DISCLAIMER: This article has been sponsored by AVIS.
The all-electric Formula E championship heads into what is likely to be a dramatic conclusion at one of the largest cities in the world during the first weekend of July, as the teams, drivers and fans head to Battersea Park in London for the conclusion of the series’ second season. Three men from three different teams head into the finale with a mathematical shout at becoming the second person to become the Formula E champion, but just two – Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland, driving for the Renault e.Dams team, and Lucas di Grassi of Brazil, driving for the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team, have a realistic shot at winning the series. The gap, you may be asking? A single point, with 60 on the table.
Comparing Formula 1 and Formula E
When first announced, many brushed the concept of an all-electric series as a bit of a joke and a gimmick. However few can deny that in the 19 races which have run to date since 2014, that these criticisms were premature. The racing has been phenomenal, many of the drivers are taken from the very top, with some having previously run for major manufacturers in other World Championship races, and it has pushed boundaries in terms of taking motor racing to unconventional places, and by putting a 21st century twist on the concept of going racing in a lot of ways.
So can a series no more than two years old be comparable to one of the longest-standing motor racing championships around in Formula 1, which has run every year since 1950?
From a standpoint of the level of driving talent, whilst there are some absolutely brilliant drivers in Formula E, it is not able to boast the sort of level of drivers which are seen in F1 currently. With no real ladder to Formula E right now (and understandably with it still being very much a new series), this is unlikely to change for a number of years, despite the vast number of ex-F1 drivers amongst the roster currently.
When it comes to teams however, I believe some comparisons can certainly be made between the two categories. Both attract multiple manufacturers, and both have privateer teams as well. Some big names participate in Formula E – with names such as Andretti, DAMS and ABT – all so very successful in other series making the transition into Formula E and more manufacturers than F1 can boast participating in the sport right now with DS Automobiles, NEXTEV, Mahindra, Audi, Renault, Venturi and McLaren all involved before Jaguar make their racing return a dozen years after their F1 stint later this year.
In the respect of having more manufacturers taking an interest in Formula E than Formula 1 at the moment, it is a very healthy sign for the newer sport. How long this success is sustained is to be seen but the signs are very positive at the moment. The same cannot be said of F1, with just four manufacturers producing complex hybrid power units despite a push to gain more interest.
One thing fairly unique to Formula E is that all of the races take part in the heart of some of the largest cities in the world – with Mexico City, Berlin, London, Paris, Beijing and Buenos Aires all hosting races in the second season. There are many other cities interested as well, with New Delhi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brussels, Montreal and New York all very much on the cards for future events in Formula E. This is in stark contrast to Formula 1, where whilst some races take part on city streets such as the Monaco and Singapore Grand Prix, many of the venues are effectively in the middle of nowhere in comparison. The single-day format, as well as the noise produced from the cars (or lack of) is primarily why races are hosted in the centre of such large cities.
Pit stops are a major factor in Formula E, but instead of changing tyres, refuelling or changing drivers (or even all three at once) as we see in some series, Formula E instead forces drivers to swap into a second car, which adds a dimension not seen in any other category, which makes it truly unique. Formula 1 teams used to have a spare car per team, but those are no longer permitted.
There are also modern features in Formula E which are not really seen anywhere else. The FanBoost system allows fans to give their favourite driver an extra boost of power during the races, although the system is not popular with some. The series also invites fans to race against the drivers in sim races, to promote the ever-growing rise of e-sports.
The similarities between Formula 1 and Formula E, so it turns out, are in fact quite few. On the face of it, Formula E seems to have more similarities to the street courses of the IndyCar series. In some respects too, there are similarities to even endurance racing.
Ultimately the two series are very much different and they should continue to evolve down their own respective paths. Whether the path chosen for Formula E and Formula 1 with respect to how the power is delivered is shown to be the right one, is yet to be seen. Should Formula E be trying to become a ‘new’ Formula 1? Perhaps not – it is doing a good job in getting manufacturers involved, new fans into motor racing and in getting a message across in the way it wants to. Could Formula E be ‘bigger’ than F1? Only time will tell.
If you’ve not watched much Formula E or want to catch up, watch some Formula E highlights here