Analysis: Formula E’s Brave New World

After a successful first season, Formula E is now facing the challenge of avoiding a Sophomore Slump. Sam Smith weighs up where things are at after the Season 2 opener in Beijing.

Analysis: Formula E’s Brave New World
Nicolas Prost, Renault e.Dams
Sébastien Buemi, Renault e.Dams
Second place Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Podium: winner Sébastien Buemi, Renault e.Dams, second place Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, third place Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Race winner Sébastien Buemi, Renault e.Dams
Robin Frijns, Amlin Andretti
Race action
Race action
Second place Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Race action
Sébastien Buemi, Renault e.Dams
Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Race action
Race action
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing and Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Race action

In Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel Brave New World, spending time alone is considered abnormal and leisure time is exclusively taken in harmonious and technologically advanced communal activity with an emphasis on continuous development.

Last weekend’s new dawn in Formula E’s own Brave New World was bright and paralleled Huxley’s future vision, yet it isn’t accurately possible to gauge and study just yet.

Was it a fresh and vibrant technological age for the all-electric series? Or a blind alley which would deliver domination by one entrant that had simply spent the most, and as a result confirmed the adage of ‘the second difficult album’?

“I think tomorrow we are going to make history in motorsport because it is going to be the first time ever that there is going to be a race between different technologies in different cars,” said Formula E chief Alejandro Agag last Friday.

“This is going to be the first time we will see seven different powertrains competing against each other. It’s going to be fascinating.”

Of course, it was fascinating. And ultimately it delivered on expectations despite Renault’s domination.
Whatever epiphany that Formula E experienced last weekend in China, there was one simple word which accurately précised it. Evolution.

The opening up of new ‘manufacturer’ powertrain technology was a vital step for the nascent series, which ended Season 1 blessed with a solid foundation.

Ever since this genesis phase ceased, its inception back in the early part of the current decade, had seen frequent discussions on how a series can comfortably exist between a tricky corridor of relevant future-technical solutions and an entertaining spectacle.

Time will tell if the FIA Formula E Championship has got it right, but as a first taste, Beijing showed there was much to savour.

 

The frustrations of secrecy

Yet still, some frustrations exist. Why is it that this, one of the most technologically progressive and diverse championships in current international motorsport, keeps the new powertrain details a coveted secret?

Trying to get key technical details from the vast majority of the new manufacturer teams was like trying to safely negotiate one of the deadly intersections in downtown Beijing during rush-hour. Enquiries got short shrift and prying eyes were stared out.

If the media is feeling this sequestered, in even the most basic understandings of how the teams are channelling their engineering skills, then fans and viewers must be feeling similar frustrations.

The depth and richness of the different adaptations of top-end electric engineering is obviously great, yet all we know so far are how many motors and gears the teams are running.

Nobody is asking for CAD data, IP details or anything that would compromise the teams’ hard earned work. But just some explanation of the systems and how they work, and why they were chosen, is required.

So, whose responsibility should it be to amplify these messages and quench the thirst for more knowledge of what the designers have achieved? It has to be a shared responsibility between the team and the promoters. It is, after all, mutually beneficial for their collective growth.

After all, the new generation of sports fanatics will not be the stereotypical ‘bobble-hat’ fan, but more data-thirsty, social media savvy analysts, who simultaneously want to see a great race and get immersed in ‘their sport’.

Credit where it is due

While there is a need for this to be addressed, at the same time the teams, the promoters and the FIA deserve a massive amount of credit and respect for getting in to a state-of-readiness for the first big leap on Formula E’s technology road map.

The R&D that has taken place over the last 12 months should not be underestimated. Yes, some of the teams have brought in some familiar faces from the F1 paddock, and yes three of the teams are operating on very healthy budgets with access to F1 standard expertise and capabilities, but still, the level and pace of development has been impressive and should be applauded.

Notable too is the ramping-up of the championship’s media credentials. The eve of season two was punctuated by several announcements that involved ‘new media’ staples like Dailymotion, Facebook and Grabyo to name but three.

If Formula E is to engage on a global scale, these are the avenues it has to exploit different markets and demographics. In the age of instant content, feedback and analysis, it is a little paradoxical to state this strategy needs time, but it genuinely does.

