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.

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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 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…

Trip Day 10 London

Kensington GardensKensington GardensKensington PalaceKensington PalaceLittle VeniceLittle Venice
Abbey RoadAbbey RoadRegent's CanalPirate CastleCanalCamden Lock Market
Filling StationLondonLondonThe Doric ArchSpewLords
Huh?Camden Lock MarketLordsLordsLordsCamden Lock Market

Trip Day 10 London, a set on Flickr.

Trip Day 9 London

Harrods food hallMeteoriteGreenwichGreenwichGreenwichCaptain Cook
GreenwichGreenwichGreenwichGreenwichTower of LondonTower of London
Tower of LondonTower of LondonTower of LondonTower BridgeTower of LondonBank of England
British MuseumBritish MuseumBritish Museum

Trip Day 9 London, a set on Flickr.

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!

Trip Days 7 and 8 San Francisco and London

SF Ferry BuildingKids LardBike wine holderGoogle Street View carPharmacy pizzaBay Bridge
Green ParkThe OvalThe OvalBig BenBig Ben10 Downing St
Royal HorsesTrafalgur SquareTrafalgur SquareLondonThe MallRoyal Guard
Buckingham PalaceBuckingham PalaceBuckingham PalaceBuckingham PalaceBuckingham PalaceGreen Park

Day 7 and 8 Update

Cruisey day today in San Francisco. Went to the US Postal Service, which is misleading, as they appeared to have very little service at all. 40 minutes later, I was out the door, and I think my package was put in the mail.

I always assumed the term “going postal” was about postal workers getting in a rut with their work and shooting people. The policy to eliminate this “going postal” has obviously been to eliminate the work aspect of the problem. I think it won’t be long before customer dissatisfaction may lead to a return of fire…

Walked down to the Ferry Terminal, where’s there some nice butchers and other food stores. Checked out the Cable Car Museum, before heading back to up to the Westfield shopping centre.

Picked up bags, headed to the airport, where the whole process of screening was really very hassle free.

Had an exit aisle for the 9 hour flight to London, mint! Not so mint was the fact that it was on the sunny side of the plane, and despite departing SF at 5pm, our route via the top of Canada and Greenland had our 747 in sunshine the whole night long.

On this particular big bird, the air conditioning blows onto the middle seat of the row, so it wasn’t a terribly productive flight sleep wise.

Once in London I did the standard touristy stuff- Big Ben, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace etc. Suffering badly due to the lack of sleep, I came back to the hotel for two hours of kip.

Woke up, didn’t know why the alarm was going off, where I was, what I was doing- a pretty out of it 5 minutes of my life right there…

Walked down to The Oval via The Thames for the England Vs New Zealand. Two balls were bowled before it started to drizzle… at least was able to drink beer with Madam and Ashley in the drizzle. The game was eventually called off due to the drizzle, so I walked home in the drizzle. Disappointing England, disappointing.