Formula E launches in Europe
Innovation
Formula E
Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Dec 2012   |  9:44 am GMT  |  58 comments

The FIA’s new Formula E electric vehicle racing series moved a step closer to reality yesterday with a launch in Rome, which will become the second world city – and the first in Europe – to host a round after Rio de Janeiero.

FIA president Jean Todt and Formula E’s CEO Alejandro Agag attended the event hosted by the Mayor of Rome. The inaugural series in 2014 will feature ten races, so there are eight more slots to be filled by host cities in the coming months. There will be ten teams entered, with 20 drivers and 40 cars between them.

The cars will accelerate from 0-100km/h in under three seconds and will have a top speed of 220km/h.


A prototype of the Formula E car was on display; the series will launch with cars supplied to Formula E, by Frederic Vasseur’s Spark Technology with power trains from McLaren. But the intention is to have teams designing and building their own cars and drive-trains so that the competition will drive development of the technology. Formula E will provide the platform for innovation in this emerging area of motorsports technology.

“Urban mobility and sustainability are a priority for our Championship,” said Agag. “And Formula E wants to become a showcase for these advances through an entertaining and all-inclusive spectacle.”

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58 Comments
  1. Dmitry says:

    Innovation and green technologies are great… BUT, as I already stated several times on this site – modern electric-vehicle technologies are NOWHERE near “green” or “ecological”.
    This is a so big delusion caused by either ignorance or selfish goals of earning a big chunk of developing market… And I am not sure what is worse.

    Let me be clear – I also want our cars and sport and all other technologies to become green and ecologically-neutral. I strongly believe that developing new technologies is great, developing new “cleaner”\greener technologies is even better, but taking non-green technology and brand it “green” and start mass-promotion of it nearly as a “cure from all pollution” is insane and actually all this hype borders on conspiracy theory.

    Today the level of development of energy-generating technologies is too low (too pricey, and so far from “green”) for such things as mass promotion and usage.

    1. TitanRacer says:

      you are SO incredibly right spot on. I cannot agree more…

      1. Matt says:

        Couldn’t agree more.

        When you follow the full life cycle from raw materials back to raw materials electric vehicles require hugely m ore energy to manufacture and this isn’t recovered over their lifetime.

        I understand this takes R&D and mass production but personally I think politics and marketing are hiding the fact the problem isn’t in the way the energy is stored, be that liquid, gas, electricity or mechanical, it’s in the source of the energy itself.

        An electric vehicle doesn’t need any more or less energy than a petrol or diesel vehicle although it does need huge amounts more to manufacture. The only argument for it is that energy transfer between power station, copper lines (loose a heap of energy here), battery and then kinetic is more efficient than oil to gas to kinetic.

        The biggest gain to be had short term isn’t trying to replace the fleet with ill conceived electric vehicles it’s pursuing energy recovery systems and making current technology more efficient while an alternative, clean energy source is developed.

        If batteries makes sense one we’ve got the energy source, fine go for it but so much time and resource is being wasted trying to swap the power storage technology for no upside.

        I know you love EC James and so I hate to write negative comments on the subject but facts are facts so far as I can see and I don’t think it’s right the FIA spreads warm fuzzies which are BS.

      2. David Clark says:

        I have to agree with you Matt, they are not the answer. Like James I am excited about Formula E, but I’m looking at it as hopeful good racing. The FIA seems to love Green PR, I’m not a fan of this. I’m all for green tech as long as it is “real”.

        PS James, I’m one of your 700,000 plus US fans, this is the best F1 site…anywhere.

        Thanks

      3. Dave P says:

        All things have to start somewhere though..

      4. I agree. Keeping on burning petrol isn’t the start of a solution. Electrical power can at least showcase a bit of creativity towards greener forms of motor sports.

      5. MC says:

        “All things have to start somewhere though..”

        Yes, and the electric car got its start about the same time as fossil fueled cars. The problem isn’t that they got a late start but their problems have proven to be heretofore insurmountable.

        +1 to the OP for injecting a little bit of reality in the discussion.

      6. 6 Wheeled Tyrrell says:

        agree 100%, things aren’t going to get better on their own and development driven iniciatives like this has the potential to come up with interesting solutions in a short amount of time.

        It may not solve all the problems but no real world solution will be born fully developed so hopefuly formula e can be a step in the right direction.

      7. GreenWashing says:

        +1

    2. Sebee says:

      I remind everyone of the air car. That is a real conspiracy – that it is not here. They used to have air locomotives pulling freight 100 years ago, we can’t have a car that will carry 4 people 100km on a tank or pressurized air? I believe we can.

    3. Tornillo Amarillo says:

      Agree.

      Question, are these cars equiped with a fake sound?

