Tag Archives: Formula E

Car manufacturers are rapidly embracing Formula E

When Porsche announced it was abruptly ending its LMP1 program to focus on Formula E it helped show how enthusiastic car makers are about the relatively new electric series. Porsche is joining Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Renault, Jaguar, DS Automobiles (PSA Peugeot Citroen) and Mahindra in 2019 giving Formula E a line-up of major manufacturers* that other categories can only dream of. Not only that, but the Fiat/Chrysler group has also expressed an interest in joining and the series is chasing down support from US and Japanese companies. McLaren Applied Technologies is also supplying equipment to all the teams so it is surprising how strongly the wider car industry has embraced Formula E.

It is a wonderful boost for the championship, but it also comes with a risk that needs to be managed.

Manufacturers in motorsport
History suggests that when car companies flood into motorsport they increase costs and ultimately reduce the level of competitiveness. The teams with larger budgets enter an arms race and that widens the gap between the big factories and the smaller independents. Once costs get to a less sustainable level and the competition isn’t so equal, the series loses its appeal and the manufacturers start dropping out. If the smaller independents haven’t been looked after during that time the sport is left in a real mess. This has repeated itself through Formula One, sportscars, touring cars, rallying, and is playing out right now in the World Endurance Championship.

Formula E bosses have so far adopted a sensible and measured approach to developing the series and will be well aware the risks of heavy manufacturer involvement. The sport cannot rely on the car companies to support the series forever because they will leave as soon as it no longer suits their brand. Given that only one of the eight companies can win at any given time, this will hit some harder than others. Formula E needs to remain viable for independent teams and this can be managed through cost controls, spec equipment, and other artificial measures to keep the competition close. The short-term future looks very exciting but the long-term picture is also quite fascinating.

The impact on Formula One
The surge of manufacturer interest in Formulas E means that is where car companies are now looking to showcase their new technology instead of Formula 1. This even includes three of the four companies currently involved in F1!

With this in mind, it is an opportune time for F1 bosses to examine the sport’s focus on road relevance. Formula 1 has always been the pinnacle of automotive technology and has historically built the regulations to facilitate this. For example, the current turbo-hybrid engines were introduced because that was identified as the future direction of road cars. However, now that Formula E is where car companies want to experiment and showcase their new technology, does Formula One need to keep a link to the wider automotive industry? In a recent interview, Ross Brawn (Formula One Managing Director of Motorsports) suggested pure sporting entertainment was now more of a focus for F1 than road relevance. The rush of manufacturers into Formula E could speed up this change in Formula One Management’s philosophy.

Another possibility is that one day, long into the future, Formula E will simply merge with Formula 1. The petrol engine will not be around forever and once all cars are running with electric motors it’s inevitable that Formula 1 and Formula E will become the same thing. The fact that Liberty Global owns F1 and also has a minority stake in Formula E could make that more of a possibility.

*If you think Mahindra isn’t a major manufacturer, keep in mind the company has been around since 1954 and generates four times as much revenue as Ferrari.

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The latest Formula E season finale was remarkable for several reasons

  • In all three seasons of Formula E the championship fight has gone down to the very last race.
  • Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi have been contenders in all three of those title-deciders.
  • Di Grassi won the championship despite being further behind Buemi on points than during the previous two seasons.
  • Buemi was overcome with frustration on Saturday when he walked down the pitlane ranting at several drivers. His public outburst shows how emotionally raw elite sport can be.

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Sebastien Buemi had to endure a uniquely frustrating weekend

Sebastien Buemi is fighting for both the Formula E AND World Endurance Championships this year, but with the two different series taking place last weekend he could only compete in one. Buemi ended up missing the Formula E round in New York to compete in the German WEC race, but he was out of contention before the race even began with fuel pump failure on the warm up lap. Watching his rivals take easy points away from him in two different championships must’ve been especially hard to take.

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Three interesting stories from the Mexico City ePrix

Lucas Di Grassi went from last to first
Lucas di Grassi took an amazing victory in Mexico thanks to an unusual strategy and some brilliant tactical driving. Di Grassi dropped to last place after sustaining damage on lap 1 so his team took a risk that required Lucas to use roughly 20% less electrical energy than his rivals. They took a ‘free’ pitstop when the safety car bunched the field before half distance, and although this gifted Di Grassi the lead when everyone else stopped later in the race, it meant he had to make his battery last 28 laps (when it was only expected to last 23-24 laps). It was a seemingly impossible task, but he saved plenty under yellow flags, changed his racing lines and coasted off the throttle wherever possible. It was a masterful performance of economical driving whilst the field nipped at his heels.

