FIA Formula E: the world's first fully-electric racing series
September 16, 2014 8:46 PM   Subscribe

A few days ago, the first race of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA)'s new Formula E Championship ran with the Bejing ePrix . The race is not quite a simple variant of Formula 1 with electric cars, as the heavy battery packs don't provide enough energy for a complete 50 mile race, so a second car is used to finish the race, and each Formula E car receives 10 specially designed tires per race weekend, which are designed to last the full race, compared to the 52 tires that Formula One cars receive. Though this is a serious race with serious vehicles, as veteran open-wheel and sports car driver Katherine Legge explains in a first-hand account of what it's like to drive the all-electric Formula E car, it's also an effort to promote the potential of electric cars via social media. Saturday's race was the first of 10 races, which will wrap up in June 2015. The Wire has a wrap-up of various news stories, and that article includes a full video of the race in Beijing. More information from Wired, and on the official FIA Formula E website.
posted by filthy light thief (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
That Nick Heidfeld crash at the end is scary, glad he's OK. I'm keen to see how the season and series progresses.
posted by arcticseal at 8:48 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's boosts, which isn't that novel since Formula 1 has DRS and all that... but some drivers will get to use extra boost based on Twitter mentions. It's hilarious and super dumb and awesome. It's only a matter of time before we get blue shells and oil slicks.
posted by kmz at 9:01 PM on September 16, 2014 [20 favorites]


The night before the race, in the elegant surroundings of a restored office in the Forbidden City, Agag had promised that “there will be contact” in the race, although surely he couldn't have known how spectacular that contact would be. The crash allowed the race a notoriety it would not otherwise have enjoyed. The job now will be to keep those interactors interacting.
Um, yeah.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:04 PM on September 16, 2014


What the hell kind of crash was that? He just rammed him off the road.
posted by Flashman at 9:06 PM on September 16, 2014


I love how they sound like mental RC cars but yeah that Heidfeld crash was terrifying.
posted by edeezy at 9:08 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Though watching more that track is awful.
posted by edeezy at 9:19 PM on September 16, 2014


Not sure who the market is going to be for this. The cars are too slow to attract existing F1 fans (that race reminded me of Formula Ford racing with aero bodywork and odd sound), not sure if there are enough casual fans who would follow to make it work. The mid-race car change is pretty weird as well; maybe they should go to a two-race format like World Superbikes, starts and first-lap mayhem always look good on the highlights.
posted by N-stoff at 9:22 PM on September 16, 2014


Ugh. The crappy turbo sound in this F1 season is a huge letdown; the non-sound of electric vehicles pretty much means e-racing is DOA.
posted by Ickster at 9:29 PM on September 16, 2014


It's only a matter of time before we get blue shells and oil slicks.

We're already there. Well, not in "serious" racing.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 PM on September 16, 2014


I like the engine sound in F1 this year, but will admit that my own tastes are probably not common. What I'd really like to see F1 do is abandon piston engines for turbine power and electric drive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 PM on September 16, 2014


The sound that they make is artificial and caused by the transmissions. I kind of wish they'd try it silently. I think it would really be something if all you could hear were tire noises, brake sounds, and the wind rushing by.

Next year, the cars are not going to be identical. I think there's the potential for some pretty interesting designs to pop up. I'm curious to see what happens with the full-car-swap pit stops.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:20 PM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The sound that they make is artificial and caused by the transmissions. I kind of wish they'd try it silently. I think it would really be something if all you could hear were tire noises, brake sounds, and the wind rushing by.

love it. and no offense intended, but all the talk about engine noise this year in F1 has to rate as one of the most absurd distractions I've ever seen (heard) in the sport. Who cares if the racing's good, which has often been the case. I mean, Hungary anyone? One of the very best Grand Prixs I've ever seen.
posted by philip-random at 10:39 PM on September 16, 2014


Well, good racing can be artificial, too. You just rules lawyer it up and get your tire mfgr to make dodgy tires, and you have a good racing show.

Several years ago Audi brought their diesel Le Mans racers to compete in American Me Mans, and those cars shushed and whirred their way to a 1-2 finish in the championship. It was a thrill to watch them quietly slice through the field, nonetheless. I could get behind that kind of racing... here's the distance, here's the fuel, now get there faster than anyone else. We'd see a lot of variety and innovation, not unlike early 70s F1. We'd also see less entertaining racing as the big dollar teams bought their way to the front.
posted by notyou at 11:31 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's too bad this is an FIA sanctioned event, since the FIA evidently have no idea how to run an auto racing series. Did they think that auto racing fans weren't going to figure out that 25 3.44km laps in 52:23.413 minus 1:47 for the pit delta means they're going around 102kph/63mph? The rest of the tracks are shorter but just as stupid.