    4. Rich C says:

      Nobody cares, Dmitry.

      Just so long as its not spewing visible pollution in *their personal space, then the ignorant,unwashed masses will think it *must be ‘green.’

      Its the NIMBY syndrome again.

      Good luck changing *that!

    5. Nobu says:

      Completely agree with you.

      It will be interesting to see how many teams will actually participate. Pit crews are going to look like Dr. Brown from Back to the Future.

      The noise the car makes is one of the big appeals of F1, but this series is going to sound like a electric power plant. Not very appealing IMO.

      I don’t see this series lasting very long.

      1. James says:

        Could a lack of noise be an opportunity to create a “new” style/brand of racing? For instance, maybe introduce driver-to-driver communication while they race and have this communication available to spectators as well as incorporated into broadcast and live commentary. So drivers would now also be able to “race each other with their mouths” with the fans hearing all of it or as much of it as they choose. I think it could be a great way to combine driver skill with driver personality into the racing to a new level of entertainment.

        Just an (probably crazy) idea.

      2. Nobu says:

        That would definitely be entertaining. In-car commentary definitely brings the fans closer, in other forms of racing.

        At the end of the day, they can overcome the “sound deficit” by providing great, close, racing.

        They’re also going to need some excellent marketing and strategic media contracts in order to build their fan base/awareness.

    6. Phil says:

      How efficient is a petrol engine? How efficient is an electric motor? 20% and 90% respectively.

      85% of the emissions in a car are produced during use, 10% in manufacture, 5% in recycling.

      Even if it is Nimby’ism (and its not), air “pollution contributed to an equivalent of 4,267 premature deaths in London in 2008″.

      I’m a massive petrol head, but once you realise where EV’s work and are appropriate it becomes a total no brainer. It’s why the King Review says the same thing.

      1. J says:

        Don’t try to use logic or maths on this issue. Some people are just reflexively against anything they see as “green”. Could be a bicycle, could be a vegetarian restaurant, could be an electric car.

        I am in favor of more racing especially if it means more street circuits in major cities and possibly my own home town. Formula 1 will always be there so this is just icing on the cake.

      2. MC says:

        If it’s a “no brainer” as you say Phil, then we’re pretty stupid for not using the technology much in the last 150 years since the EV was invented.

        But that’s not the reality of it. The reality of it is that storing sufficient energy electrically has been and continues to be an insurmountable obstacle both from an engineering and commercial perspective.

      3. Phil says:

        That’s kind of like saying we should all have used mobile phones from 1973 when both are clearly developing technologies. The Renault Twizzy, Chevy Volt, Tesla Model S sales figures are showing the engineering and therefore commercial numbers are getting there.

        How close are EV’s (if ever?) to the Nokia 5110 moment…who knows, but the niche’s are slowly expanding into segments.

      4. MC says:

        That analogy is seriously flawed if you think about it. The mobile phone was invented in ’73 and in 30 short years businesses everywhere were using them. They’ve exploded in the consumer market to the point that almost everyone has one, even in developing countries. The mobile phone faced no major technical hurdles preventing it from ecoming a huge commercial success. Once infrastructure was in place, it took off and flew everywhere it was tried.

        The EV is nothing like that. OEMs have spent billions over the last 150 years trying to make a useful and commercially viable electric car. It butts its head up against the same problem each and every time: poor performance from heavy, expensive and caustic batteries. Read the wiki article on the history of EVs for a taste and know that OEMs have a lot of internal developed that’s not public ally documented.

        Batteries are no developing technology either. We’ve used them for over a century in millions of products and seen good gains. But we need 10x the gains of the last century to make a viable EV. And they have to be inexpensive to boot. Don’t count on it happening any time soon.

        It’s disturbing to me that people can constantly get away with calling EVs “new” or “developing” technology. It’s just not true, and the history of the EV and the batteries that power them don’t support the notion.

        BTW, before talking about the Volt’s commercial numbers, have a look into how many the US government has purchased. It’s a pet project of Washington, subsidized heavily and a loss leader for GM. The public is disinterested. If that’s what is considered “getting there” for EVs then plan on taking the bus or walking when oil supplies supposedly run out.

      5. Phil says:

        The OEM’s have put a few billion in the last few years, and the results are starting to show. In the 90′s, other than GM sort of trying with the EV1 and Citroen converting some Berlingo there wasn’t a lot of effort going on. I would start the 30 short years from about 5 years ago…just because we’ve had batteries for a century does not mean that they are not developing still.

        Infrastructure wise, I know very few people that either at home or at work, and fairly often both…have a plug.

        They’re selling a fair few without Washington’s help. Whilst not in favour of subsidies like that, having been to Detroit it had to be done.

