(Pocket-lint) - Formula E is billed as the electric future of car racing and this season it's more accessible than ever, with every race of the 2018/19 season available to watch on the via the BBC Sport website, BBC iPlayer and BBC red button.
The premise behind Formula E, is not only that the cars are fully electric, but that the 10 teams, each with two drivers, compete in identically set-up, electric battery-powered race cars.
What’s different about Formula E compared to Formula 1?
Let’s be honest. F1 is the biggest ‘Formula’ (or type) of racing out there. And Formula E, which is four years old, can’t yet compete in terms of size, sponsorship or exhilaration. But that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it, or that it’s not exciting.
That's primarily because Formula E races take place on tight street circuits in cities like New York, Paris, Rome, Zurich and Hong Kong.
Formula E drivers all race in the same cars, with the same battery packs and tyres – so the racing is much closer and more competitive than F1. That competitiveness and the tight circuits mean the racing is fun – there are regular crashes – and each race tends to generate a different pole sitter and podium.
What’s more, if you’re bored of the never-ending race weekends and expensive entry fees of F1, Formula E completes its races in one hit – practice, qualifying, the so-called ‘super-pole’ and the race all take place on one day.
And you can even watch for free. You can get surprisingly close to the action, too (thanks street circuits) and even get involved; there are several interactive aspects of Formula E – such as fanboost – where you vote for your favourite driver online and they can get a five-second power boost.
What are the Formula E cars like?
Every team in Formula E gets the same car. They don’t look the same, because each team has its own livery and sponsors, but the base machine underneath is the same.
Looking to the untrained eye like any open-cockpit, open-wheeled ‘Formula’ racing car, the main difference in a Formula E car is that the car is powered by two electric motors supplied by a battery in the middle.
You’ll no doubt be worried that you’ll miss the amazing, screaming engine sound of a Fomula 1 car if you’re a regular race-goer. But we've attended races and have been happily surprised by just how much noise the Formula E machines make.
Creating 80 dB of noise from their electric motors, the space-ship like whine of today’s Formula E cars is hardly silent. Meanwhile those tight street circuits mean you here all manner of brake and tyre squeal as drivers hurl the cars round corners at scarcely credible speeds.
What’s different about the new Formula E car for 2018-19?
Formula E has moved to a new type of car for this season, bringing changes in tactics and racing. Power goes up – from 200 kW in qualifying, to 250 kW. And in the race, from 180 kW to 200 kW. So the racing will get faster.
The cars – like Jaguar's i-Type 3, picture above – look quite different to previous cars, with enclosed wheels and a longer body that's got something of a bat-mobile feel to it.
But the big news, other than the looks, is that the car will get a much bigger battery – with a switch of powertrain manufacturer, to McLaren.
The battery jumps from 32 kWh to 54 kWh. That means another change. In the last four season’s races, drivers each needed to use two totally different cars because of the limited range of the battery, Yep, that's right - they needed to swap cars halfway through the race. From now on they must complete the entire race in a single car.
Formula E – what happens on race day?
The day before each Formula E weekend, there’s a Friday shakedown day. At some events, there’s a double-header race – meaning cars race on both Saturday and Sunday. But at some events, there’s just one race which usually takes place on Sunday.
Race day starts around 10.30 am with free practice, which lasts for 45 minutes. There’s then a second practice for 30 mins. Next up is qualifying. Drivers are divided into groups, drawn at random, and qualifying last for one hour in total. Like F1, the lap times drivers set determine where they start on the race grid.
Each driver has six minutes to set a time – which effectively means they get just one flying lap. The top five drivers then go into the ‘super-pole’ – it’s a final (and for these drivers, secondary) qualifying session – which determines how the top five line up. All the practice and qualifying usually wraps up by 2pm, and the race happens later in the afternoon.
The actual race, or e-Prix
For the race itself, cars line up on a dummy grid – unlike F1, so when the lights go green, they are go-go-go… round to the actual start line. Here, they role into position, and then set-off from a standing start.
The so-called e-Prix race lasts for around 50 minutes. Each driver must make one mandatory pit stop to change cars – they jump into a secondary, full-charged car at a certain point in the race. Formula E cars aren’t allowed to make tyre changes, unless they get a puncture.
Racing is close, because all of the cars run with the same power during the race, but three of the twenty drivers, get a boost in power – voted for by fans via an app. ‘Fanboost’ is extra power (100kJ extra of energy) which they can be deployed in one single hit. In effect, that means most drivers use their fanboost to attempt an overtake. But it can also be used to fend off someone attacking from behind.
Watching the race at a venue
Formula E is fun to watch. With the tight tracks, cool backdrops, bright graphics and 80 dB of noise, Formula E isn’t the bore-fest you might imagine if you’re a die-hard F1 fan. In fact, if you’re bored of the ‘procession’ of cars at many F1 tracks, where no overtaking happens, the Mercedes tend to lead from start to finish and nothing ever seems to happen, then Formula E might be for you.
As a fan, you can get close to the circuit, too. The city streets make racing tight, the driver’s skills – and frustration levels – are key, and there’s a lot happening. A different driver tends to be on pole, and a different one wins, at each race – at least, that's how its gone in the first four seasons of Fomula E. And it’s not impossible to win from the back.
At the Formula E race we watched in New York, the championship winner – Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, started from the back, but finished 5th to gain the points he needed to put the title out of reach of his rivals.
You don’t need to be at the race to take part in fanboost, you can begin voting on the Monday before race day.
Race venues have changed in each season. The venues for season five’s races have just been announced, and they’ll include Marakesh, Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Zurich.
In Formula E’s first season, the race also headed to London’s Battersea Park. But it hasn’t returned to the UK since. Birmingham and London are both rumoured to be in discussions to host Formula E races again in the future, so let's hope that happens.
Formula E points, teams and drivers
Formula E follows the same points system as other race series – it’s governed and run by the motor racing’s official body, the FIA – after all. The winner of the race gets 25 pts, second gets 18 pts and third gets 15. The top ten finishers all receive points, with tenth place getting just 1 point.
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The teams have changed over the past four years of Formula E. Ten teams race in total, each having two drivers. There are independent and family race teams you might not have heard of – like Techeetah and Andretti.
And plenty you might know – big name car brands like Jaguar, Audi, DS Automobiles and Renault. Over the coming years, Formula E will gain other big-name brands – Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan are all scheduled to join.
The drivers tend to be young guns – they're names you might watch out for in future, in F1 – people like Jaguar’s Mitch Evans. The New Zealander, 24, is seen as a hot talent. There’s also former F1 mid-rankers, like Nelson Piquet Jr, who also races for Jaguar. Many drivers have spent time racing touring cars, or at Le Mans and in endurance racing. As big car brands sign-up and Formula E grows, expect bigger names to join and the formula to grow in prominence.
How to watch Formula E
Tickets for Formula E race days cost around €55 to sit in the grand stand, but currently you can also choose to watch the race at other spots around the track for free! Tickets available via the dedicated Formula E portal on the FIA website, with tickets for next season's races (which start in September), not yet on sale. One of the major benefits, if you’re city bound, is being able to walk or take public transport to the race – no queueing for four hours to get into and out of a muddy field in Silverstone.
Formula E is televised too, and in the UK is free to air – it’s shown on 5Spike, BT Sport and Eurosport. There’s further coverage via online and mobile platforms including on demand services.
In the US, Formula E airs on Fox and Fox Sports. Germany and France have Eurosport, and in France it also airs on Canal+ and C8.
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