Tuesday, September 30, 2014

FORMULA E – Motorsport’s Newest Buzz

13th September 2014 – the first race of what is dubbed as “Motorsport’s first all-electric racing series” began in the streets of Beijing, China, exactly near the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Thousands of crowd, on-track and online (yup, you read it right), have finally witnessed the race they have been waiting for since the first day the series is announced. The hype intensified as a variety of drivers, from former Formula 1 stars like Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld, to Le Mans racer Lucas di Grassi, and next-generation single seater talents like Sam Bird, complete the series’s line-up.

Welcome to Formula E, world's all-electric single seater racing series that broke the mainstream in the single seater racing scene. Series CEO Alejandro Agag wanted a different element for the type of open wheel racing; which he "expects to become the framework for research and development around the electric car, a key element for the future of our cars". Through September 2014 to June 2015, the championship visits 10 cities around the world in three continents with their own famous landmarks; Asia, Americas, and Europe. In this inaugural season, 10 teams of two drivers compete in this unique racing series designed to appeal the new generation of motorsport fans, eventually making motorsport not only enjoyable for all ages but also accessible thanks to its own mobile app that allows fans to see their favorite driver's on-board view which they can rotate the camera freely.

Formula E represents a vision for the future of the motor industry over the coming decades, serving as a framework for Research and Development around the electric vehicle, accelerating general interest in these cars and promoting sustainability. It also centers around three core values of Energy, Environment and Entertainment, fusing it further with a mix of engineering, technology, sport, science, design, music and entertainment to the series.

Despite claims that Formula E is either one of those "boring" series or that all-electric car race are not their cup of tea (probably because of the dark cloud of ZEOD RC's flop in this year's Le Mans 24 Hours race), and even furthered by Niki Lauda's comment of the series being "the worst thing he's ever seen" and Sebastian Vettel's "Cheese" lament, it indeed delivered a close and tight race albeit the speed, evident by the aforementioned race. In fact, the ending delivered a surprise BANG!, you just have to witness it by yourself.


Spark-Renault SRT 01E; Built by Spark Racing Technology, designed by Dallara, engineered by McLaren and powered by Williams F1's battery, (Image:

Conceived in 2012 with tests conducted in mid 2014, Formula E is destined to be the Formula 1 with electric power (read: The top class of electric-powered single seater racing). As said earlier, it is a series expected to become the framework for research and development while centering itself around Energy, Environment and Entertainment with a mix of engineering, technology, sport, science, design, music and entertainment. The car used is Spark-Renault SRT 01E built by Spark Racing Technology. Italian single seater giant Dallara (which also responsible for its vast amount of chassis including the SF14, the DW12, and the F312) designed the car's chassis, which mostly made using carbon composites, with McLaren developed the car's electric motor which is actually the same motor used in McLaren's P1 supercar. Not just that, Williams F1 created the car's battery system, with its five-speed paddle shift gearbox supplied by Hewland. The tire is supplied by Michelin, with a special compound designed to be also usable for rainy weather.

The SRT 01E is designed to have optimized aerodynamics to facilitate overtaking and high ride height sensitivity to easily tackle the city streets while being cost effective and compliant to FIA's safety regulations. The car also uses the latest technology and compromises between performance and cost effectiveness with an extensive use of composite materials yet limiting the use of most expensive carbon fibers. The Rechargeable Energy Storage System (RESS) propels the car via the electric motor, which the RESS has to be FIA Standard, lighter than 200kg and certified to UN Transportation Standards. The car started its development in 2012, with 42 cars ordered for all participating teams.

