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.

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.

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.

Day 13 Update

The timing of my flights on this trip has meant that I haven’t suffered any jet lag to date. Unfortunately I did suffer an horrendous post-British Grand Prix hangover, even if no alcohol was consumed over the weekend. 120km of cycling on minimum sleep does that apparently.

Twas woken up at 10:30am, probably could have gone a few more hours.

Headed into Frankfurt town for a walking tour of the city. Started out at the Opera, where fortuitously there was a food/booze fair in progress. Had the obligatory sausage on a roll, before headed off to the 200m tall Main Tower. Impressive view from the roof.

Around the corner was the house where Goethe grew up, then we kept on trekking through the part of town that was restored after the war. Chilled out in Romberberg Plaza (where the Christmas Markets are held), checked out the Alte Nikolai Church, then headed over and along the river.

Visited the Frankfurt Cathedral and the marketplace, before going slightly overboard in the shops along the way.

Had dinner at the Kartoffelhaus (Potato Restaurant), then got dropped at the shops to buy supplies for Hamburg. The 15min walk home was via various strawberry, pear, corn and grain fields. Nice touch.

Day 12 Update

Because of bicycle transportation issues, I was required at the train station at 6:22am. Ouch.

Saying that, the Virgin Trains service from Milton Keynes to Euston is a goody- about £10 for the 30 minute express trip including cycle. Much cheaper than the alternatives, and much less sapping than peddaling all the way to London.

Went for a ride through Regent’s Park, then back over to Little Venice, and a section of the canals that we didn’t cover on Saturday. It was the daggier end of the canals, but it was still pleasent.

Cut through Notting Hill, which looks like the rest of London, but is on a hill, then through Holland Park, which was nice.

Cruised around South Kensington for a while before the Natural History Museum opened. The things-in-jars collection was interesting, there were a lot of things to look at, but I think for some of the Australian animals on display, they were using the fattest specimens in the range. Platypus aren’t that big…

Next door was the Science Museum, and I really liked this. A lot of mechanical things that I dig. The space section had some cool life sized replicas on display (the Lunar Module is bigger than I expected), but the area that took the cake was the flight section. The things on display here seriously put all air museums in Australia to shame.

There was also a “Google Lab”, which was interesting. Including a thing that took your photo and used a robot to draw it in the sand. Apparently you can log into the museum from the internet and it will draw your face from your webcam. I don’t know how this is furthering humanity, but it’s neat.

On the way back to drop off the cycle, did a lap through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, and one last time past the standard attractions like the Queen’s house and the large clock tower.

Tubed to Heathrow, where it became apparent that the English are shit people at travelling. Of the ten people in front of me, nine of them got pulled up at the security screening. There was a combination of wearing your watch, belt, things in pockets, oversized liquids the works. Some of them looked liked seasoned businessmen, but they were all useless. The added bonus of failing the metal detectors is that you recieve a massively invasive frisk in front of everyone, who appear to be cool with this practice. Get it together. Thanks.

Day 11 Update

I just didn’t sleep on the night of the night of day 10. Whether it was excitement, fear that I would get lost and wind up at Brands Hatch, or just the fact that I knew had an early wakeup, sleep just didn’t happnen.

So I got on my bike at 5:30am (as the sun had started to appear at 2:30am after disappearing at 11:00pm) and set off. Fortunately I didn’t forget the 30km route to the track, but I discover that it’s almost entirely uphill from Newport Pagnell to Silverstone. This fact was hammered home by the fact that the return journey was 30 minutes quicker.

Nearing the track, a group of cyclists (they looked more like drunks) were taking a different route than the “google map” directions to the front gate. It turned out to be a ripper short cut through a golf course, a forest and a paddock to Copse corner. Winning.

I’ve never in my life encountered so many helpful gate/security staff. My first worry was where am I going to lock up my bike, but before I could ask, a lady said “You’ll enjoy riding your bike around the track today, inidit.” Winning x2.

The first thing inside the entry gate was a “bacon roll stand”, which saved my sleep deprived/sweat soakded life. Unlike the baseball, all of the concession stands were very reasonably priced, with food coming in at around £4.00 and drinks £2.20.

I did a lap of the track’s perimeter before play, before setteling in at the end of Wellington Straight/Brookfields/Luffield for GP3, Copse for GP2 and Becketts for Porsche Supercup.

The place was utterly chockers, ditto the grandstands, which were rather massive, yet very temporary looking in construction.

Before the F1 race I found a tree on the grass behind the grandstand and had an hour long kip, despite the constant whirring of the world’s busiest helicopter port.

Pre-race entertainment consisted of the Red Arrows, and they were freaking brilliant. Also, I was well pleased with my seat, top row of the Stowe grandstand A, so you could see the cars enter Becketts, exit Becketts, all the way onto the pit straight when you would lose them behind the Wing.

