Following two years of announcements, design, development, five test days and two event simulations, the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship season will commence this Saturday, September 13, on the streets of Beijing.
Much of the series is uncharted territory for international motorsport. The vehicle technology, race formats and even fan interaction concepts are different to what has been seen previously. There are, however, some familiar elements to the championship, including drivers and teams from around the world.
This is a preview of what you may expect to see when the championship kicks off this weekend.
The 2014-15 championship comprises 10 races, each known as an ‘E-Prix’, all held on street circuits in cities across the globe. Series organisers have stated from the outset that Formula E will be a street circuit only championship, in an aim to bring the competition to a new audience in the heart of some of the world’s largest urban centers.
Unlike other race series which spread each race meeting over two, three or sometimes four days, each E-Prix will be occur in a single day. Practice sessions will be held in the morning, qualifying (comprising four groups if five cars) will be completed in the middle of the day, and the event will conclude with a single race of approximately a one hour duration.
Each race will feature a compulsory pit stop for each driver, with a format unique to Formula E. To ensure there is enough energy available to complete the race, each driver is required to stop in pit lane, get out of the car in which they started the race, strap into a second, fully charged car and exit the pits to continue racing.
In a bid to increase fan interaction in the series and overtaking, Formula E has intriduced a unique concept called FanBoost. Members of the public are able to vote for the driver they wish to receive the FanBoost on the Formula E web page and Twitter, the results of which will give the three drivers with the most votes an additional boost of 90 horsepower. The recipients of the FanBoost will be announced just before the start of each race.
|2014 FORMULA E BEIJING E-PRIX
|Date:||13 September 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 08:15-09:00|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 10:30-11:00|
|Qualifying Group 1||Sat 12:00-12:10|
|Qualifying Group 2||Sat 12:15-12:25|
|Qualifying Group 3||Sat 12:30-12:40|
|Qualifying Group 4||Sat 12:45-12:55|
|FanBoost Winner||Sat 15:40|
|Race (1 hour)||Sat 16:00-17:00|
* Session times are quoted in China Standard Time (UTC +08:00 hrs)
The Beijing E-Prix circuit has been constructed aroubd the Beijing Olympic Park, featuring some of the iconic venuew from the 2008 Summer Olympics such as the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube.
The Cars & Technology
As an all-electric formula, the heart of the FIA Formula E Championship is the car. Whilst for the inaugural season all competitors will be using the same Spark-Renault SRT_01E car, the long-term intention is for the series to become an open championship which allows teams and suppliers to become constructors, developing their own cars and advancing electric vehicle technology.
All 40 SRT_01E cars that will compete in Beijing (two cars per driver) have been constructed by Spark Racing Technology, supplied by a wide range of leading motorsport companies. The carbon fibre monocoque chassis & aerodynamics have been designed & produced by Dallara, and had been required by the FIA to meet the same impact test requirements as Formula 1 and GP2.
Electrical energy storage is provided in the form of batteries developed by Williams Advanced Engineering. Having been given strict design limits: a maximum cell weight of 200kg, 1000V maximum bus voltage and size and location constraints within the chassis, the Formula E lithium-ion batteries produce 200kW peak power with a up to 28kWh useable energy in each unit. Additionally, the batteries are designed to meet both FIA crash test and United Nations battery safe transportation standards. Heat can be a major risk to electrical systems, and to combat its impact with the packaging in the car, the SRT_01E battery units are water cooled.
The electric powertrain has been developed and supplied by McLaren Electronics Systems, and is mated to a Hewland five-speed sequential paddle shift gearbox. Gearbox ratios are fixed throughout the season for cost containment purposes and to keep the field competitive. As electric motors produce maximum torque at zero revolutions per minute (rpm) engine speed, electronic control systems are vital to ensure the car can maintain traction when launching, with McLaren Electronics also developing these controls.
