Formula E is now well into its third season, and now seems a perfect time to reflect on its success. Before its very first race, there was scepticism surrounding the almost soundless, relatively slow, ‘experiment’ that required two cars per driver because one engine couldn’t manage a whole race distance. The series was seen as being almost excessively fan friendly, with concepts such as Fan Boost, the Formula E ‘EJ’ and the rejection of conventional racetracks making it more of an event than a race. But over time, it has proved itself to be not only entertaining, but a legitimate sport, pushing the boundaries of technology and creating some great racing.
Last time out in Buenos Aires, the viewing figures in the UK were the second highest ever, with 426,000 people tuning in to see Sebastian Buemi making it three wins out of three for the season. The highest ever figures were recorded for the London E-Prix double header in 2015 when Nelson Piquet Jr took the inaugural Formula E title. The series is benefitting from being broadcast live in a primetime slot and perhaps more importantly being free to air, all of which are affecting the declining following of other high profile motorsport.
And the Formula E format is clearly appealing to the public. There’s no travelling to tracks in the middle of nowhere, the quietness of the cars means that the racing is more family friendly, and a whole race weekend experience is packed into one day. Over 60,000 fans came out to watch in Battersea Park in 2015 and as the series becomes further ingrained into the motorsport scene and its fan base grows its popularity is set to increase.
However there are still hurdles to overcome. Drivers are still having to stop to change cars mid-race, which seems to undermine the message that green energy is convenient and hassle-free. The promoters are hoping that an engine capable of going the whole race distance will have been developed by the 2019/20 season, but for a series whose whole purpose of existence is to promote electric cars this does seem to tempt ridicule. All the cars also currently use a standard chassis, which is putting some manufacturers off making an entry.
The changes to the calendar are also an issue. Many of the races that fans have got used to, such as the season ending London double header, are gone for this year, with double headers in New York and Montreal making their debuts. While doubtlessly those events will be spectacular, the constant change in location and timings will stop fans settling into the rhythm of knowing what race will be where and when.
As for this season, Buemi and his Renault e.dams team have won all three of the races so far and seem to have the edge over their competitors. He’s yet to take pole this season though, with Lucas di Grassi, Felix Rosenquist and Nelson Piquet Jr starting the races from the front of the grid.
New teams Jaguar and Techeetah have had mixed fortunes at the beginning of their first campaigns. Although Jaguar has ample resources to succeed, they are also being held back by their lack of experience at racing in Formula E. However their performance in Buenos Aires suggests that they are improving. Techeetah have achieved much more in their first three races. Vergne has qualified fastest twice, with team errors the only thing stopping him from taking super pole. His second place last time out shows the team’s pace and that good things can be expected of them throughout the year.