During Formula E’s first visit to a purpose-built race track, the event ended with half the grid out of juice before they crossed the line. It was a low point for the series and fueled the fires among its naysayers.
But, the incident was a blip. A bunch of errors over the weekend brought about the shambolic event and threatened to undo all the work the series has done to prove its legitimacy.
And that was a problem, because there have been huge advancements since the all-electric series burst onto the scene in 2014. Back when FE hosted its first race in Beijing, there was a lot to poke fun at.
Drivers had to change cars so their battery didn’t run out, the grid was full of disgraced Formula 1 drivers, and more popular racers were rewarded with more power to use in the events.
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But a lot has changed in the seven years since. And now, Formula E has begun to spread its wings and transform the considered ugly duckling of motor racing into something much, much better.
Things started to look up for the series when it entered its fifth season in 2018-2019. In that year, FE abolished the need for mid-race car changes with the introduction of the Gen2 chassis and batteries built by McLaren, and added Attack Mode to races.
Attack Mode was created to add an element of strategy to races that no longer called for pit stops. It forced drivers off the racing line twice during an event, and rewarded them with a power boost that could help them overtake rivals. It has since proven to be a successful way to mix up races.
Now, Formula E is approaching another milestone as a new set of sweeping changes is set to come into force over the next two years. These changes will address most of the remaining issues race fans seem to have with the fledgling sport. Hopefully.
The biggest criticisms the sport has faced have always stuck to claims of boring races, a lack of high stakes, too many gimmicks and the weird noise made by the cars.
Firstly, any claims of boring races in Formula E should now be silenced after the year it’s had in 2021.
While Valencia was a farce, the remainder of the season served up a closely-fought title battle and heaps of overtakes and dramatic moments at every race.
Nowhere was FE’s supremacy in this department more apparent than when it headed to Monaco to race on the (almost) full F1 track.
During the weekend, drivers clocked up more overtakes on one lap than an entire F1 race could ever dream of. And the event even culminated in a three-way drag for the win.
On top of that, Formula E is promising even better racing with the introduction of its Gen3 cars, which hit the track in season nine.
When they finally make their debut, the Gen3 cars will hit speeds of up to 200 mph in a chassis that is both lighter and smaller. This means cars will be able to battle side-by-side on the city streets Formula E calls home.
Formula E also says that the new cars will produce 40% of the power needed for a race through regenerative braking, and broken carbon fiber bodywork will be recycled. All these environmentally-conscious advancements make FE slightly more relevant to today’s car enthusiasts.
OK, but what else has changed?
There’s further hope that the racing action will be even better when season eight kicks off in Saudi Arabia in the new year. That’s thanks to a raft of changes to the weekend format that FE will implement.
Attack Mode and Fan Boost remain, but next year will see a change to the way FE reacts to a safety car period. Instead of a cut in energy allowances, which factored into the issues teams faced in Valencia, Formula E will instead turn to extra time.
Next year, whenever there’s a safety car Formula E will add extra time onto the 45-minute race as compensation for time spent under both safety car and full course yellow conditions.
Qualifying is also being changed to get rid of its ridiculous former format. Instead, the series will run a knock-out, tournament-style qualifying session.
In this new format FE will split drivers into two groups. The four fastest drivers in those two groups will move onto a quarter-final round, which will consist of four one-on-one races that pit two drivers against one another.
The winners of those four quarter-finals will move onto two semi-finals, before the winner of the semi-finals compete for pole.
So that’s all the changes being made to improve the spectacle of Formula E, but how can the sport compete with the stakes of a prestigious event like F1?
While there’s not yet a match to bitter rivalries like Senna vs Prost, Alonso against Schumacher and Hamilton’s fight with Verstappen this year, FE does have its own rivalries brewing.
Drivers like Jean-Éric Vergne once looked for redemption following his departure from F1, instead he’s defending his position as the series’ only double champion. And now, former Formula 2 champion Nyck De Vries has been crowned the series’ first World Champion, so he’ll no doubt have a target on his back this year.
Yes, it’s a fledgling sport, but if you dig deep enough there’s exciting story lines to latch onto. They just haven’t crossed into the public sphere yet as Formula E hasn’t received the Drive To Survive treatment.
If on top of all that you’re still complaining about the noise these electric race cars make, then why not take your headphones and listen to Arctic Monkeys while the race is on?
After all, race car engines have been on a downward trajectory since 2009. So if we can’t go back to screaming V10s, why not just embrace the strange, ghostly sounds of a battery-powered racer?
Now, all they need to do is fix the liveries and Formula E could be set to cement its place at the top.