In The Driving Seat: Formula E
Ahead of this weekend’s London ePrix in Battersea Park, we give the lowdown on the concluding weekend of the FIA Formula E Championship’s debut season.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
Banner Image Credit:iStock.com/boniphoto
I keep hearing about the London ePrix. What’s the fuss about?
This weekend’s event marks the final showdown of Formula E’s first world championship season, which since September has so far seen nine races on four continents. The concept behind Formula E, of course, is that all the cars are fully electric – its founding values are Energy, Environment and Entertainment – making it a genuinely ground-breaking development for the motorsport industry. But don’t think that an absence of fossil fuels translates into a lack of punch: the cars can accelerate from 0-60mph in three seconds and reach maximum speeds of 140mph. Brace yourself, Battersea.
What’s the format?
Uniquely, London will see full races on both the Saturday and the Sunday, the event acting as a double-header to bring Formula E’s inaugural season to a suitably innovative climax. Ten teams will be taking part, each with two drivers. Practice and qualifying sessions are being held on both mornings from 10am onwards, with the races themselves beginning at 4pm. Drivers will be required to complete 29 laps of Battersea Park on a 2.922km (1.862 mile) circuit designed by British track architect Simon Gibbons, who has a decade’s worth of Formula One experience. There are 17 turns and two long, fast straights, so you can expect high-speed drama. Fifty points are up for grabs too (25 are awarded to the winner of each race), so any of four drivers could conceivably be crowned champion on Sunday.
Which teams and drivers are involved?
There are big names involved both in and out of the cars. Many of the drivers have substantial F1 pedigree, among them Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli and Nelson Piquet Jnr, the current championship leader. Also drawing attention is the modern incarnation of the famous Senna-Prost rivalry. Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton, and Nicolas Prost, son of Alain, are both prominent Formula E competitors – although naturally, they figure on rival teams. Senna drives for Indian team Mahindra Racing, which has a long-term partnership with Avis, while Prost represents French outfit DAMS. Other headline-grabbing teams include Virgin Racing, backed by Sir Richard Branson, and Venturi, co-founded by Leonardo DiCaprio.
So how has Formula E fared so far?
Fans have, in general, greeted F1’s younger, greener cousin with a blend of enthusiasm and healthy (if sometimes sceptical) curiosity. Some aspects of the championship – such as FanBoost, which allows fans to vote for drivers to receive temporary boosts in engine power – have been controversial. Races in this first season have been held in a mix of established and up-and-coming motorsport destinations, with the likes of Monaco and California’s Long Beach featuring alongside more unlikely spots such as Moscow and Buenos Aires. Tellingly, attendances have been healthy across the board. Miami, Berlin and Monaco all sold out.
What are its plans for the future?
During this first season, the cars have essentially had identical specifications, with the same consortium having been responsible for building all vehicles. From the second season on, however, regulations will shift to allow for an “open championship”, giving teams and manufacturers the chance to implement their own technological tweaks and innovations. Formula One employs a similar set-up. And while some fear that this might lessen the levels of pure on-track competition seen in this first season, the upside is that it holds exciting potential for innovations in electrical energy.
How can I watch the London Battersea Park race on June 27th/28th?
There’s been high interest in both days of racing and tickets have largely sold out. However, at the time of writing there remain some general admission tickets available and, for the Saturday, some pricier spots on the well-placed Riverside Platform. You’ll find the latest details here: http://www.fiaformulae.com/en/tickets.
If you can’t make it along to SW11 in person, meanwhile, you’ll find live coverage of both days on ITV (ITV4 on Saturday), with qualifying sessions broadcast from 11.30am to 1.15pm and the races being shown from 3pm to 5.30pm.
What’s it like to watch a race in person?
As a spectator sport, Formula E differs from Formula One in various respects. Among the most significant is that Formula E uses only temporary city-centre tracks, which means the race locations themselves are easy to reach. There’s also a distinct lack of exhaust fumes, and the decibel level is far lower – around 80dB at high speed, compared to the almost 140dB of a full-pelt Formula One car.
To get even more acquainted with the action Formula E provides – watch below as we unlock the thrills, twists and turns of the London Battersea circuit with Mahindra racing driver Bruno Senna.