One of the most obvious features of the Formula E car is the 18-inch wheels with low-profile treaded tyres supplied by Michelin. These are an all-weather tyre and will be used by the series in all conditions – wet or dry – at every circuit during the season. The tyres have also been developed to cope with the torque delivery demands of an electric powertrain, which can be vastly different to those of a traditional internal combustion engine.
The ‘green technology’ aspect of Formula E has been a major feature promoted by the series, and organisers have aimed to carry the ‘carbon neutrality’ of the series as far as possible beyond the race cars themselves. The series’ Safety Car is also an electric vehicle (EV), and in another show of advancing EV technology, will utilise a wireless charging system developed by Qualcomm Halo when on stand-by in pit lane. The car parks over a charging pad, and wirelessly receives energy. If the safety car is activated, it simply drives off the pad and on to the circuit (no time is lost having to ‘disconnect’ the car), before returning to the pad at the end of the full-course caution period to resume charging. Long term, this wireless charging technology could be embedded into the racing surface of circuits, allowing the Formula E cars to charge whilst running – eliminating the need for the ‘car change’ pit stops.
The Teams & Drivers
Ten teams of two drivers will contest the championship, with the driving talent being pooled from many series across the globe. At the time of writing, the field boasts as total of 12 drivers with Formula One race experience, with all drivers having a wealth of experience. Although every Formula E car is prepared from the same facility at Donington Park in the United Kingdom, the teams also come from a variety of nations & racing backgrounds.
Drivers: Katherine Legge, António Félix da Costa / Takuma Sato
If the name Aguri is familiar, it should be – the team is headed by former Grand Prix driver Aguri Suzuki who is also known from his time running the Super Aguri F1 Team (in fact the Formula E team was also originally to be called Super Aguri, before Amlin Insurance joined as a major sponsor).
Former Champ Car/IndyCar and DTM driver Legge was announced as the the first female driver in the Formula E field, and has sucessfully completed all five tests for the team. Red Bull-backed António Félix da Costa will drive the majority of the season in the team’s second car but will miss Beijing due to conflicting DTM commitments.
His place will be filled in the opening round by current IndyCar driver Takuma Sato – who not only drove in the final pre-season test for Aguri, but who also drove for the team in its Formula 1 guise.
Andretti Formula E
Drivers: Franck Montagny, Charles Pic
Another famous international team name, Andretti Autosport have expanded their race program beyond IndyCar categories in recent years to include Global Rallycross, and now Formula E.
Franck Montagny, who has most recently been seen competing in IndyCar road course events for Andretti, is the team’s first FE driver and for the most part has been competitive during testing. The team was very late confirming who would drive the second entry, but the nod finally went to Lotus reserve driver Charles Pic. The second car was also tested by several drivers, including Andretti’s GRC driver Scott Speed and Indy Lights driver Matthew Brabham.
Audi Sport Abt
Drivers: Daniel Abt, Lucas di Grassi
Best known for their touring car and sports car succeses, including five DTM titles, Formula E presents a return to open wheel racing for Abt. At 21 years old, Daniel Abt is one of the youngest drivers in the series, however he already has a wealth of open-wheel experience in Formula 3, GP3 and GP2.
Beyond his experience in Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship, di Grassi has been involved in Formula E from the formative stages of the championship, acting as a series development driver for the Spark-Renault SRT_01E car. This extra seat time in such a unique car may be of benefit to di Grassi gaining a jump on his championship rivals. He is also the only driver to have finished ahead of Sébastien Buemi during the pre-season, by topping the time sheets on the second day to testing.
Drivers: Nelson Piquet Jr, Ho-Pin Tung
As the ‘home team’ for the Beijing E-Prix, there will be a lot of focus placed on China Racing during the opening round of the season. The team has assembled a strong driving line up, with Neson Piquet Jr returning to open wheel racing after stints in NASCAR and Rallycross.
