The concept was sound enough: one car each for a number of selected nationalities, represented by a team and driver of appropriate citizenship; identical cars with identical engines, competing during the ‘off-season’ winter months as a stopgap between Grand Prix seasons.
A1GP was billed as ‘The World Cup of Motorsport’, a unique format where the drivers claimed victory for their country rather than for themselves or their team. It was a niche that entertained for only so long however, the series having folded after just five seasons. It seemed that the world didn’t want another one-make single-seater championship, and A1GP was confined to the history books as a failed attempt to wrest fans from the pinnacle that is Formula One.
Now though, there’s a new series with similar ambitions; a new Formula, one with quite a buzz surrounding it, heralding, possibly, the arrival of the future of motor racing. It’s Formula E and it’s powered entirely by…witchcraft!
Or at least that’s how electricity is perhaps perceived by those wishing to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to believe that good ol’ fuel guzzling motor racing has a limited lifespan. Electric powered cars are the future – like it or not – and it’s only right that motor racing lead the way in developing the technology that one day we’ll more than likely have to rely on. And Formula E marks the first few steps into an electric fuelled new world.
Unlike A1GP, which appeared to lack much promotion and exposure, FE has the backing of the FIA and the governing body are keen to make the sport a success. A glance at the entry list for the inaugural 2014/15 season would suggest the FIA are succeeding; drivers include former Formula One stars Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Lucas Di Grassi, Nick Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli – the Italian driving for his own team.
Keen to embrace the near-futuristic technology also, are high-profile teams such as Audi Sport Abt, Virgin Racing and, bringing a touch of the racing evocative, Andretti Autosport, the American based team headed by racing hero Michael Andretti. Trumping that is four-time world champion Alain Prost’s Renault backed E.Dams. The all-star cast stands as testament to how serious motor racing is taking the new Formula, and hints that it may just be the success many are hoping for.
A greater part of the appeal perhaps lays in the races themselves: by way of reiterating the environmental friendliness of this type of racing, the 10 rounds will be held on street circuits around the globe, starting in Beijing in September and culminating in London in June 2015. In between, the electric circus will visit Malaysia, Uruguay, Argentina, Miami, Long Beach, Monaco and Berlin, with one more race yet to be announced.
An all street race calendar is just one new and unique concept adopted by the new Formula however; as well as welcoming at least two female drivers so far – Katherine Legge and Michela Cerruti – this new type of racing has embraced the power of social media to an extent never before seen; like many forms of racing, drivers receive power boost, to be used a limited number of times per race. Fans however, through the power of twitter, can vote for three drivers to receive an extra portion of boost. A controversial concept but one that is hoped to promote a new level of ‘cool’ to a younger audience who perceive electric power to be dull and uninteresting.
“There is a need for motor sport to be relevant,” says Formula E chief executive, Alejandro Agag. He claims lofty ambitions for the zero-emission race series: to make electric cars sexy, accelerate improvements in the technology and tackle city-choking air pollution and, ultimately, climate change.
Whether Formula E can make electric cars cool and provide a guilt-free thrill for eco-conscious race fans remains to be seen. “I don’t know if it will be the future of motor sport, but it is a big change,” says Prost. “People do not like change, but sometimes you have to change, even if it is not so good at the beginning.”
With the amount of investment – both financial and timely – and the undeniable fact that electric motoring is the future we face, it’s clear to see that Formula E simply can’t be allowed to be another A1GP-style flash-in-the-pan. All that remains to be seen is just how competitive the racing will be; if it enthrals and entertains then the lack of noise from the electric motors, the accusations of witchcraft and twitter powered “fan-boost” won’t matter a dot. The world waits for the 13th September, and all eyes will be on Beijing and Formula E…