So, they tell me Formula E is the future of motorsport. Well, if that is the case, please excuse me while I eat my race suit.
Formula E is the FIA electric open-wheel racing series that is just one year old. The design of the cars is fantastic, they look fast and stylish and the races are held at some of the most beautiful cities in the world including London, Moscow, Buenos Aires and Monaco.
It’s a guilt-free form of motorsport, with no fossil fuels burnt on race day. So what’s not to like? Well, I hate to be a party pooper, but I happen to think good motorsport is about noise, speed and action. The problem with Formula E is that it sounds rubbish and the cars are painfully slow. These are quite fundamental issues if you ask me.
As much as it might pain eco warriors, the sound of fossil fuels being exposed to oxygen and fire is a wonderful thing. Combustion is a form of explosion and, in terms of dramatic action, explosions are right at the top of the list. Electric motor whine is not.
If I’m asked to think of great racing engines I’ve heard, I think of the guttural roar made by a pack of NASCAR V8s, a high-revving Formula One V10, a 500cc two-stroke motorbike engine and a fire-spitting WRC Subaru boxer, not anything electric.
If you haven’t heard a Formula E, it’s kind of like the whine of a straight-cut racing gearbox, but with a slightly higher pitch. They are very quiet and you can hear tyre chirping under brakes such is the lack of noise.
Anyone who has removed a muffler baffle on a car or bike knows that more noise increases the impression of speed. If you don’t think sound matters, go see a Monster Jam show. Yes, I know it doesn’t count as motorsport, and I should never admit I went, but dagnabbit, those giant V8 engines really build the excitement (along with all the wanton destruction).
Organisers say the Formula E cars accelerate from 0-100km/h in just three seconds, which makes them seem fast, but the number is irrelevant because the cars never actually do that. They use a rolling start instead.
Also, while electric motors provide huge torque off the line, the performance out of corners in Formula E is ordinary and you find yourself willing the cars to go faster. The claimed top speed, if you get a straight long enough, is 225km/h. I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve done that in a four-cylinder diesel Audi A4. Don’t shoot, it was on an Autobahn.
When the Formula E cars raced on part of the Monaco track it was painfully obvious how slow they were in comparison to Formula One cars. Perhaps that’s why they race on otherwise unique city tracks (which are bumpy and narrow and generally wretched). Electric motor and battery technology is surely going to get better in time, so the speeds should pick up, but when? And how much?.
Range is also an issue, but it doesn’t detract from the spectacle. Currently, the drivers swap into a fully charged car mid-race and that seems to work fine. The drivers are almost all regurgitated Formula One racers, but they are still pretty good and there is the odd brave move, albeit in slow motion.
The performance of the cars is close because it is a control class, which is a problem because it will never have the advancement of engineering that is fundamental to Formula One due to manufacturers duking it out for glory.
But for me, the worst aspect of Formula E is the moronically populist Fan Boost function. This gives fans the ability to vote for their favourite driver, who then gets an extra KERS-style boost during the race, which often results in passing. This is rubbish. Nice guys should finish last if they are not good enough.
That said, maybe they are onto something. Perhaps they should have some kind of Taser in the cars and whichever driver the fans like the least could get a bit of a zap at some stage during the race. It would liven things up a bit, but probably wouldn’t be enough to save Formula E, which just isn’t very good.