Formula E: It's groundbreaking, not a gimmick

Formula E is the future of racing and even the Fanboost, which seems like a bit of a gimmick on the outside, is actually brilliant when you really stop to think about it.

Formula E, the FIA’s new all electric open wheel series, will hold its inaugural event this weekend in Beijing. While looking to learn a little more about the teams and drivers in preparation for the season opener, I stumbled across the fact that the series will institute a fan vote to provide three drivers a speed advantage at one point during each race. Dubbed Fanboost, the drivers who win the voting before each race will be given a 30 kw (40 hp) advantage that can be used for five seconds. It’s essentially a Push to Pass via popularity contest.

Fanboost debate

On the surface, Fanboost seems like a gimmick to bring some more overtaking to the races, and to some extent it is. The single five second, 40 horsepower boost the vote-winning drivers will get, however, pales in comparison to to the Indycar series, whose drivers get to use Push to Pass 10 times for a total of up to 200 seconds per race.

Every driver has to give their supporters as much support as possible, so I think it’s a friendly, fresh initiative, which I don’t think will damage the final result

Jean Todt on Fanboost

 

Though all drivers in Indycar receive an equal number, there is more often than not a disparity toward the end of a race. If a Formula E driver holds on to their Fanboost for the final lap, it could be a slight advantage down the straightaways, but they will first have to get the torque heavy power down better than their rival coming out of the corner.

It will encourage the drivers to interact with fans on social media more

Therefore, the move could be seen more as an attempt at increasing fan time rather than decreasing lap time, as drivers will be encouraged to interact with their fans on social media as well as at the track to get out the vote, part of the Formula E initiative to counter the restrictive atmosphere of the Formula One paddock. In an interview for Formula E, FIA President Jean Todt sums up this rationale, noting that “For each team, each driver has to give his supporters as much support as possible, so I think it’s a friendly, fresh initiative, which I don’t think will damage the final result.”

Personally, I feel that Todt and the FIA have got this one right (among the many things they have gotten wrong in the past few years), as giving crowds an up close look at the drivers and the technology of the new series can only serve to energize and pique the interests of fans.

Much more interesting, I believe, will be how teams seek to utilize and harness the emerging technologies being showcased in Formula E. Drivers will use their 32 kilowatt hour battery power (roughly enough to run an American household for 1-2 days) strategically throughout the race and between their two cars.  Yes, that’s right, two cars.

A showcase series for both driver and machine

One mandatory pit stop will see each driver swap out their depleted car to one  with a fresh battery. Managing the power and battery usage of both cars will be key to victory. Drivers will also have to have a firm handle on the wheel, as their cars will be over 300 pounds heavier than an F1 car, will have no power steering, and high amounts of torque. It’s easy to see that Formula E will be a showcase series for both drivers and machinery.

In this vein, Formula E will be a great venue not only to innovate for other racing series, but for the road going cars of the future as well. The FIA and its promoters have spent countless amounts of time and money to bring the public a new global racing series, and the developments it ushers in will be seen on the electric cars of the near future, making them lighter, allowing them to travel longer, and making them more feasible for the average consumer.

Let the racing begin.

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About this article
Series Formula E
Drivers Jean Todt
Article type Commentary