Complete specifications are as follows (source: Formula E Official Site):

  • Overall length: 5000mm (max)
  • Overall width: 1800mm (max)
  • Overall height: 1250mm (max)
  • Track width: 1300mm (min)
  • Ride Height: 75mm (max)
  • Minimum weight (inc driver): 888kg (batteries 320kg)
  • Maximum power: 200kw, equivalent to 270bhp (only available during practice and qualifying sessions)
  • Race mode (power-saving): 150kw, equivalent to 202.5bhp
  • #FanBoost (race-only): Temporarily increases max power from 150kw to 180kw. (Increase of 30kw / 40.5bhp) for 5 seconds
  • Acceleration: 0 - 100 km/h (0-62mph) in 3 secs
  • Maximum speed: 225 km/h (150mph)
  • Brakes: Standard two separate Hydraulic systems, operated by the same pedal. Free choice of brake material, circular calipers made of aluminium alloy.
  • Tires: Bespote 18" treaded Michelin tires for dry and wet conditions
  • Wheels: O.Z. Racing Magnesium rims. Max width front - 260mm / rear 305mm. Max Diameter - front 650mm / rear 690mm
  • Electronics: McLaren Electronics ECU/GCU including data logging system; Power supply management unit; CAN data acquisition pre-equipment; FIA Marshalling system; Beacon receiver
  • Suspension: Double steel wishbones, pushrod operated, twin dampers and torsion bars suspension (front) and spring suspension (rear), with adjustable ride height, camber and toe; Two way (front) / Four way (rear) adjustable Koni dampers; Adjustable anti-roll bar (front/rear)
  • Steering System: Non assisted rack and pinion steering system (power assistance is allowed)
    Safety: Includes FIA safety standards including: front, side, rear and steering column impact tests and Electronically-operated Extinguisher System
  • Other notes: The amount of energy that can be delivered to the MGU by the RESS is limited to 28kwh. This will be permanently monitored by the FIA.

Testing sessions were conducted at the British circuit of Donington Park for five days. During select days of the test session, they were free of admission. The test eventually saw Sebastien Buemi from e.dams Renault team clocked the fastest time of the final day of the pre-season test. Hype and curiosity of the racing action involving these electric cars intensifies from there on.


:The series overview:

  • There are 10 teams, with two drivers each team, bringing a total number of 20 drivers. These drivers include former F1 stars including Nick Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli. In addition, each team provides 4 cars; two for racing and two others for the "car-switching" in place of normal pit stop procedure due to the fact that the cars use batteries;
  • 10 cities are set to held their e-Prix races. These cities include Beijing, Putrajaya (Malaysia), Miami, and London to name a few. These circuits range in 2.5-3km of length (1.6-1.9 miles), and each race's expected running time is 45 minutes;
  • Noise decibel levels are approximately 80 dB (SPL), almost three quarters of an old Formula 1 car with V10 engine at a 130 dB figure;
  • Each e-Prix starts with morning free practice session, followed by qualifying. Two-hour afternoon break is provided to allow cars to be recharged. The race then commences at evening with one pit stop of switching cars in the race (switching to fully-charged one) with a determined minimum pit stop delay time that ensures zero advantage for drivers with this pit stop procedure;
  • The pointscoring for each race follows FIA's point system; from first to tenth: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1; pole sitter gets 3 points and fastest lap setter in the race gets 2 points;
  • A gimmick called #Fanboost allows fans to vote for their favorite driver to be given a 5-second boost to the three #Fanboost winners (see above specification);
  • The "EJ", Formula E's own DJ, provides background musics as a form of mid-race entertainment;
  • Last but not least, the mobile app; the official mobile app of Formula E developed by 360Racing features an ability to get on board with your favorite driver in a freely-rotatable 360-degree camera among other features. It is available for free for both Android and Apple devices.


