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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.