While he has spent his most recent years in sports cars, Ho-Pin Tung has shown he can be competitive in single seat race cars, having previously represented his country as a driver for Team China in A1GP. The excitement of a new series debuting in a major event on the streets in the capital of his home country may give Tung a boost to surprise in Beijing. China Racing has also signed factory Corvette GT driver Antonio García as reserve driver for the season.
Drivers: Oriol Servià, Jérôme d’Ambrosio
Another team with a history in other IndyCar, Dragon Racing is owned by Jay Penske (son of Roger), and has previously run drivers such as Will Power, Katherine Legge and Sébastien Bourdais in the United States.
Moving in to Formula E, the team originally signed Mike Conway, who resigned from the team just over a week before the start of the season due to increased commitments as a factory driver for Toyota in the WEC.
In his place, Dragon have kept their IndyCar links alive by signing Spaniard Oriol Servià. Often seen in the USA as a ‘super-sub’ capable of highly competitive results despite one-off or limited-schedule appearances, Servià has already tested a Dragon Formula E car so may be on the pace quite early in the season.
Jérôme d’Ambrosio provides yet another ex-F1 face in the field. The Belgian actually completed the early test days with China Racing (finishing in the top three at tests 3 and 4), before moving to Dragon for the final pre-season day. Whilst he only ended Test 5 in eighth position, d’Ambrosio has already shown that he is likely to feature near the front of the field more often that not.
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Nicolas Prost
Based on the results of pre-season testing, edams.RENAULT have to be viewed as strong early season favourites. Buemi topped four of the five test days, and was not far behind in the other. Prost, who has recently carved a strong prototype sports car career with Rebellion Racing in the World Endurance Championship, has also shown great speed in testing, setting the second fastest time behind Buemi to give edams a 1-2 result in the final pre-season test.
edams.RENAULT is the Formula E arm of the DAMS organisation launched by Jean-Paul Driot & Rene Arnoux. The team have a history of success, having won two Drivers’ and one Teams’ Championship title in the GP2 Series.
Drivers: Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok
Owned by the Indian automobile manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra, the Formula E team is being operated by the ever-competitive Carlin Motorsport.
In Senna and Chandhok the team has two experienced ex-F1 drivers who have also been performing competitively in sports cars recently. The talent and technical support is there for Mahindra Racing to race at the front of the field.
Trulli Formula E
Drivers: Jarno Trulli, Michela Cerruti
What happens when you are a veteran F1 driver without a full time drive but still want to race in an international single-seater series? Well if you’re Jarno Trulli, you buy the team licence originally awarded to Drayson Racing, relaunch it as Trulli Formula E.
Trulli has made a smart move and employed the services of the established Super Nova organisation (of Formula 3000 and GP2 fame) to operate the team and allow him to focus on driving.
The team’s second driver is the field’s second female racer, Michela Cerruti. Possibly the least well-known driver in the field, Cerruti has previously competed in Europe’s Superstars Touring Car series (including taking a race win at Monza, the first for a woman in the series), and has most recently gained open-wheel experience in the AutoGP series (utilising the former A1GP series cars).
Drivers: Stéphane Sarrazin, Nick Heidfeld
Launched by sportscar manufacturer Venturi along we several other investors (including actor Leonardo di Caprio), the Venturi Formula E team are another utilising two drivers with F1 experience.
Nick Heidfeld will be aiming to his ensure record for most podiums without a win in F1 does not translate to Formula E. Sarrazin has repeatedly shown throughout his career that he can be competitive in a wide range of machinery from single-seaters to sports cars and event world rally cars. This versatility will put him in good stead for the Formula E Championship.
Venturi have also suggested they plan to begin constructing their own Formula E car from the second season of the championship.
Drivers: Sam Bird, Jaime Alguersuari
Having previously forayed into Formula One on a couple of occasions, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group have invested strongly in Formula E.
A driving roster of former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari and 2013 GP2 Series runner-up Sam Bird are likely to bring strong results, with Bird in particular frequently ending the pre-season test days in the top five positions.
Images via FIA Formula E Championship Media