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Formula E: Zero-Emission Posturing or Future of Racing?

George Kennedy

This week at the Frankfurt Motor Show, a vehicle debut of a different kind took place. Not a production car or a concept, but a racecar– and it was fully electric. It signaled the announcement of Formula E; an all-new race series made entirely of electric racecars. The idea is a novel one, but is it the real deal?

A BBC report posed that very question, and the issue has its proponents and detractors. If you look around the show hall in Frankfurt, you will see all manner of alternative fuel vehicles, but critics claim that the race series is just a gimmick to improve the image of motorsports, and give corporations a way to check off the “environmental responsibility” box, with sponsorship.

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But if you look at those involved in Formula E, it is far from smoke and mirrors. The chassis are being built by Dallara, which builds the rides for IndyCar racing, and has many years of experience. Meanwhile, tire legend Michelin is specially designing and providing tires. The car is designed by Spark Engineering and Renault, and F1 giants McLaren and Williams have done a great deal of the tech work to get these cars race-ready.

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The sponsors have come in as well, including Tag Heuer, Quallcomm, and DHL. There will be 10 teams with 20 cars. Each team will run one car at a time, given that the batteries last about 25 minutes, with the driver swapping cars once the battery is depleted.

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Still, while F1 cars reach speeds of 180 mph, the Formula E cars will only top out at 136. We say ‘only’ because, combined with the lack of an engine’s roar, the teams will certainly have to find ways to make the series as exciting as F1. Race organizers are looking to interactive technology to get the fans involved, and races will be held in the city streets of London, Beijing, Rio, Los Angles, Berlin and Buenos Aires.

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Simply put, racing is meant to “improve the breed.” While that may have stalled in NASCAR years ago, and is slowing down in F1, Formula E poses a fascinating opportunity for teams to make innovations in electric driving. From weight reduction to battery technology and regenerative braking, strides made here will trickle down to the next generation of electric passenger vehicles in the years to come.