Formula E- Questions

The other night a Holden Volt was parked next to my internal combustion Subaru at a service station. It seems as though the Volt is a bit of a head turner, and because it’s an electric car, not necessarily something you would expect to see at a petrol station. The unfortunate Volt driver then had to explain to two punters and the service station attendant that the Volt is good for about 80km on the batteries, before a petrol engine kicks in to charge them. Huh.

Like it or not, electric cars are the future. The FIA has recognised this, and created Formula E, a racing series for electric open wheel race cars. Zero emissions, proper, big, bad racing cars, with 270bhp. When you consider that Formula 3 cars have about 210bhp, and when you consider that electric motors tend to have a humungous quantity of torque, these things are going to be QUICK. This isn’t some school project racing series; it has some serious partners in the form of Renault, McLaren Electronics Systems, Williams Advanced Engineering, Michelin, Tag Heuer et al. The Championship will have ten two car teams, with Andretti Autosport, Drayson Racing and China Racing already signed on.

Sounds great.

However, looking through their website (http://www.fiaformulae.com), I’ve got some questions that I guess will be answered in the fullness of time.

First of all, the schedule- a total of ten temporary street circuits based in some of the world’s great cities. Think London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Rome, Beijing, Bangkok, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Miami, and Putrajaya.

All rounds will be one-day events with practice, qualifying and the race taking place in a single day in order to reduce costs and minimise disruption to the host city.

Now, we’ve established that these are big boy racing cars, and big boy racing cars need big boy infrastructure. The days of putting down some hay bales and a length of bunting and having yourself a race track ended in the 1960s. This is the 2010s, and you need solid walls, and substantial catch fencing, as open wheels like to become detached in accidents, and go for a fly.

Having lived next to street circuits in Surfers Paradise and Albert Park, these race tracks don’t just pop up, it takes a good many weeks for them to be assembled, then some extra for deconstruction. The actual weekend of racing is far from the only traffic disruption you have. Perhaps the tracks will be dinky, short affairs, but if that is the case, the whole thing will be a waste of time and money. If the cities have been sold on a quick bump in and out, it will be interesting to see how the organisers plan to make it happen.

One of the main premises of having these races held in city centres is that it allows access for massive crowds. I was in the London city centre the other day, and even without an electric car race, the place was absolutely chockers. Massive crowds require grandstands, amenities, and unless you are not charging admission, there would have to be perimeter fencing, security, exclusion zones etc. Unless I’m very much mistaken, these things just don’t happen; they take up time, space and money.

As for the “saving money” aspect, after going to the effort of purchasing, hiring, building and installing all of this infrastructure, does using the track for only a single day save vast wads of cash when compared to a three day meet?

Under the “Entertainment” tab, “around the paddock fans will have a wide choice of attractions and stands to enjoy combining the very latest in technology, sport and environmental issues.” Yee haa! I’m guessing there won’t be any support races, because no other category fits the zero emission philosophy. Bicycle race? Kite demonstrations? Interpretive dance? I suppose there are options out there to keep the punters entertained.

Music

Even when the chequered flag has been waved, there will still be plenty for fans to enjoy. This will centre on a music concert with high-profile artists from around the world (details announced closer to the time) performing live on stage. Race day fans will have direct access to the concert as an added value, while additional seats will be available to purchase.

Hold the phone! I thought we were all about being quiet, and not disturbing the local residents in these inner city locations. Maybe they are planning on having quiet music concert? I suppose this is the future, but I know from experience in the dim distant past, music concerts that lacked volume also lacked patron support. I suppose the Big Day Out had a silent disco, where punters wore headphones and listened to a live DJ act. But then again, those crazy kids were also on some serious drugs.

Practice

All events will open with a one-hour practice session giving drivers their first experience of the circuit. They will have up to two cars available to them giving them the option to change cars should they wish. Full power (200kw / 270bhp) will be available throughout.

Qualifying

The qualifying session is a straight fight for the fastest laptime and determines the order for the day’s race. Drivers will only be able to use one car and have a maximum of four laps – two timed laps plus and out and an in lap – in order to set their fastest time. Cars will take to the track in stages in order to avoid congestion with the running order being chosen by the driver who sets the quickest time in practice. Full power (200kw / 270bhp) will be available throughout.

Rad. A bit of thought has gone into the qualifying procedure. Is it enough practice? Oh well, deal with it.

Race

Races will begin by standing start and last for approximately one hour with drivers making two mandatory pit stops in order to change cars. Engines will be restricted to power saving mode (133kw / 180bhp) but can be temporarily increased to maximum power (200kw / 270bhp) by using the ‘Push-to-Pass’ boost system.