Meet the 20 drivers of ten teams! (Image: The Adventures of the Blue Embratel Cap on Tumblr)

Ten Teams field 2 drivers each (with some teams having reserve drivers). Line-up includes former Formula 1 stars Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Takuma Sato and Alain Prost's son Nico Prost. Michela Cerruti and Katherine Legge are two Formula E girls who participate, while prominent Le Mans racer Lucas Di Grassi and British F3 star Sam Bird join the fray. All teams are based at Donington Park's purpose-built central workshop. The teams are as follow:

Katherine Legge (UK) #77, Takuma Sato (JP) #55  - Res: Fabio Leimer (CH)

Franck Montagny (FR) #27, Charles Pic (FR) #28  - Res: Matthew Brabham (US)

Lucas di Grassi (BR) #11, Daniel Abt (DE) #66

Nelson Piquet (BR) #99, Ho-Pin Tung (CN) #88 - Res: Antonio Garcia (ES)

Jerome d'Ambrosio (BE) #7, Oriol Servià (ES) #6

e.dams RENAULT [FRA]
Nicolas Prost (FR) #8, Sébastien Buemi (CH) #9

Karun Chandok (IN) #5, Bruno Senna (BR) #21

Jarno Trulli (IT) #10, Michela Cerruti (IT) #18

Nick Heidfeld (DE) #23, Stéphane Sarrazin (FR) #30

Jaime Alguersuari (ES) #3, Sam Bird (UK) #2


How the track of Beijing e-Prix looks like. Notice how "asymmetrical" the pit road is, yet it is built like that for a reason. (Images: Various sources)

The first race began in the vicinity of Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium, a track consisting of 90-degree turns and artificial chicanes, with the last corner becoming somehow a hot place to overtake. The Qualifying session in Formula E isn't your usual qualifying session; The qualifying is divided into four groups of five drivers each, giving them the opportunity to set a fast lap without being held up. The session saw Nicolas Prost as the fastest driver, clocking in 1:42.200, with Lucas di Grassi tailing 0.106 seconds behind. The second place was initially Montagny's but due to entering fast lane before green light, he was dropped three places as the penalty. Buemi, Trulli, Cerruti, Sarrazin and Tung handed 10-place penalty for gearbox change, with three last names plus Bruno Senna didn't clocked a time due to accident. The starting grid sees everyone but Ho-Pin Tung on track due to gearbox change.

This GIF shows how packed the first lap was coming down to the second turn. Montagny almost crashed Pic and Sato crashed Senna.

As the race time arrived, Chandhok, Sarrazin and Trulli had woes in their cars at the formation lap. Thankfully, the pace were slow enough to have them regain their starting position for the formation lap. As the race started, the action started as the cars that sound like a hybrid of a jet aircraft and a Mini 4WD car went past the starting line. The turn one action is anything but dramatic until it got to the second turn where Montagny almost kill-switched Pic to the wall.  It doesn't stop there: Takuma Sato suffered a coming together that costed Bruno Senna his race. Jarno Trulli's woes came to climax as he cannot drive the car past the starting line. Thus, his race ended and officials dragged his car off-course. The BMW I8 Safety Car was deployed to remove the stricken Senna off the track.

There were nothing interesting to watch other than the overtakes in the final corner where it saw several passes like Piquet to Servià for 10th and Montagny to Chandhok for 5th. Buemi's rear fallen apart and forced a lengthy pit stop early in the race. Talk about pit stop, it began halfway through the race where most drivers like Jaime Alguersuari and Stephane Sarrazin chose to pit a lap early, with others follow suit, eventually Sam Bird being the last to do his pit stop, exactly at lap 14, which benefitted him as he gained 6th from Chandhok. The car switching procedure at the pits reminds us of ToQGer's Norikae Change.

Buemi then returned to the pits again only to retire from the race completely after his attempts at setting the race's fastest lap, which later in the race was topped by Takuma Sato just when he thought he did it. The Japanese managed to score his two points for the fastest lap and ensured that he didn't leave China empty handed. Near the closing stage, Prost maintained his lead, but Heidfeld drove his strong pace in order to catch the flying Swiss on the run to his victory. As the two crossed the start/finish line for the final lap, the duel between the two commenced.

