Formula E is the future of motorsport, but it’s here to enjoy now

Formula E is the future of motorsport – why would you wait for it to overtake Formula 1 before getting onboard?

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Formula E

Over the next few decades, the world of motor racing could be primed for the most radical overhaul since the cavemen carved out wheels in the first place.

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The climate conversation is heating up more quickly than the planet itself with corporations reshaping, remodelling and adapting their existing structures to suit an increasingly green-thirsty world.

Of course, the toll road to an eco-friendly future may demand too high a price to pay for fossil-fuelled racing series’ including Formula 1.

Will we look back at scorching hot petrol cars as relics of a prehistoric age? Dinosaur bones for the next generation to pore over?

Whatever the future may or may not hold for traditional racers, Formula E is getting ahead of the curve to pioneer the future of racing.

The FIA-sanctioned all-electric racing series has entered its sixth season with aggressive intent to carve out a place for itself. A form of racing ahead of its time, in the present day.

Increased exposure on free-to-air TV is steadily boosting the profile of the sport, with the next race in Rome slated for a Saturday spot on BBC Two, with all races to be shown live on the BBC Sport website throughout the season.

RadioTimes.com were invited out to Morocco for the Marrakesh E-Prix – also shown on BBC Two – to soak up the sport and the spectacle, to hear what those closest to the action – including repurposed F1 star Felipe Massa – think of the future of single-seater racing.

Formula E

Tackling the biggest issue head on, a sport will very simply live and die by the credibility of its competition, its pool of talent, its entertainment, the ultimate product.

You think electric, you think ‘middle-aged social-climber cruising 10mph below the speed limit in a Toyota Prius allowing you more time to see them driving a Prius’.

Arriving at the dusty Circuit Moulay El Hassan on the edge of Marrakesh, a rural road away from civilisation, instantly dispelled that myth.

The sound is otherworldly.

Whether it translates well on TV is up for debate, but in person, the whistling rush is a smile-widener – the closest this journalist will ever come to covering a Star Wars pod race.

It’s tough not to compare Formula E with its gas-guzzling uncle Formula 1, and this writer will make no apologies in doing so here.

Much of F1 revolves around aesthetics, the outrageous looks, the rip-roaring sounds, the unquantifiable ‘coolness’.

First impressions of the eco-friendly Batmobiles of Formula E broke all perceptions of what electric cars can be, can do.

The reality, at its base form, is that Formula E cars bring all of the pin-up features of a Formula 1 car… and then some.

Ask a 10-year-old to design their ideal racer, the end product would bear resemblance to a Gen2 Formula E car. An XL Hot Wheel that tops out at 280km/h (170mph).

A shuffle through the pit lane and into the Jaguar team garage helped shake the desensitised nature we probably all have of red-hot racers.

We’re so accustomed to watching cars scream around on our TV screens that you can only recapture the magic by staring one of the beasts in the face, hearing their call echo around their natural habitat.

Over 12,000 began to arrive for the day, the masses largely consisting of families, kids wearing cardboard Formula E helmets and lapping up the range of events from the E-Village – everything from pottery-making to an e-Sports tournament.

The face of Formula E’s extensive coverage Nicki Shields has watched the championship grow from the beginning, and believes it is really taking off.

“The idea is to get more people excited about motor sport and Formula E have a really smart way of doing that because it’s a sport for everyone. They’re companions [ominous tone] at the moment.

“The cars are getting quicker, the technology is improving, it has improved dramatically since Season One. They’ll get a little bit faster, they might tweak the way they look, but we just need to build momentum and get more eyes watching, and go to new cities perhaps as well.”

One of the cities used to boasting races is Mexico City, with around 100,000 spectators turning out in force for the E-Prix last month, and the UK will boast two races on back-to-back days when the final weekend of the season rolls around.

Formula E

But what of the action? The litmus test had arrived. Ultimately, no matter how green, no matter how sustainable the sport is, action will always be the ultimate determiner when sports engage in a survival of the fittest.

It can be easy to be swept along by a company, product or even sport’s eco-friendly mantra to the detriment of the product on offer, but Formula E is so designed with total drama in mind.

Races are 45 minutes long, plus one lap – a condensed experience designed to concentrate as much high-octane drama as possible into a short span.

