This weekend signals the end of an era for Formula E. The all-electric open-wheel series is rounding out its eighth season and saying farewell to its Gen2 cars. A marked improvement from the series’ initial technology, Gen2 was first introduced for season five and represented a massive shift in the sport’s technology. In honor of Formula E’s continued growth, let’s take a moment to enjoy some of the highlights of the Gen2 era.
The first generation of electric open-wheel car introduced by Formula E was very obviously an experiment, and the second generation was something of a refinement. The newer car could last a whole race on a single charge as opposed to drivers needing to swap vehicles halfway through, and power output was increased. The rear wing was practically eliminated, with aero components instead being added in the bodywork and chassis.
While we might look at the Gen2 machine now and consider it a little outdated, it’s helpful to remember how things looked back in season five, when the car was brand-new and honestly kind of thrilling. It represented a huge leap forward from the relatively basic first-gen machines, and it helped cement the series’ legitimacy as an international racing program.
First Two-Time Formula E Champion
Jean-Eric Vergne entered the Gen2 era as the reigning Formula E Champion, but with such a massive shift in the design of the cars, there was no guarantee he’d be able to defend that title going forward.
Verge, though, showed exactly what he was made of with three wins throughout the season, enough to see him secure his second title at the end of the first New York City ePrix in 2019.
Six-Race Pandemic Showdown
Formula E’s semi-winter schedule meant that, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down motorsport around the world, the series had already completed five races — or about half a season’s worth of events. As countries around the world continued to enact lockdowns, seven races were canceled in Sanya, Rome, Paris, Seoul, Jakarta, New York, and London.
So, Formula E did something revolutionary. It hosted a series of three double-headers at the Tempelhof Airport Street Circuit in Berlin, with each double-header running on a slightly different track layout. Between August 6 and August 13, the electric series completed the remainder of its Championship, awarding Antonio Felix da Costa his first FE title.
Manufacturer Interest (and Disinterest)
The Gen2 era of Formula E coincided with the post-Dieselgate brand rehabilitation for a bunch of German automakers. Suddenly, several marques were looking to get involved in electric motorsport at the ground level. BMW and Mercedes both joined at the start of the Gen2 era, joining Audi, which had already established itself in the sport; Porsche followed suit the following year. Further, Nissan replaced Renault.
However, that interest wasn’t guaranteed to last. By the end of the Gen2 era, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz all announced their withdrawal from the sport.
A New York Minute
In what might remain one of the funniest and most chaotic moments in Formula E history, a mid-race rainstorm turned the 2022 New York City ePrix into a water-soaked mess, causing multiple crashes in the first round. A full-course yellow flag for rain came moments too late — but each team involved in the chaos was able to return to the grid for the following day’s race.
World Championship Status
Ahead of the start of the seventh (2020-21) season, the FIA endowed Formula E with official World Championship status. That essentially meant FE met a certain level of expectations that justified giving it official legitimacy from one of the biggest motorsport sanctioning organizations in the world. Now, Formula E is one of seven FIA World Championships, along with Formula 1, World Rally Championship, World Rallycross Championship, World Endurance Championship, Karting World Championship, and World Rally Raid Championship.
First Race on a Permanent Circuit
Formula E has historically been a street circuit-based series thanks to its efforts to bring racing to city centers, but it had occasionally competed on semi-permanent circuits. At least until season seven, when the sport headed to Circuit Ricardo Tomo in Valencia for a doubleheader. The track had previously only hosted Formula E preseason testing events.
The event wasn’t necessarily a success. The end of the first race saw about half the field run out of power before the end of the race thanks to the series’ complex energy management rules. The series didn’t return for a formal event the following season.
Introducing: The Duels
Formula E has long been critiqued for its reliance on gimmicks when it comes to the application of power stored in the battery, but one of the sport’s better decisions was the introduction of the qualifying duels.
In this qualifying format, the grid is split in half and runs two separate sessions. The four fastest drivers from each session move on to the “duels,” where a pair of drivers compete against one another in order to move on to the next set of duels. It has created a unique form of competition that still relies on technology and driver skill without bringing in any gimmicks during the race.
A Support Series: Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy
While Formula E did feature a series of student-designed race cars as a “support” series, the first proper support series was the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy. Between 2018 and 2020, the “arrive and drive” format featured 20 drivers per race; 19 of them were professional drivers while the final car was driven by a VIP. Races lasted 25 minutes plus one lap. It was never exactly a massive hit, and the series was nixed in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The smaller nature of Formula E has enabled drivers to forge solid friendships which has, in turn, made for some incredible off-track moments. Whether it’s a series-created interview or the natural friendships shown off on social media, Formula E is regularly a comforting change from some of the more cutthroat racing series in the world.
Where Does Formula E Go From Here?
When the checkered flag falls on the second round of the Seoul ePrix, so too will we be bidding goodbye to one era and heading into the next. The narrower Gen3 cars feature less hefty bodywork over the wheel wells, so the tight nature of FE’s street circuits will force drivers into a different, less contact-heavy race craft. Further, battery tech innovation has enabled the cars to become faster and higher-powered while the desire for more strategy will be bringing back pit stops for fast charging battery top-ups. It’s a promising upgrade for the series, and one that Formula E should be preparing to take advantage of.