Friday, November 1, 2013

Formula E: The electric version of Formula One where spectators give cars extra speed by smartphone

With Sebastian Vettel cruising to yet another win in Formula One, it’s easy to wonder what could loosen the German’s stranglehold on the sport. How about a magic button that gives spectators the power to influence the result from their smartphone? Don’t scoff: the concept is coming to an all-new race series next year.
It works using social media. Fans vote for their favourite driver while the race is ongoing. The competitor with the most votes earns a power boost via a push-to-pass button on the car’s steering wheel.
Whether you think it’s an interactive gimmick or genuine innovation, organisers hope it will be a major draw for Formula E, which uses Formula One-style cars that are fully electric. Formula E launches next September, with the season lasting until June 2015. It will feature ten street-racing events in cities around the world, including Berlin, Monte Carlo, Beijing and LA, with London hosting the finale on June 27, 2015.
Vettel gave Formula E short shrift at the weekend, saying he didn’t think it had legs. Organisers, unsurprisingly, claim otherwise, saying it represents ‘a vision for the future of the motor industry over the coming decades’, with cars serving as research and development prototypes for zero-emission mass-motoring.
Competitors will use identical cars for the first season but as an ‘open championship’ it’s a free-for-all after that, as long as the vehicles stay within technical specifications.
The car, the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, was unveiled at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show. McLaren, Williams and Michelin are among the big-hitters involved in component development.
The standardisation of the car isn’t the only difference. Whereas Formual One is a three-day affair of practice, qualification and the race itself, Formula E condenses everything into a day. A one-hour practice will be followed by two qualifying laps.
Each race lasts around an hour with drivers making two mandatory pit stops. But they won’t be changing tyres – they will be changing cars. A Formula E spokesman admits this was a controversial aspect of the series, adding: ‘In a perfect world, drivers would just use one car but current battery technology doesn’t allow this. In five years’ time, we’re confident we won’t be changing cars at all.’
So where does the spectator-powered push-to-pass come in? It will be available a set number of times in each race. Battery output will be increased from 180bhp to 270bhp for a short period, aiding overtaking and, organisers hope, making the action more exciting for fans.
Detractors of Formula E, such as Vettel, say that excitement could be offset by the lack of petrol-powered growl. But Formula E will be far from silent: the fusion of tyre noise, aerodynamics and the electric drive-train means that at high speed, each car will be slightly louder than an average road-going equivalent. For safety reasons, each will also emit an artificial sound in the pit lane.
A total of ten teams will compete in the debut season, with five announced so far. Drayson Racing is led by former British science minister Baron Drayson and e.dams by four-time Formula One World Champion Alain Prost.
They will be joined by China Racing and IndyCar outfits Andretti Autosport and Dragon Racing. As for the drivers, of which there will be 20, insiders promise a mix of ex-Formula One stars and rookie teenagers.
‘I am very happy to be a part of the Formula E adventure,’ says Prost. ‘Being able to participate in the development of this new technology is extremely motivating. As we’ve seen in other championships, 2014 will see a move towards more sustainable racing, proving more than ever that motorsport is the benchmark for the future.’