist, which you can watch at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday here.
So, is it any fun in person? That’s why we’re here. We’re not just going to watch the race, but we get to test out a Formula E car afterwards.
Naysayers who claim that the cars are slow aren’t looking at the whole picture. They’re designed for shorter, mostly street courses so races can happen close-in to city centers and major landmarks, so the cars don’t need to get to plaid. They aren’t heavily dependent on aerodynamics, which makes them lively and able to get up in each others’ space. And mind you, that 270 bhp (or the equivalent of 228 bhp in energy-saving race mode) is in a car with a minimum weight of only 1940 lbs (including driver). It goes from 0 to 62 mph in only 3 seconds. That rules.
What do you want to know about Formula E? We’re here for the weekend, so let us know in the comments below.