Di Grassi was lucky that Jerome d’Ambrosio was acting as a buffer in 2nd place holding up cars behind him. That was a huge assistance but it also helped illustrate how brilliant Di Grassi’s drive was. D’Ambrosio was on the same strategy and was lapping around the same pace, but started falling down the order with three laps to go and ran out of juice completely on the last lap. Lucas di Grassi had enough battery life remaining for burnouts on his way to the podium.

Abt Audi Sport failed scrutineering yet again
Daniel Abt had pole position stripped from him in Mexico after his car was found with tyre pressures too low for the regulations. It was likely an innocent mistake, but it is the third time the Abt Audi Sport team has been penalised for failing scrutineering. Lucas di Grassi lost a win in season 1 when his team illegally modified the front wing and he lost another win in Season 2 when the car was underweight. Those disqualifications cost the team two championships so you would expect they’d now be extra vigilant about complying with the regulations, but surprisingly that wasn’t the case.

Sebastien Buemi made another costly mistake.
Sebastien Buemi has dominated the current Formula E season but had a difficult weekend in Mexico with a scrappy qualifying session and a costly spin during the race. It threw some light on the suggestion that, whilst Buemi is very quick, he makes a lot of mistakes. Depending how you count them (and how harsh you want to be in judgement) Sebastien Buemi has made 15 mistakes in 25 races which is a very high number for the category’s most successful driver. Some of those errors have had no consequence – he ran off the road twice during the first Punta del Este ePrix which he still won – whilst some of those arguably cost him the first championship.

Buemi’s Formula E stats are way ahead of any other driver, but the number of mistakes against his name remains an ongoing weakness.

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The final race of the Formula E season produced brilliant drama

  • The title contenders, Lucas Di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi, were tied on points in a perfect winner-takes-all scenario. Incredibly, they crashed on lap 1 in a championship defining moment.
  • Formula E offers bonus points for fastest laps which meant both drivers returned to the pits, got into their second cars, and treated the race like a qualifying session. Their laptimes, not their finishing positions, would then decide the championship winner.
  • Buemi did enough to win the Formula E title having lost it by a single point in the final race last year. It would’ve been cruel had that happened to him again.

 

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The last Formula E race was amazing

As per this graphic, last month’s Formula E race in Argentina was a thriller. Not only did Sébastien Buemi go on a stunning charge from the back of the grid (which saw him overtake almost every other driver) but there were was constant jostling for position throughout the whole field. Here’s hoping for another spectacular race when the series visits Mexico this weekend.

2016BuenosAiresePrix

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FE: The Putrajaya ePrix was crazy

Formula E has a tendency to throw up some crazy events but the recent Putrajaya ePrix was particularly special. To illustrate just how unpredictable the race was, Stephane Sarrazin started from the pitlane about a minute behind everybody else but still finished in 4th. Amongst the chaos, Robin Frijns completed a spectacular drive to 3rd with heavily damaged suspension. His valiant efforts are captured 30 seconds into this video.

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FE: There are two interesting things in this video about Formula E engine noise

1. Even though they’re still very quiet, different cars now make slightly different sounds as teams are allowed to develop their own electric motors for the first time.

2. Some of the cars now have one gear only which sounds a little unnatural coming from an open-wheeler.

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FE: Formula E will be Jacques Villeneuve’s 15th different series since leaving F1

JV

Jacques Villeneuve is joining the second season of Formula E which means he will have competed in 15 different championships since leaving Formula One 9 years ago. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Villeneuve’s post-F1 career is that it has been incredibly varied, stretching all the way from rallycross to open wheelers.

Argentine Top Race V6
Australian V8 Supercars
Baku City Challenge
Brazilian Stock Car
FIA GT
FIA World Rallycross
Formula E
French GT
IndyCar
Le Mans Series
NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
NASCAR Nationwide Series
NASCAR Sprint Cup
Speedcar Series

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