Who cares if the cars are slow or if they can only cover 15 laps of most F1 circuits? Having the races at these boring tracks makes no sense at all. Put the cars on the real circuits during the race weekend.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:14 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I went for a job interview with these people a few months ago and remember being told all kinds of outlandish plans. Apparently, at the time they were planning to allow viewers to see live telemetry from the cars via apps, and even let people use social media to vote for the car they wanted to give a 'power boost' to during the race - so the viewers' favourite driver would get a Mario Kart-style speed boost for a few seconds to set them ahead of the pack. They also planned to develop a racing game for tablets which would let people compete against the drivers inside the live race, in a sort of augmented-reality way.

I didn't believe a word of it, and the outfit itself gave off a kind of "thrown together at the last minute" vibe (literally two "staff", no signs, lots of empty rooms, lights in the offices not working, a 'server room' which was piled high with junk, etc) so I didn't take the job because I was skeptical that there was actually a company there. If they've actually managed to get it together, I'm amazed!
posted by winterhill at 2:37 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


I quite enjoyed the first ePrix. It probably benefited from some of the gimmicks not working though - not sure I want some helmeted dude playing music at me throughout a race, for example. And Jesus is the whole FanBoost bollocks stupid and terrible.

But, it was a good race (though such a shame about the last corner incident - what on earth was Prost thinking?!) and I really enjoy street circuits. I'm not at all convinced by the idea that a low average speed means a boring circuit or race. There's little faster, or more dull, than oval racing.

The problem now is that the season takes place over nine months and is only ten races. Ages to wait until the next one...
posted by Dysk at 3:11 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought it was dumb and fun, for a first effort. The race director was terrible, though, which made the actual racing a little hard to follow, the track itself was a pretty awful square, and the pit stop was confusing and not all that well explained.

I thought the music was hilarious, but I've heard since that it was accidental. I think they should keep it up. The themes for "time for a safety car" and "here comes a pit stop" themes were really funny.

I want to see that dumb twitter thing affect the race. It veers past stupid into brilliant, if it does something.
posted by graventy at 4:43 AM on September 17, 2014


love it. and no offense intended, but all the talk about engine noise this year in F1 has to rate as one of the most absurd distractions I've ever seen (heard) in the sport. Who cares if the racing's good, which has often been the case. I mean, Hungary anyone? yt One of the very best Grand Prixs I've ever seen.

Yes, best F1 season in quite some time. Pretty much every race has been good and the coverage has been smart, covering the action up and down the field.

I couldn't care less about the sound if the races are good. I've been to F1 events and the sound was spectacular but haven't been to a live one this year. My sister was at Bahrain and she said she still had to wear ear plugs.

I kind of like the idea of Formula E but don't understand why hydrogen power rather than stored electric power is such a focus. It seems only Toyota is going the hydrogen route.

As for Prost. You see him look to his right mirror and see Heidfeld there and I assume he just still assumed he was still there when he turned in. Pretty fundamental mistake but perhaps he will learn from it. Might also be why he didn't make it to F1 whereas other sons of famous F1 drivers, Villenueve, Hill, Rosberg have, and done well. Bruno Senna (Ayrton's nephew) seemed pretty good in F1 but obviously not good enough to keep around.
posted by juiceCake at 4:45 AM on September 17, 2014


The Formula E cars themselves are gorgeous - much better than the "elephant shrew with Groucho mustache" of this year's Formula 1. They look like something out of a science fiction movie, which is fitting as, you know, electric race cars!
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's boosts, which isn't that novel since Formula 1 has DRS and all that... but some drivers will get to use extra boost based on Twitter mentions.

The boosts are a sort of curse and blessing to the drivers in FE. On one hand, "Hey, great, an extra burst of power for passing!", but on the other hand, the use of a boost further depletes the batteries, possibly causing your car to run out of charge before the end of the race. So, the drivers are really torn whether to use the boost or not. DRS in F1 isn't something that depletes power. F1 also has KERS, which is more applicable, but that system is also recharged as the car races.

I watched the race and was mildly entertained. Other than the noise of the cars, it was pretty indistinguishable from any other second-tier formula race (save for the swapping of entire cars midway through, which is highly disconcerting in a way.) I was really hoping the cars would be faster than they were. They looked really sluggish on track.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:54 AM on September 17, 2014


One thing that got me excited, and it'll help me to get my whole family to the London race next year, is that there are men and women drivers competing together. Is that new, or does that happen elsewhere in motor racing?
posted by Hogshead at 6:23 AM on September 17, 2014


that there are men and women drivers competing together. Is that new, or does that happen elsewhere in motor racing?

Most racing series (save for F1) tend to have both men and women in their ranks. Until this year, Indycar, for instance, had up to four women competing off-and-on throughout the past few seasons.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:01 AM on September 17, 2014


The race is not quite a simple variant of Formula 1 with electric cars, as the heavy battery packs don't provide enough energy for a complete 50 mile race

Wow. It doesn't seem like a really great advertisement for the strength of battery-powered cars, when these can go only about 13% of the distance (189 miles) of a F1 race at lower speed.