In the race Pirelli did it’s bit for the fans at Stowe by providing us with multiple blowouts. When these happened and no safety car was deployed, I was fairly appauled over the relaxed approach by the marshalls, who would slowly wander off the track as the cars were tearing down on them, lap after lap. Scary stuff.

There was no doubting who the favourite son of England is- and it’s definitely not Jensen, despite most of the crowd wearing McLaren kit.

For every lap after Lewis had his puncture, the crowd went absolutely batshit. It was amazing! It was as if there was nobody else in the race.

I sat there quietly all race long, until three laps to go I yelled something at Webber, which startled those around me.

At the chequered flag, I was able to make a dash through an adjacent paddock and freedom, beating what I’m sure would have been a ripper traffic snarl.

Stopped in at the Pury End and Potterspury villages on the way home, and also went for a ride through a genuine English willow cricket bat plantation.

Got home. Collapsed. Epic day!

Day 10 Update

So here’s the deal- I went to bed last night utterly buggered due to a very large day. Didn’t sleep, quite excited, it’s 4am and I’m typing.

Yesterday was bicycle around London day, and it was fantastic.

Ok, a slightly inauspicious start when the gear cable on my bike snapped at Buckingham Palace, so a noisey fixed speed cycle it was to be.

Cruised through Kensington Gardens, spotted a palace, then it was off to Little Venice for the first sighting of the canals.

Made it to Lords for the 11am tour. Brilliant. Checked out the famed Long Room, both change rooms, the grand stands and the media centre. Also checked out the real Ashes Urn in the museum. Made it to the gift shop in time to see the final two minutes of the rugby… Straya!

Around the corner was the Beatles Abbey Road pedestrian crossing. Dicked around there and held up traffic some.

Hooked back up with the canals at Regent’s Park and made our way around to the Camden Lock Markets. Wow. What an amazing place! You could go in there with a lot of money, spend a whole day and walk out very happy.

Continued along the canals, before heading back to the River Thames to drop off Madam’s cycle. The weather was mint for a ride, and there was very little traffic on the bits of road we used.

Walked back up to Euston Station, stopping for beer. Dropped the bike off, and continued walking around, back up to Camden. Not ideal for already tired legs…

Quick 30 minute Virgin Train ride back to Milton Keynes. It turned out the cycle wouldn’t disassemble to go in Madam’s car, so I rode back to Newport Panell. Really nice route on some dedicated paths in the forest. Lovely.

Walked into town for a beer and a pint. Excellent day. Off to Silverstone, stay tuned…

Day 9 Update

Well then. Started the day with a 15 minute train ride to Greenwich. The fact
that it took 45 was mildly annoying. As was the weather, which for most of the
day consisted of precipitation. Anyhoo…

Walked up the hill at Greenwich to the Observatory, checked my watch and stood
in the east and west segments of the world.

Caught the very fast ferry into the Tower of London. I guess I probably should
have purchased a ticket online, because the outdoor queue (in the rain) was
shit. Plus people were buying tickets in the fashion Lenny purchased a pretzel
from the Pretzel Wagon (look it up).

Once inside, I headed over to the line up for the Crown Jewels. Despite the
fact that the queue outside the vault (in the rain) took an hour to clear, the
Jewels were rather brilliant and worth the effort. Had a wander around the rest
of the Tower, but by this stage my enthusiasm was fading fast (due to the
rain), so I couldn’t be bothered lining up for some of the other buildings,
which also featured long non-moving queues in the rain.

Because I am a fan of money, I hiked up to Bank of England and their museum.
Good show, but the most interesting thing was their reasoning of sticking with
paper notes, which essentially boiled down to “because we said so.” Another
annoying thing about English currency is that the notes are too big to fit in
my standard Australian wallet. At least they’ve gone metric…

Next stop was St Paul’s Cathedral. Having seen some fairly hefty churches on
the European continent, they’ve all got nothing on this place. Wowsers.

A quick tube ride later, and I was at the British Museum.

Now I’m a fan of visiting museums, and I’m a nerd for documentaries on the
teev. But this place has ruined all other museums for me forever.

100 out of 10. What a place! Where in an Australian museum there might be a tin
of baked beans from the 1960s, the British Museum has a rather hefty range of
Egyptian mummys. I cannot believe that some of things they have on show are the
genuine article… if you ignored the signs, you could seriously lay hands on
some of these treasures.

By the time I got to the upper levels of the Asian exhibits, my brain was
pretty spent. If you looked closely at everything, and read every description,
you could seriously be there for weeks.

Tubed it over to Harrods to check out the food and wine hall, which makes the
David Jones attempt in Melbourne look like a D grade kids team. Impressive.

Walked back to Piccadilly Circus, stumbled across a bookstore called
Waterstones, whose range made Autobooks (the leading London motoring bookshop)
look a bit average. Resisted the urge to put myself massively into debt, but if
I’m still cashed up on Monday, lookout!