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Why Formula E is a visionary idea

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Formula E

This weekend the final race of the first ever season of FIA Formula E took place in Battersea Park in London, with ten teams, and drivers including Nelson Piquet Junior, Bruno Senna (nephew of Ayrton) and Nicolas Prost (son of Alain).

Sam Bird won the race for Virgin, but former Formula 1 driver, Brazilian Nelson Piquet Junior, won the inaugural Formula E Championship, driving for Chinese team NextEV.

Formula E, the first ever single-seater electric racing series, sanctioned by motor sport’s governing body, the FIA, has two aims: firstly, to raise the profile of electric cars with people around the world, and secondly, to help accelerate electric car technology.

On the first point, Formula E has been successful in gaining an average of 30,000 spectators per event – with races taking place in ten city centres around the world, including Beijng, Moscow, Monaco and Miami – and an estimated 60,000 crowd in London. There have also been millions of interactions with the electric racing series online.

Spectators were interviewed after the race in Miami and 99% said they would be more inclined to buy an electric car having watched the race. This suggests that electric cars racing at over 100mph through our cities is indeed changing perceptions.

On the second point, the aim this year was to get the racing series off the ground. To do this, Formula E built the cars for the teams, and all the cars are the same. However from next year, teams will be allowed to improve elements of the technology, and Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag predicts that the batteries will have double the energy capacity in five years’ time. This should avoid the need to swap cars, which has to happen half way through a race at the moment, due to the limitations of the current battery technology.

In a few years, teams will also be able to develop their own cars and powertrains. That’s when things should get really interesting, with the likes of Audi, BMW, Renault and Tesla potentially racing their own individual technologies against each other.

Formula E London 2015 Jennie GowFormula E London 2015 Nelson Piquet Jnr

So why is Formula E so visionary? Because Alejandro Agag is well aware that the only future for our cars is a zero emission one. This isn’t just some random hope; governments have no choice but to ensure our vehicles will be zero emission in order to comply with emissions reduction targets.

A few years ago climate change was the main driver behind emissions targets. However over the last few years, awareness has been rising about air quality issues in the world’s cities, and how emissions from cars are related to ill-health and thousands of deaths each year. Walking out from the Formula E race in Battersea Park onto London’s streets, the emissions from London’s cars, buses and taxis are obvious – it’s amazing that it’s taken so long for politicians and policy makers to wake up to this.

So although there have been many comparisons between Formula 1 and Formula E in the media, with many doubters about Formula E, the fact is that Formula E is likely to be the way forward, and Formula 1, which has well publicised challenges of its own at the moment, is likely to become more of a dinosaur.

Although there have been accusations that Formula E is slow, the 270bhp cars can accelerate from 0-60mph in three seconds and go onto 140mph, which still provides an entertaining spectacle on a very tight city circuit, with tyres that are engineered to work in both the wet and dry, rather than have a soft slick compound to give ultimate outright grip.

It should also be noted that Agag has done a hugely impressive job to successfully pull off a full season of races, bringing them to cities around the world, with all the associated logistics challenges. It’s no surprise that Agag says it has cost $100m to launch Formula E.

The Formula E event at Battersea Park, which featured two days of practice laps and two races, enjoyed lots of spectators, and unlike Formula 1, which is very noisy, families can bring small children to watch electric car racing. However the cars aren’t silent; although their powertrains are very quiet, you can certainly hear the noise the cars make when approaching at over 100mph.

Formula E also features ‘Fanboost’, which gives spectators a chance to vote, via the website and social media, for drivers to receive a five-second surge of extra power during the race.

Elements such as this reinforce that Formula E is targeting a different, younger audience than Formula 1; an audience which understands the need for sustainability – more proof of the vision of Alejandro Agag.

Paul Clarke

Paul Clarke, Editor, Green Car Guide

FIA Formula E’s Chief Executive, Alejandro Agag at the LowCVP Conference 2015

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag delivers keynote speech at the LowCVP Conference 2015