Yesterday F1’s biggest challenger in years, Formula E completed a complete test simulation of an entire weekend at the Donnington Circuit in Northampton. I’ll admit to having not paid attention to the series recently after the announcement that the series will be broadcast live in the UK on the ITV network. The season will run the opposite way round to F1 and thus the season will start on the 13th of September in Shanghai. The biggest thing the series has managed to achieve over the past few months has been to secure races at classic street circuits in Monaco (The circuit is yet to be confirmed but its timing suggests it will be run in Monaco’s racing season on the Anthony Nogues circuit on the 9th of May) and Long Beach.
The series is concentrating on Street racing as the all electric championship is being used to promote the use of zero tailpipe emission cars in metropolitan areas. The inaugural season will see the 10 teams field 2 drivers in 2 cars each (drivers swap cars during the hour long races to avoid recharging) and all will field the Renault Spark car. The car has been built by Dallara with the power unit coming from the McLaren P1 super car and a battery designed by the Williams Group but from the 2015-2016 teams will be increasingly free to design their own parts for the car. To this end the most interesting team on the grid is the Audi ABT team leading to the widespread belief that Audi will produce their own power units next season along with the DAMS entry being backed by Renault.
There are some serious names behind the series too with a long list of former F1 drivers (Alugersauri, Buemi, Trulli, Heidfeld, Senna, Chandok, D’Ambrosio) there are also teams that will ring a bell for many motorsport fans – as mentioned DAMS and ABT alongside Dragon Racing, Andretti, Aguri, Mahindra and Virgin. There will be many who have raced in GP2 and F1 who are eying the series as a contender to keep their profile high and race in front of a large TV audience which outside of F1 is only really available in the US.
While the series will allow the manufactures to increase their technology base for their road cars (The current cars produce around 250 – 300 Bhp which is road relevant) it will initially provide a platform to promote electric cars as a viable option. The series is an attractive option however like many of the previous attempts to create rival motorsport series (Superleague Formula & A1 Grand Prix) it has a few questionable elements. The horrible fan boost idea allowing drivers more power during a race as a result of an online poll is a horrific idea to put any of Bernie’s mad off the cuff comments into the shade and also the choice to blast music during the races is a strange idea (with electric cars there wont be much in the way of engine noise – a major issue with electric cars). Also the decision to race on street circuits will hopefully bring in plenty of fans if the price is right (lets be honest who wouldn’t plonk down £30/40/50 to go watch top drivers race when all it takes is a brief tube/train/bus ride?) however many street circuits suffer from tight twisty slow corners with a lack of over taking due to the tight confines of the circuits. Many of the circuits listed are new and I hope for the sake of the series they’ve mostly got the layouts right because 2 hours of F1 filled drama may far out weigh the hour long traffic jam racing around city centers.
Clearly the series is aimed at the younger audiences that aren’t tuning into F1 as its demographic grows ever older, the under 30’s are a market that motorsport is currently not reaching due to a number of factors. F1 is the only worldwide motorsport championship but ever increasing prices at races alongside the move to pay TV have put it out of reach of many families. Additionally the increasingly costly and rule heavy roads have seen many youngsters opt for trains and buses rather than their driving license. Furthermore F1 has failed to engage in new media and has constantly under mind itself with constant rule changes and bickering in the press alongside stilted corporate drivers. Finally the opulence and splendor of F1 might be seen as a turn off to many teenagers and young adults who are increasingly struggling to make reasonable wages in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crash.
If Formula E can attract manufactures alongside bringing the races to the people and putting sport first (drop fan boost!!!!) F1 could have a serious contender on its hands.