Why You Should Be Watching Formula E (Even If You Think It's A Gimmick)

Illustration for article titled Why You Should Be Watching Formula E (Even If You Think It's A Gimmick)

Forget everything you think you know about the FIA's all-electric race series. Forget the lack of noise and the whole-car-switchovers for a sec, and take a look at the season so far. If close racing and total chaos is up your alley, you should be watching Formula E.


Let's get the cons out of the way: the cars sound funny, they don't go super fast, the high-pitched electric motor whine isn't a V8, a V10 or a V12, and FanBoost (where fan votes give the three most popular drivers extra power to use) is a painfully contrived gimmick.

The past few races have proven that none of this matters, though. Okay, I'd still rather have no FanBoost, but whatever. You get my point.

Take a look at the highlights from the this weekend's Buenos Aires ePrix, for example:

The leader changed four times in the last ten laps or so, with one or two additional "we're not sure who's really in the lead right now" moments of insanity.

An unfortunately timed crash at Turn 10 from Karun Chandhok right around when everyone was low on power and heading to the pits made things even more interesting. A pack of cars led by Sebastien Buemi came out of the pits in front of the safety car. Many viewers were unsure if Buemi took the lead then, or if Jaime Alguersuari had the lead for being the first car behind the safety car. Buemi actually had it, and later, the cars were allowed to pass the safety car so they could catch up to the Buemi-led pack on the circuit.

Turn 10 kept claiming cars in this race, both from taps to the wall as well as suspension failure. Buemi hit the wall in the exact same spot as Chandhok, giving Lucas di Grassi the lead. Then di Grassi hit the same piece of wall.


Nick Heidfeld took the lead after di Grassi, with Sam Bird close behind in second. An overenthusiastic Bird blew through a red light at the end of pit lane during the clean-up for di Grassi's punt, giving him a drive-through penalty that effectively ended his battle for first.

Heidfeld, trying to increase his lead, got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits, handing the lead and the win over to Amlin Aguri driver Antonio Felix da Costa with one lap to go.


Street circuits always promise more chaos, and Formula E's schedule has a ton of them, ready to deliver. Thus far, I haven't seen a Baltimore Grand Prix-style serious design disaster in Formula E, but rather, some pretty amusing street circuits that usually have ample passing room for the small electric racers to use. Because they're street circuits, though, get it wrong and you're either in the wall or you're roughing up suspension components on big bumps installed to discourage shortcuts through wider areas.

This chaos kept the race up for grabs 'til the very end.

Part of why the racing is so close is the cars: they're all very similar, and running on Michelin street tires that have less grip than the usual racing slicks. The street tires squeal hilariously every time there's an off. No, the cars aren't as fast as F1, WEC, or many other series out there. Power-to-weight ratio-wise, they're closer to F2000 than anything.


Thing is, you don't need racers to go to plaid to produce genuinely entertaining racing. Anyone who's ever gotten caught up in a grudge match between friends knows exactly what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter if you're racing bicycles, tired go-karts at the kiddie track or plastic trash can lids down a snowy hill. What matters is beating the other guy. If it's close, it's going to be exciting, and that's exactly what Formula E has done so far.


The other, very, very important reason why the racing is so close is the drivers. People joke that Formula E is F1's retirement home, and I'd say that they're wrong. Formula E is the midfield and backfield that F1 deserved, but couldn't afford.

Sure, Formula E is not the so-called "pinnacle of motorsport," as the really major talents will typically find sponsorship and funding, easy-peasy. That being said, to say that I wouldn't rather have many of the ex-F1 also-rans who are now in Formula E instead of the latest crop of F1 pay drivers would be a massive understatement.


So, yes, there's an upside to Formula One's financial woes: Formula E has become awesome.


It's a long list of ex-F1 drivers and test drivers currently racing Formula E, too: Nick Heidfeld, Bruno Senna, Jaime Alguersuari, Jean-Eric Vergne, Karun Chandhok, Jarno Trulli, Jerome d'Ambrosio, Sebastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi, and of course, Guys Who Try Racing Everything Stephane Sarrazin and Nelson Piquet, Jr.

Additionally, Nicolas Prost was a current test driver for Lotus F1 in 2014 (although we aren't sure if he's keeping this spot in 2015). Marco Andretti, Antonio Felix da Costa and Sam Bird have taken part in F1 Young Drivers' Tests as well.


Ex-F1 drivers Franck Montagny, Takuma Sato and Charles Pic have raced in Formula E this season as well. (Okay, maybe Montagny isn't the best example, but there's plenty of others still in the series to cancel him out.)


Is Formula E the next big thing? Probably not, given that the FIA themselves doesn't even consider it important to include in series that count as experience for an F1 Superlicense. Is it kind of cool and worth the watch, though? Absolutely. It's just good, fun, close racing.


(I'll be honest: the nuttiness of swapping cars mid-way through the race is kind of fun to watch, too.)

Photo credit: AP Images



I think I'll enjoy it a bit more when it's not a spec series and new manufacturers start coming to the table with road car transferable R&D and tech. It does seem to be some good racing even though they sound like a fleet of angry RC cars.