The Explosive Ending; Heidfeld's attempt to pass Prost turned into a crash where the former went airborne after hitting the sausage kerbs. Both cars were rendered undrivable, giving Lucas di Grassi his Beijing win. (Image: Impact240sx @ Reddit /

The closing stage of the race saw a spectacular bang with Nick Heidfeld, who were to overtake Nico Prost in front of him in the last section which leads to the final chicane, tangled with him and eventually sent Heidfeld's car airborne, yet rendering both Heidfeld's and Prost's car no longer driveable, allowing Lucas di Grassi to take the victory in the first ever Formula E race, with Franck Montagny took second and Daniel Abt in third. However, post-race, Daniel Abt was disqualified for using "too much power" and thus he was denied his 3rd place and instead the final podium went to Sam Bird. The post-race result saw Prost handed a 10-place penalty in the next race for causing an avoidable collision and Alguersuari, Legge and Abt handed 57-second penalty for exceeding the 28kWh battery consumption, thus explains why Abt was denied of his podium.

  1. Lucas di Grassi – Audi Sport ABT – 25 Laps
  2. Franck Montagny – Andretti Autosport +2.867
  3. Sam Bird – Virgin Racing +6.559s
  4. Charles Pic – Andretti Autosport +19.301
  5. Karun Chandhok – Mahindra Racing +23.952
  6. Jerome d'Ambrosio – Dragon Racing +31.664
  7. Oriol Servià – Dragon Racing +41.968
  8. Nelson Piquet Jr – China Racing +43.896
  9. Stéphane Sarrazin – Venturi +43.975
  10. Daniel Abt (pen) – Audi Sport ABT +1:02.507
  11. Jaime Alguersuari (pen) – Virgin Racing +1:03.613
  12. Nicholas Prost (pen) – e.dams Renault +1 lap
  13. Nick Heidfeld – Venturi +1 lap
  14. Katherine Legge (pen) – Amlin Aguri +1 lap
  15. Michela Cerruti – TrulliGP +1 lap
  16. Ho-Pin Tung – China Racing +1 lap
Not Classified:
  • Takuma Sato – Amlin Aguri – 21 Laps
  • Sébastien Buemi – e.dams-Renault – 12 Laps
  • Bruno Senna – Mahindra Racing – 0 Laps
  • Jarno Trulli – TrulliGp – 0 Laps


While the car isn't faster than any other top-tier open wheel cars, it did provide close-fought racing and close-to-wall action, like the point where Charles Pic was almost hitting the wall after Franck Montagny overtook him which led to Sato's coming together that diminished Senna's run and Heidfeld's airborne crash after trying to overtake Prost. However, judging from the sound and how drivers "follow" the line, everyone looked it as if it were a human-sized Scalextric race, while I myself partially agreed with the Scalextric comment, unless that I vision them more of a Mini 4WD than a Scalextric. Finally, the three penalized drivers who exceeded the battery consumption limit felt like they were scared of Elle Bishop trying to cut off their batteries.

Unfortunately, I think that the #Fanboost feature isn't rightly executed maybe because it sounds more like a popularity contest than a standard win-the-boost contest. My solution would be everyone is given a 5-second boost for both cars (driven and idle-in-pits) in similar manner as Super Formula, plus the only flaw is in the EJ where he should play Darude's Sandstorm (LOOOL, just kidding though). All in all, the first race proved itself to be a good spectacular show worth watching, and Formula E is optimistic that they can live up to its own name and everyone's expectation. Even though electric car racing can be more of something that you can christen as your Saturday afternoon motorsport guilty pleasure at most, it is still more entertaining and better than watching a random show involving a mainstream Hollywood family, and it makes an interesting motorsport series worth a peek or two. The next round will be held in Malaysian city of Putrajaya on 11th October, so I am expecting more from this series! :D

And for the cherry topping of this post, here's a little obligatory open wheel throwback humor for you:

"Like Father, Like Son" Seems legit... (Image: Loose Wheel Nut / F1 Championship on Tumblr)


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