When Formula E – the motor racing competition designed to showcase the best in electric car technology – first began, it was derided by many motor racing fanatics. There were accusations that the impromptu street circuits stifled racing by being too narrow and tight, complaints that the cars could not last a whole race (competitors must literally jump into another car in the race) and feelings that the drivers were mostly Formula One rejects.
It is certainly true that Formula E has a rather interesting take on track selection – it eschews traditional circuits, instead plumping for street circuits in major cities. This is deliberate – first of all, it means that any direct speed comparisons with other racing formulas cannot be made. It’s also true that the cars cannot yet last a whole race – and the relative slowness of battery recharging technology means pit-stop refuelling is out of the question.
Yet despite these criticisms, Formula E is proving highly successful in attracting manufacturers – often away from other forms of motorsport. Formula E CEO Aleajndro Agag declared the last season as Formula E’s “take-off”.
Audi has made a commitment to join the formula, abandoning it’s Le Mans hybrid prototype programme, which may go down as one of the most successful racing programmes in history, to take over the existing Abt Formula E team. It’s corporate relation, Porsche, will follow suit in 2019 by closing down it’s LMP1 programme and joining the series. Mercedes will quit DTM, the German domestic saloon car competition, in 2018 to join the electric series in 2019. These confirmed new teams will line up alongside manufacturer outfits from BMW, Renault, Jaguar and Indian carmaker Mahindra.
Sergio Marrchionne, the CEO of Fiat-Chrysler Automotive, has also suggested that the group may look at entering; although he stated that it would not be through newly spun-off Ferrari (who are focused on Formula One), his automotive brand Alfa Romeo has excellent racing pedigree. Perhaps more pertinently, however, Maserati have recently announced their intention to move to electrification. Formula E may be an excellent way to both showcase and develop their technology.
Formula E’s success in bringing in these manufacturers is that it is offers a combination of factors. There is a strong desire to involve manufacturers from across the world, and the sport’s roadmap is designed to keep budgets low, which opens the door to smaller groups – such as FCA – who are not as cash-rich as other manufacturers. It also offers the chance to develop new technology – the draw of possible filter down technology is strong for those looking to bring more and more electrification into production lines. There is also the possibility of an electric touring car-type support series as a race – a key initiative to attract manufacturers who are, in the end, in motorsport to sell their products.
Motorsport may take time to go fully electric – but it will take on an ever increasing importance in the future of racing.