In late August the FIA announced a new championship series to be powered by 100% electric energy. Called Formula E, it aims to demonstrate the need for alternatively-powered cars, an idea that has become the motor industry’s collective vision for automobiles of the future. The series promoter, Formula E Holdings (FEH), is a conglomerate of entrepreneurs, former racing bosses, and other auto industry professionals.
The cars will be showcased to the public in demonstrations throughout next year, but the first championship season will not begin until 2014. The field will share a likeness with that of Formula 1, except that it will be intended to be a 10-team of two drivers each. And also like F1, grands prix will be held in landmark cities around the world - Rio de Janeiro has already been named the city to host the first Formula E race. Cars must be “sanctioned as Formula E” by the FIA and based on the Formulec EF01 prototype, though we’re still waiting to see pictures of the prototype “already in operation.”
The creation of the Formula E series represents a push to maintain a sustainable racing series that does not sacrifice the entertainment factor that comes from traditional, high-performance cars driven by combustion engines. In fact, the Formula E series will be built on a “Three Es” paradigm - energy, environment, and entertainment - and as such will appeal to what will hopefully be a diverse fan base in more ways than one. Clearly energy and entertainment aren’t new elements to the racing scene, but it’s refreshing to see the second “E” serve equal importance in the development of an international championship series.
Not only is the global population increasing at an unsustainable rate, but there also exists a greater than ever (perceived) need for people to be mobile. Although people may not be in agreement about where our energy sources should be derived, I believe most would agree that the continual mass consumption of fossil fuels given these facts has and will become increasingly more irresponsible.
But here comes the “not so fast.” While all that lean ‘n’ green talk sounds great moving forward, there exists a potential negative impact on F1. A new series dedicated to high performance electric cars will be a good thing for F1 and all other championship series, right? In the long run, maybe. But when the big budget teams of F1 compete with other teams in different series – especially for the sake of trying something new – is it really good for F1? Focus wanes, performance declines, and that entertainment factor starts to slide, all because teams spread themselves too thin across too many motoring ventures. Take McLaren-Mercedes for example, who’s expressed interest in participating in Formula E according to Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh. They compete with Ferrari in numerous other road car series, yet have been anything but consistent this 2012 F1 season. Of course you can’t blame of the inconsistencies and failures from this season on this, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Remaining on top in a highly competitive sport such as F1 requires teams to maintain an edge. To state an interest is one thing, especially since F1 excels at creating waste in so many ways - with fuel, rare materials and so on. Iain Robertson and I agree, hopping onto the green bandwagon might seem like a gracious and points-winning display of opportunism, but it only serves to divert attention from the need to drive the current, targeted fascination forwards. Only time will tell if the new Formula E series will lead the way in efficient performance - or if it will cause teams to take their eye off the ball in the premier sport of F1.