Mario Kart enthusiasts out there, rejoice! Attack Mode acts as a form of ‘mushroom’. Taking a wider line on one corner may lose the driver a place or two in the short term, but earns a 35kW power boost which can be deployed at will.

Fanboost allows fans to vote for their favourite drivers before the race begins, with the top five receiving a ‘mushroom’ surge for the race. This is by no means universally popular with drivers or fans, but it does underline Formula E’s commitment to provoking unpredictability.

Cars are largely homogeneous, they share much of the same DNA, with only certain components such as the powertrain and gearbox to differentiate between them.

Formula E

This series prides itself on its drivers, their abilities, their talents and despite the hype around the all-electric aspect, it actually places less reliance on the machinery surrounding those in the cockpit.

A good driver tends to out-perform a good car. We saw this first-hand.

Four different winners in four races to start the season is no accident. Nine drivers stood atop the podium at various points in 13 races last season. That level of unpredictability is near-impossible in forms of non-homogenous racing.

Qualifying in Marrakesh finished explosively with championship leader Mitch Evans failing to get out on the track within the time limit to post a lap.

We were in the Jaguar team garage, the scene of the crime, as it happened.

The New Zealand star seethed as he return to base, a hushed garage full of team directors and engineers pored over footage from the Formula E YouTube live stream, adamant Evans had crossed the line in time.

It wasn’t to be. Evans would start dead-last in 24th place on the grid.

Antonio Felix da Costa became the fifth different champion this season with a commanding performance, but it was Evans who arguably stole the show with a phenomenal display to claw himself up from the very back to finish sixth.

Speaking of his wild afternoon, Evans reiterated the thrill of unpredictability in Formula E: “This championship is amazing for many reasons. No matter what race you go to, everyone’s got a good shot at having a good race, and that’s also qualifying on pole and scoring points. Not many championships have that.

Formula E

“It makes it more stressful because you could be on P1 or towards the back, but everyone really loves the challenge of Formula E and the spectators know once the lights go out things aren’t set in concrete like other championships. It keeps everyone on their toes, watching their energy go down, that’s wicked.”

The afternoon threw up unpredictability in the shape of a clean, near-unprecedented race in Morocco as just one car retired.

A wild turn of events in Mexico City saw just 14 cars make it to the finish, almost half the field left in pieces, immobile or disqualified.

As the media scrum descended on Felix da Costa and other relatively obscure names in the grand scheme of motorsport, ex-Formula 1 driver and 11-time Grand Prix champion Felipe Massa stood alone.

He remains in a very exclusive enclosure of drivers who have ridden top-tier electric and petrol engines into battle. He remains one of the few voices qualified to compare the two side-by-side.

By his own admission it had been a ‘terrible’ weekend for him due to a braking issue, but the Brazilian star was quick to heap praise on the all-electric series for its racing potential.

“Formula E is a championship that is growing massively, you have a lot of fights, a lot of battles. That’s what people want to see. It’s a great championship to watch with some great races.

“The comparison is that Formula E has the ultimate show.

“Formula E has a lot more show in the race, more overtakings, more fights and a small gap between first and last. This is a good thing for the people.”

The top three drivers in Marrakesh made their way through to the podium – situated in the fan zone away from the main grandstand, media centre and the hospitality boxes (another nice touch) – it gave time to reflect on what Formula E actually is.

I entered the weekend expecting to see the future, a taster, a trailer for things to come. I expected a concept series, a showcase of a sport that Formula 1 will one day evolve into, yet there it was, living, breathing and thriving in front of me on the western edge of the Sahara.

The compact Saturday schedule shows it’s not in the wild to conquer Formula 1, it’s there to co-exist.

I thought Formula E was the future of motor sport, but the pair can be enjoyed without even an edge of mutual exclusivity.

If Formula 1 does eventually go the way of the T-Rex, cars dangling from the ceilings of museums and early 21st century fans regaling grandchildren with tales of beasts gone by, Formula E is already writing history in the books and will be ready to step into a prime-time spot.

The action, the constant overtaking, the individual driver skill and the engaging strategy of Formula E are enough to command your attention now, not only to be enjoyed if the dinosaurs die out.

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Check out our 2020 Formula E calendar including TV details and individual race previews.