8 Jul 2014

Why Formula E Won't Succeed

When Formula E was first announced we all took notice.  Electric cars are on our roads (albeit they're still quite expensive) so why not have an electric racing series?  Seems sensible, but it'll wither within a few years.

What makes a race series popular? Great racing, great looking cars, great tracks, great drivers, great atmosphere and technical innovation are all the major ingredients.  Add in a dash of showmanship, a few arguments and controversy and you have the makings of an exciting and populist race series.

Sadly that won't happen with Formula E.

One problem is with the cars themselves.  Electric drivetrains have been around for as long as the internal combustion engine but whereas petrol or diesel powered race cars can run for 300 miles on a tank of fuel, and then refuel in seconds, an electric car can last for maybe 50 miles on one charge.

Electric cars just don't make sense on the road at the moment because of their limited range, and electric racing cars are hindered by the same deficiency.

Hybrid is the way to go at the moment.  Both F1 and Le Mans have adopted hybrid drivetrains with huge success.  Le Mans' LMP1 class in particular allows for a variety of solutions which drives R&D and efficiency.  Porsche, Audi and Toyota ran at similar speeds in this year's race and the result could have gone to any of them if reliability or the weather hadn't been factors.

Formula E cars have 180bhp in race trim and drive for just half an hour before requiring a pitstop, when the driver hops out of one car and into another with a fully charged battery.

That's pretty ridiculous and not at all spectacular.

As well as the shortcomings of the electric drivetrain Formula E cars don't look particularly thrilling (more like the old F3000 cars with mudguards) and the field consists of F1 has beens.  Jarno Trulli, one of the star names, got steadily worse as a driver in F1 and was then booted out. Bruno Senna has a fraction of his uncle's talent.  The rest of the field are no better.

The series should have started life with more humble ambitions.  Instead of making a big fuss about racing in city centres (although the London race in Battersea Park has yet to be confirmed) and with its own 'show' it should have been slotted in to the WEC or WTCC calendar as an official FIA support series and then grown to an F1 support slot before finally branching out on its own.

As it is a few people will tune into the first race and then they'll stop watching because all of the above ingredients that make a popular racing series are missing.

The TT Zero race at the Isle of Man TT races was the perfect way for that series to start.  They get on same track, have the same TV coverage and the same riders as who compete in the headline TT races. Never mind that they're silent and can only do one lap of the course.  Electric bike racing will flourish due to the initial decision to yield to the more popular TT races.

Formula E won't.  It'll flop.

I hope I'm proved wrong (but I won't be).

By Matt Hubbard