Can you think of any other major sporting series that has broken through to the true global sporting mainstream in less than a decade? It took Formula 1 three to four decades to become anything other than a niche and ramshackle championship.

On the whole, Formula E is starting to mature in to something that even the hardest cynics and doubters will soon start to appreciate. The overarching task now will be to ensure that any vested interests are diluted and checked.

This is where the two-pronged Technical Working Group and Manufacturers Advisory Board need to be strong and keep any growth spurts to a manageable level.

Just about everything in Formula E is devoid of baggage, and no skeletons will emerge from dusty cupboards in the short-term. The blank canvas that has so successfully been laid out by Alejandro Agag, the FIA and all the participants is now prepared and awaiting a beautiful abstract modern masterpiece.

As Lucas Di Grassi so gracefully put it to Motorsport.com recently: “Commercially driven technology makes it interesting for the manufacturers, it makes it interesting for the hardcore fans and for future enthusiasts.

“It is vital that we all push this dream in the right direction and at the right pace.”

shares
comments
Trulli Formula E team in danger of missing Malaysia

Previous article

Trulli Formula E team in danger of missing Malaysia

Next article

Villeneuve says no ill feeling over Da Costa crash

Villeneuve says no ill feeling over Da Costa crash
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula E
Author Sam Smith
Why Formula E's Valencia fiasco undermines engineering talent Prime

Why Formula E's Valencia fiasco undermines engineering talent

FIA president Jean Todt wanted more Formula E coverage in the media, and got his wish when the opening Valencia E-Prix proved farcical. Despite attempts to spin the race as teams failing to get their sums right, Formula E and its governing body cannot escape blame - especially when trying to get teams to commit long-term.

Formula E
Apr 27, 2021
How Valencia E-Prix farce gave Formula E an image problem Prime

How Valencia E-Prix farce gave Formula E an image problem

Formula E was under the microscope at Valencia, on its first visit to a permanent circuit. But after a mere nine drivers were left classified following Saturday's Valencia E-Prix, the electric championship once more faced criticism after rising energy deductions and miscalculations produced a farcical affair.

Formula E
Apr 25, 2021
How Vergne and Vandoorne found redemption in Rome Prime

How Vergne and Vandoorne found redemption in Rome

Another Formula E double-header, another double dose of frantic action. While the form guide remains unpredictable following fightback wins for Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne in Rome, the speed and consistency of Mercedes – both on and off the track – could have its rivals worried for what is to follow

Formula E
Apr 12, 2021
What Nissan's commitment to Gen3 reveals about Formula E's future Prime

What Nissan's commitment to Gen3 reveals about Formula E's future

Formula E's Gen3 era grid continues to take shape, after Nissan opted to commit to the series for another four years. Nissan's global chief operating officer explains why it has thrown its lot in with FE while other high-profile marques have decided to call it quits.

Formula E
Mar 24, 2021
Why the new Formula E season got off to such a controversial start Prime

Why the new Formula E season got off to such a controversial start

With the new Formula E season belatedly getting underway in Saudi Arabia, the championship appeared to try to make up for lost time with an overspill of action and controversy on and off the track. While some talking points could have serious repercussions, it was an explosive opener for many reasons.

Formula E
Mar 1, 2021
The eight major plotlines to watch in Formula E 2021 Prime

The eight major plotlines to watch in Formula E 2021

The delayed 2020-21 Formula E season gets underway this week with a double-header in Saudi Arabia. The testing times were too close to call a favourite, but that's not the only area of interest to follow as the championship enters a crucial year

Formula E
Feb 25, 2021
Why Formula E's 2021 season will be a crucial litmus test Prime

Why Formula E's 2021 season will be a crucial litmus test

As off-track politics threatens to overshadow events on it, the upcoming Formula E season is perhaps its most important since the championship's inception. And that's a shame, given that the focus should be on what promises to be its closest title fight yet.

Formula E
Feb 24, 2021
How Mercedes and Porsche can avoid a difficult second FE album Prime

How Mercedes and Porsche can avoid a difficult second FE album

Mercedes and Porsche compete to win and have done so across the board: in Formula 1, sportscars, the Dakar Rally and endurance road races - even working together to break land speed records. Next in the crosshairs is the Formula E teams' championship crown.

Formula E
Feb 17, 2021