Wait a second, change cars? Are people going to buy that? Is that the look that they want to convey? “Hey, electric car racing… oh, they can only go at 66% power for 20 minutes at a time.” That’s not really inspiring me to go out and buy electric. As a bit of old school race fan, it’s going to look a bit Mickey Mouse having to run the event in this manner.

Just putting it out there, but technology in this field is progressing at a rapid rate- why not wait until a time when you can have a system that is capable of running for a full race distance?

Formula E knows that the noise of any racing car is very important to its fans, which is why the sound of the new Spark-Renault SRT_01E will be one of the Championship’s most unique and exciting features. Contrary to popular belief, the Formula E cars are far from silent producing a modern, futuristic sound, combined with the fusion of the tyres on the track, the car’s aero package and the electric drivetrain itself.

At high speed the sound produced by one SRT_01E will be approximately 80 decibels, more than an average petrol road car which produces around 70db. Meanwhile, and purely for reasons of safety, an artificial sound will be used when the cars enter the pit lane to ensure they can be heard by mechanics and officials. This will be produced with the aid of an expert sound designer.

And so by reducing excessive noise, fans of all ages will be able to enjoy a new experience in motorsport with added benefits such as clearer trackside race commentary.

Will fans be sold on a whooshing sound? F1- loud. NASCAR- loud. WRC- fairly loud. Moto GP/WSBK- loud. V8 Supercars- pretty loud. Indycars- not terribly loud, but they’re not terribly popular. The only exception seems to be LMP1 hybrids, which make a whooshing sound. But do people turn up to Le Mans because it’s Le Mans, or because there are whooshing fast cars? Time will tell if punters will dig the digital.

As for “hearing the commentators” being a positive selling point, they are flat out wrong. Nobody ever wants to hear a commentator, ever.

Days 19-21 Update

Day number 19 proved to be pretty bloody cruisey. Went to Mainz and sat by the Rhine River for much of the day at a pop-up summer time beach bar with Kathi, Andrew, Anne, Pete plus special guests.

Migrated to a local restaurant for dinner, where a single small schnitzel would have been sufficient for the entire table. Subsequently felt unwell.

Day number 20 started in Hofheim, before a train ride into Frankfurt for a dose of shopping, and more sitting at a beach bar, this one on the Main River.

Fast forward to the 21st day, and the collective asses were put back into gear.

Went for a cruise from Frankfurt-Höchst to Rüdesheim and back to Mainz.

Through a couple of locks on the Main River, the scenery really picked up once we cleared the industrial areas and made it to the Rhine River.

First was Mainz, then Wiesbaden, Eltville (where the wine street party was on Saturday night), Oestrich-Winkel, and our destination.

Some pretty awesome scenery throughout, especially in Rüdesheim, with its vineyards clinging onto the steep hills.

Caught a chairlift to the top of the hill where there are several monuments. Very nice.

Finished the day with a shop around Mainz.

Trip Day 19 – 21 Frankfurt Area

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Day 18 Update

So the Nurburgring. From Frankfurt, myself Jurgen, Frank and Bert headed off for the 1.5 hour drive west. Traffic turned out to be a non-issue, and we parked right next to our viewing area.

Let me say this from the outset, the Nurburgring has one of the strangest spectator arrangements I have ever seen.

Your ticket only allows you into the spectator area you have purchased, so there is no roaming around the track to enjoy the view. Secondly, to get around anywhere you have to check out of your area. It’s a bit hard to explain, but the spectator walk ways in many areas are right next to the track, but you can’t see what is going on. There is also a four lane main road going under the circuit, which remains open as a public road.

Another innovation is the ‘Ring Card’. It’s a lot like Ithcy and Scratchy money, in that it is just like real money, but more fun. The deal is that you load up your card before you go to a food/bev counter, so you don’t have to exchange coins there. German efficiency.

Like Silverstone, trackside concessions were very reasonable. Bratwust for €3, and a cup of beer for less than €3.

After the GP3 race, I set off to find the merchandise area. With none apparent in the spectator enclosure (we were general admission, in the run up to the last chicane, a DRS zone). Out on the perimetre road, I headed north. A while later in the town of Nurburg, many vendors had stalls set up on the main road, although they tended to sell old season stock, or cheap fake goods.

In the two hour gap before F1, Frank and myself set off the other way in search of… anything. About 30 minutes and a cut lunch later, we found the main merchandise area, which was on the outside of the track behind the pit straight grandstand. In reality it was about 400m from our spectator point, but because of the wierd way the joint is configured, it was much much further.

There were a heap of motor racing styled boutiques, and displays set up by manufacturers. The indoors concourse was pretty impressive.

Back just in time for the race, we were in a pretty prime spot. We managed to get four folding chairs into the track, despite them being on the contraband list. In fact there didn’t appear to be any bag checks at all. There was lot of overtaking and dicing that didn’t make the coverage in front of us, as we were directly across from a big screen.