It would be nice if they succeed though, and open up the rules enough that there's some contribution of research and development to electric cars in general. Now that F1 has such ridiculously tight restrictions on engine design (they're not only prohibited to use turbines as ROU_Xenophobe suggests, they're not even allowed to change bore and stroke) and everything else, it's probably not going to be contributing so much to new automotive technology as it used to.
posted by sfenders at 7:34 AM on September 17, 2014


F1 has had women compete, but not for a long time (though supposedly Simona de Silvestro might drive for Sauber next year, and Maria de Villota had been in the pipeline for Marussia until a grotesque crash took her eye and killed her through followon effects).

As Thorzdad notes, women have competed in the various Indy-car series. Danica Patrick has actually won a race and many of the recent crop (ie since Sarah Fisher in the 90s) have earned respectable results.

In WRC, Michele Mouton kicked all kinds of ass, won several races, and came in second in the championship in 1982, but apparently no women have competed in the WRC since then.

In NHRA, several women have competed and won races, most notably Shirley Muldowney.

Several women have competed in NASCAR, though I don't think any have won races.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wondered whether drag racing would be a better fit for electric cars, So I looked up some things. Don Garlits (yes, that Don Garlits) set an official electric-dragster 1/4-mile speed record this spring, at 178 mph. Still way off the pace of piston dragsters. For more normal cars, there are videos of a Tesla S smoking a Dodge Viper and a 2014 Corvette C7 Z51 in the 1/4 mile.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:01 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Formula E car is driveable in Forza 5.

Hopefully the series is successful enough to really be used as a development platform for manufactures to perform their R&D on.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2014


Unfortunate that they've chosen to have only one official battery supplier, so there's no competition in battery R&D. That's even worse than the redundant F1 fuel-flow limit when they already mandate the total race fuel. Another missed opportunity.
posted by sfenders at 8:17 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I agree, this series would be an awesome way to advance development of battery technology.
posted by arcticseal at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd be more interested in this if they did Tesla style battery swap pit stops instead of switching to another car completely. Racing to me has always been about pushing the technology, giving us new safety features and better performance. Having all those pit crews working on the fastest way to swap a battery could trickle down to consumer electric cars. Switching to another car when your battery is dead is not really a technology solution.
posted by jrishel at 11:26 AM on September 17, 2014


It's worth bearing in mind that this is a new series, with a lot of development to come. For starters, it's single-make in the first season, whereas avenues of car development are to be opened up to teams in coming seasons. There's a lot that could change, still, in the coming years, if and as Formula E becomes established.
posted by Dysk at 1:01 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, if I'm reading this thread right, some of you guys had music on your coverage? That was thankfully absent for the ITV coverage here in the UK which they said was a problem with the official feed, so I assumed it would be not-there for everyone.

...how bad was it?
posted by Dysk at 1:32 PM on September 17, 2014


Ugh. The crappy turbo sound in this F1 season is a huge letdown; the non-sound of electric vehicles pretty much means e-racing is DOA.

I love the sound of my V8 as much as the next guy, but these things sound like spaceships, they sound like WipEout, they sound like the future.
I love it.

I think the series wants fewer constraints though - you need upper limits on weight and dimensions, safety reqs, provided tires, etc, but then let the teams pick their own batteries, decide their own balance between battery capacity and car weight, and other technologies. Allow more mutation so that the artificial selection of the racing drives more evolution.
On preview: It sounds like that will happen. Yisss! :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:41 PM on September 17, 2014


Dysk: “how bad was it?”
It faded out not long after the start and it was… bad. Like a racing video game.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:32 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Don Garlits (yes, that Don Garlits)

Wouldn't have been necessary to clarify his name if you'd labeled him by his real moniker, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 5:32 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


“Formula E: the future, or just rubbish?” Adam Waddell & Jason Barlow, Top Gear Sunday Afternoon Club, 18 September 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 10:19 AM on September 20, 2014


The Singapore F1 race being on this weekend reminded me of the 2008 Crashgate scandal.

I was surprised to find that Nelson Piquet Jr had been signed up for Formula E. I'm surprised that teams are willing to take the chance on a self acknowledged race fixer, given that it's a new Formula and they're trying to attract sponsors.
posted by arcticseal at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Plus the cars are Renaults…

Still, to be fair, Piquet Jr. was put up to it by Briatore, et al., likely with an express or implied "or else." It's not like it was his idea.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:00 PM on September 20, 2014


And Briatore is allowed back into racing, not to mention Alonso! There is a feeling Alonso has got away with a few corruption cases. Think back to the huge McLaren spying scandal...Alonso was at that team benefiting from that, whilst having close ties to Ferrari. I'm not so sure Piquet had much choice, as suggested above.
posted by adgrist_wraps at 5:25 AM on October 12, 2014


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