Words & Snaps by Sam
Electric cars... A topic which strikes fear into the majority of those with a passion for cars, a concept which many loathe. Unfortunately we cannot disguise the fact that oil supplies are depleting and it’s hard to ignore the negative effects conventional engines are having on the environment. It’s because of this that we know it won’t be so long before they begin to take over from our beloved petrol powered machines. Many of us dread this day and car manufacturers know all too well that if they are to succeed with replacing oil based fuels with electricity, they will need to do something to entice the public. So how are they going to persuade us that silent electric motors can be just as fun as a petrol equivalent?
Formula E is an all new Formula series scheduled to begin on the 13th September 2014 in Beijing, and as you may have already worked out, it’s an all-electric series. To make it as competitive as possible every team has been supplied with the same Spark-Renault SRT_01E 270bhp cars and all pre-season testing was to be done at Donington Park circuit in the UK. POWAA Garage attended the penultimate test day to share a first hand glimpse at what it was all about...
Admittedly, the first thing we found surprising was the amount of money which seems to have gone into this, particularly considering it’s the series’ debut season. There are 10 teams, each with 2 drivers and of which a considerable proportion are ex-Formula One drivers. Featuring names such as Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld, Jaime Alguersuari, Karun Chandhok and Jarno Trulli to name just a few, you know this isn’t something which is being taken lightly.
Sports in general are often dominated by male competitors, but we’re pleased to announce that there will also be two female drivers competing in the first Formula E season. These are Amlin Aguri’s Katherine Legge and Trulli’s Michela Cerruti (pictured below).
But of course, what are drivers without the teams they race for? Big name drivers require big budget teams so unsurprisingly then, we have a few of those too. The ten teams who will be fighting it out for the championship will be Britain’s Amlin Aguri, Andretti Autosport from the USA, Germany’s Audi Sport ABT, China’s China Racing, USA’s Dragon Racing, France’s e.dams Renault, India’s Mahindra Racing, Switzerland’s Trulli, Britain’s Virgin Racing and Monaco’s Venturi Formula E Team (Interestingly, founded by Leonardo DiCaprio).
So now you know about the teams and their drivers, but what about the cars? Well the most popular topic with the public during testing seemed to be regarding the noise, or rather the expected lack of. What’s a race car with no noise I hear you say? Not very exciting is my answer to that. That’s why we’re very pleased to say that these cars are NOT silent. They may not be loud, like Formula One loud, but they’re not silent either. I would describe the sound as being very much like an approaching jet plane, with the gearbox whines and clunks as well as the electric drivetrain being clearly audible.
The cars have apparently been designed to be cost effective, with aerodynamics optimised for overtaking and provide a wide range of suspension setup possibilities, which is vital for the sort of circuits they’ll be racing on (we’ll come to this later).
Now we move onto the electric motor, which as I mentioned earlier is capable of producing the equivalent of 270bhp. But what’s surprising and somewhat intriguing is that in order for the batteries to last, the motor only produces 180bhp during the actual race. The full 270bhp is however available during practice and qualifying and for short periods during the race called “Push-to-Pass”, which as the name suggests, provides the full power for a few seconds at the push of the button.
Now this is where things get a little controversial in my eyes. You see there is a quite unique and somewhat bizarre system call “Fanboost”. Essentially what happens is the public can vote for their favourite driver, and the three most popular drivers then also get a 2.5 second power boost which provides the full 270bhp. Votes can be submitted via social media and via the official Formula E app.
Despite these relatively low power figures, performance still seems excellent mainly due to the lightweight composite shells, which results in an overall weight of under 800kg including both the driver and the batteries. When you take into account that the batteries alone weigh approximately 200kg, you can imagine just how light the actual cars are. Performance figures show a 0-100km/h time of just 3 seconds and the top speed is limited by the FIA to 225km/h.
So why are the cars limited to such a low speed? Well another interesting thing about this series is that none of the races on the calendar will actually take place on dedicated race circuits. Instead they will all take place around city street circuits which we think is a pretty cool and unique feature. The full calendar is as follows:
Beijing, China- 13th September 2014
Putrajaya, Malaysia- 18th October 2014
Punta Del Este, Uruguay- 13th December 2014
Buenos Aires, Argentina- 10th January 2015
TBA- 14th February 2015
Miami, USA- 14th March 2015
Long Beach, USA- 4th April 2015
Monte Carlo, Monaco- 9th May 2015
Berlin, Germany- 30th May 2015
London, UK- 27th June 2015
The full list of teams and their respective drivers is also as follows:
Amlin Aguri- Great Britain
Katherine Legge- Great Britain
Ant Felix da Costa- Portugal
Andretti Autosport- USA
Franck Montagny- France
Scott Speed- USA
Audi Sport ABT- Germany
Lucas di Grassi- Brazil
Daniel Abt- Germany
China Racing- China
Jerome d’Ambrosio- Belgium
Juan Manuel Lopez- Argentina
Dragon Racing- USA
Mike Conway- Great Britain
Oriol Servia- Spain
e.dams Renault- France
Nicolas Prost- France
Sébastien Buemi- Switzerland
Mahindra Racing- India
Karun Chandhok- India
Bruno Senna- Brazil
Jarno Trulli- Italy
Michela Cerruti- Italy
Venturi Formula E Team- Monaco
Nick Heidfeld- Germany
Stéphane Sarrazin- France
Virgin Racing- Great Britain
Jaime Alguersuari- Spain
Sam Bird- Great Britain
We attended this event with a slightly sceptical mindset, but we have to admit that even though this series may not set the electric car market alight, it certainly should make for an exciting and refreshing formula. We wait to see how well electric powered motorsports will catch on over the next few years, but this is certainly not a bad start, and we look forward to the start of the season!
Visit http://www.fiaformulae.com for further information on the series.