We were also privy to the Marussia blowing up and rolling across the track.

One slightly baffling thing was the commentary, which was in German, English and French. My basic grasp of German assisted with lap counts and driver positions, but I flat out struggled with the French portion.

Compared to the British crowd, the German’s were a bit meh. Unlike last week where the entire the crowd went nutso for Hamilton on every lap, there was hardly an outpouring of emotion when Vettel won. More like a polite golf clap. Maybe he’s not that popular? It’s not like the crowd was all kitted out in supporter gear like they were seven days earlier.

At the chequered flag, Frank went off to get a refund on his Itchy and Scratchy money, after investing heavily in it earlier in the day. In the meantime, a fight broke out at the bar between some Brits over someone allegedly cutting the line. Germany’s responsible service of alcohol kicked in, and everyone was served an ale in good order.

Somehow we jagged a spot in the traffic queue leaving the track, and we made it home in surprisingly good time. Well played.

Day 16 & 17 Update

Day 16 started with the Technik Museum in Sincheim. Not knowing what I was in for, I had a minor blowout.

The first thing you see from the autobahn is the Concorde and Tupolev sitting on the roof, which you can climb aboard and inspect. Never thought that would happen. Amazing.

In two massive sheds, the place has 300 classic cars, 200 motorcycles, 40 racing cars (including the biggest display of F1 cars in Europe), 60 planes, 20 trains… A bit hard to list the the highlights, but the 6 wheel Tyrell, and a Ferrari F40 sitting next to a Lamborghini Countach would have to be up there. It’s no British Museum, but for a machine nut, it’s pretty special.

Drove through the Alsace wine region in France to get to Strasbourg for lunch. Checked out the cathedral, and had a walk around town- very nice. Everything has a lovely old feel about it, largely because it didn’t take much of a hit in the war.

Next stop was back over in Germany at the Black Forest. After possibly being lost, but taking a lovely detour through some amazing wine country, we arrived in Obertal. A massive storm a few years ago wiped out a lot of trees, but it’s still an incredible place (with great wine).

After a walk through the Black Forest on Day 17, which included a climb up a hunter’s lookout, we headed off to Heidelberg Castle. Another fantastic joint, with a very good audio guide.

Back to Frankfurt for a short kip, before heading off to a birthday party in Eltville, on the Rhine River. It was a bit of a summer festival, where all of the local wineries had stands, coupled with local food vans. €10 bottles of wine = winning.

This sort of thing would never happen in Australia, because-
A) it would end in an all-in brawl because Aussies can’t handle booze
B) the vendors would charge top-dollar.

Went to bed late. Was worth it.

Trip Day 18 Nürburgring

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Trip Day 18 Nürburgring, a set on Flickr.

Trip Day 16 & 17 Straßburg, Black Forest, Heidelberg

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Trip Day 16 Technik Museum Sinsheim

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IndycarMuseumTyrellF1Jordan F1Eddie Irvine
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Trip Day 14 & 15 Hamburg

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Trip Day 14 & 15 Hamburg, a set on Flickr.

Day 14 & 15 Update

Off to Hamburg on the very quick Inner City Express train, which takes about 4 hours. When you consider the price, time it takes, and the fact that it drops you right in the middle of town, it’s definitely better than flying.

Saying that, the 7:00am kickoff from Frankfurt wasn’t ideal.

Walked via the Chilehaus to the Maritime Museum. It was good, very well done, but it did drag on a bit. At 10 storeys high it was a bit of a hike, and there were an incredible number of model boats. The funny thing was that in the 10 levels of museum there was only one actual boat.

Across the road I stumbled across “Prototype”, which was an uber cool car museum. From the 40 odd vehicles on exhibit, the two that really get your attention are the first F1 cars for Schumacher (Jordan), and Vettel (Sauber). There was heaps of interesting memorabilia on display, trinkets, posters, photos etc. In the basement was an exhibition dedicated to Wolfgang Von Trips.

From there, we found an open top tour bus and did a lap of the city. The tour guide was incredibly funny. If you knew German. But it was still good. Toured past the harbour, downtown, lakes, university district, with a special feature on the red light district, which is apparently a big tourist drawcard.

Alighted from the converible bus when a rain shower came over, and walked through town to our hotel. Had dinner at a local burger chain (when in Hamburg…), where for €10 you get a massive feed. The upgrade from a glass of softdrink to a 500ml beer is 50c. Only seems fair.

With London lag dragging on, we woke up at 10am. Walked through town before getting slightly disorientated while shopping.

Had to walk back to the other side of town for a cruise around the harbour. Had an afternoon meal on a fireboat, before more shopping and the homebound train.