Within the last week, Jaguar and BMW have both unveiled new Formula E race cars, ready for Season 5 of the electric-only racing series.

Season 5 kicks off in December and the new cars look startling different to before, mostly because their wheels are enclosed and the body work has gained a bunch of jaggedly angles in the name of better aerodynamics.

Second generation of Formula E cars

The cars for the next season are all new. Jaguar's new racer is called the i-Type 3. While at BMW it's the snappily named Gen 2 iFE 18.

Formula E is said to be the race series of the future. And yes, you've guessed it, the E in the name stands for "electric", with all of the race cars powered by batteries. That means it's becoming an increasingly appealing proposition for car brands. Those with big plans for an electric future are set to join-up to Formula E. Jaguar, Audi, Renault and DS are already there. BMW are a new entry for the next season.

For the next season, the batteries of all cars will be supplied by McLaren (yes, they of Formula 1 and 720S fame), and the cars are designed to complete the race in one car, or more to the point, with one battery. At the moment, the drivers get two cars because the batteries can't go the distance. That's a clue to how fast the technology is improving, and it's one of the key reasons that the Formula E series appeals to car brands.

With the curtain only recently dropping on the fourth season of Formula E with an exciting street race in New York culminating in Cheethah's Luca di Grassi winning the title, we look ahead and explore why big-name car makers are joining Formula E.

Which car manufacturers take part in Formula E?

There are currently 10 teams in Formula E. Right now, Audi, DS Automobiles, Jaguar and Renault take part. There are independent, family-run race teams, and other big names brands such as India's Mahindra, and China's Nio - you might not have heard of them but they're growing car names in Asia.

Pocket-lintFormula E – why car makers are joining image 6

But over the next two seasons, that picture will change. For the next season in 2018-19, which is the race series' fifth season, it's not just BMW but also Nissan who join the fray. Nissan will run its own Motorsport team, the Nissan name taking over from Renault who are leaving to focus on F1. BMW will be the car manufacturer for team Andretti Autosport.

Meanwhile Audi will effectively have two teams next season, being manufacturer for Virgin racing (taking over from DS). And having their own Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team.

By 2019-20 - season six - Porsche and Mercedes-Benz will also join the fray and become powertrain manufacturers, and the field will grow from ten teams (each with two drivers) to eleven.

By 2020, the manufacturer team line-up will be as follows:

  • Audi Sport
  • BMW
  • DS
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • Mahindra
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Nio
  • Nissan
  • Penske
  • Porsche
  • Venturi

What's the electric battery technology story with Formula E?

In Formula 1, there are strict rules - such as the size of the engine - but everyone is free to develop their own engines, gearbox and aero approaches. In Formula E, it's slightly different. Every car uses the same "chassis" and gets the same battery pack, producing the same amount of power.

Pocket-lintFormula E – why car makers are joining image 8

"Everyone realises we're moving towards an electric future," says James Barclay, Team Manager of Jaguar Panasonic Racing, when we meet him at the final round of Formula E season four in New York. "We're a generation that's going to see a change from combustion to electric vehicles, and that's tremendously exciting."

"We have an appetite to learn, how does an electric car work - what can we learn, what can we do better, what are the limitations - and there's a massive hunger for information."

How will Formula E impact on electric cars I can buy in the future?

Whenever car brands go racing, they do it for a reason. Either marketing (building the brand) - or innovating (developing technology) which can trickle down to road cars. Think of the examples: Audi built Quattro off the back of its rally cars in the 1970s. McLaren road cars, simply wouldn't exist today if it hadn't been a Formula 1 race team first. Other brands - Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar - are inextricably linked with motorsport.

But Formula E - despite its looks, and its speed - is perhaps more closely linked to the electric cars you'll be able to buy tomorrow, than any race cars of the past.

Jaguar Panasonic RacingFormula E – why car makers are joining image 3

"One of the key reasons we got into Formula E is that technology transfer - we call it race to innovate," says Barclay. "The set-up of the [Formula E car] power train - the inverters and e-motors, is about how you make them as light as possible, make them maximum efficiency and minimise draw. So while our e-motors might not be quite the same on our Formula E car to our i-Pace road car, it's the process and the way we construct it, and what we can transfer onto our production cars is a benefit to our consumers. A race car that can go further for longer, is a road car that can go farther for longer."

With all of the major manufacturers ramping up deliveries of electric cars – in the past month we've seen Mercedes launch the EQC and Audi finally unveil the e-tron, it's no surprise that there are strong links between road cars and Formula E.

How much power do Formula E cars have?

For the coming season, Formula E cars are getting a power boost. There's the new battery from McLaren, but also the look of the car is drastically different. Currently, Formula E cars have a 28kWh battery, that's a little smaller than a BMW i3. Next year’s they’ll get 52kWh. That's a little bit smaller than the new, higher range Hyundai Kona EV.

In the race, the cars produce 268hp. In qualifying they produce 335hp. The look of the car is designed, like all race cars, around aerodynamic principles.

What is Hyperboost?

In the fifth season (2018-19), these new batteries eliminate the current need for drivers to swap cars half way through the race. While that shows the technology improving, it does remove a potentially exciting - and risk-prone - aspect of the sport, which is often where upset and excitement happens. To counter that, in season five, drivers will get to use something called Hyperboost.

Pocket-lintFormula E – why car makers are joining image 22

It's been described as "like Mario Kart for racecars", when you grab a gold star, and get super-speed allowing you to go from the back to the front of the field. The system is still awaiting full approval, so details might change, but the idea is that, after a certain distance at a certain point in the track, drivers will be able to activate an extra burst of power - up to 301 hp - allowing them to go faster.

But they'll tactically have to work out when best to use it, as it won't be available every lap and won't last for very long.  

How do I get involved in Fanboost and go to watch Formula E?

Sadly, for us Brits, Formula E doesn't come to the UK. Races take place in Saudi Arabia, Marrakesh, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Sanya China, Rome, Paris, Monaco, Berlin, Zurich and New York. All the races happen on street circuits, in the city, and you can pick-up tickets free at some events.

But what you might be more interested in is the fan interactive element of Formula E. As well as Hyperboost, there's something called Fanboost that the drivers can already use - the most voted-for drivers (do it via the Formula E app) - receive a certain extra amount of energy, to deploy at a point of their choosing, and where the car gets a boost up to about 325hp. "It doesn't always affect the outcome of the race," says Barclay, "but used effectively it can."

Want to know more about Formula E? Read our full, in-depth guide here