        Who knows, neither of us can prove that we’re right today, but when the credit crisis ends the oil price is going to skyrocket, people will have more money to spend up front and (in my opinion) the technology will have moved further forward.

      6. MC says:

        “Who knows, neither of us can prove that we’re right today”

        My point is that EVs are not a new or a “developing” technology. This is not an opinion I have to prove, but a fact the history books clearly bear out.

        What remains to be proven is whether throwing more money at a long-know physics problem in a different venue will prove more successful than money thrown at the same problem in former venues which so far has shown little promise yet lots of financial loss and a slew of bankrupt companies in its wake.

      7. Phil says:

        Ok a few facts on the development then.

        The money that has been thrown at it in the last few years has meant that the batteries for the Mitsubishi iMiev are now 25% of the price that they were in 2009, as stated by the CEO of the battery manufacturer.

        Tesla are predicting sub $200/KWH battery prices in the near future, as our McKinsey who also say $200 or even $160/KWH. Current price is unknown, but is believed to be in the region of $350-500 and it was only a few years ago that it was $1000/KWH.

    7. KGBVD says:

      R&D needs an outlet; politics and initiatives like F-E provide the vehicle needed for industry to test and develop.

      Gas engines only became popular owing to subsidies to the first automotive corporations from pro-oil governments and oil producers. Via the same political manoeuvrings, subsidies and consumer carrots like tax breaks will result in more efficient and cleaner automobiles and ultimately less environmental impact. They are completely necessary as there is currently no industry to support development.

      That they cannot provide the intended results at the start of the project does NOT mean that enviromentally-minded initiatives are failures.

      Yes batteries are currently inefficient. But 15 years ago your cell phone (which only made phone calls) only lasted 4 hours. Now smart phones can last days.

      Nothing ever stays still. Judgement needs to be withheld to avoid entrenching ourselves in the wrong tech (e.g. carbon). 20 years from now, I’d bet that most of our cars won’t run on gas (and who would want them to at $10/L?)

    8. FuelGreener says:

      I think you’re missing the bigger picture here. Regardless of the energy wastage inherent in the life cycle of this technology, the fact is that electric vehicles, once produced, are pollution free (or as near as makes no difference). Hence, a future where thousands of EVs are sat in congestion will create a radically different, and radically improved, environmental scenario than the same volume of vehicles spewing out exhaust fumes.

      The second point to note is that, although when factoring in travel etc for this racing series the sport will still create a sizable carbon footprint (although in the context of annual business or leisure travel worldwide it will be a tiny fraction) the true purpose of Formula E will be, I feel, as a mobile, entertaining testbed. They say that racing improves the breed – should this not also be true of electric racing? Who knows what developments or fresh technologies might be spawned by a collection of talented, disruptive, radical engineers striving to win in this series?

      For that reason, if no other, FE deserves a major push…

      1. Max Smoot says:

        I have to agree with FuelGreener here — imagine if some clever engineer figured out a better storage system, the current bane of road-going electric cars. The technology transfer from racing would be a massive step ahead (something like that might even encourage the likes of Ferrari to get involved). To expect that the rewards will be immediate is the result of a poor understanding of history. And to suggest stifling such innovation because it doesn’t have ‘the sound’ is immature in the extreme.

  2. Chris says:

    I’m not sure how ‘environmental’ this series can be for the following reasons: firstly it bases itself around long-haul flights for a ten race series. Secondly by producing and maintaining 2 cars for each driver and essentially disposing of the first car when the battery is depleted sends a contradictory message to the Eco-racing basis of the series.

    My other concern is that street races are more expensive/difficult to host than a circuit-based calendar, as seen by the time/disruption to the streets of Monaco/Singapore.

    Will be watching with interest – would be interested on a future feature on how ground-breaking the technology really is, say in comparison to the Nissan X-wing that raced at Le Mans under an Eco-racing banner.

    Chris!

    1. Rich C says:

      I’m sure they can change the batteries and use it again!

      Street races are the best venue for this series since big cities are where the pollution is, and this is all PR ‘stuff.’

      And that ‘Nissan XWing’ was really the *losing candidate for the new Indycar model, designed and built by Deltawing, with a little 4-banger dropped in.

    2. Tlux says:

      By that logic Chris, we should all just sit at home and do nothing because everything we do impacts on the environment.

      The purpose of this series is not in itself to stop pollution, but rather to use race engineering to rapidly improve electric cars

    3. Nobu says:

      Let’s face it, “Green” is just the latest fad, much like “organic” was, that helps sell stuff.

      I’m not saying that these fads don’t do any good at all, however. When a profitable fad hits, it gains awareness along with corporate/entrepreneurial interest, driving innovation and adoption.

  3. Miles says:

    I take it these are electric?

  4. Kay says:

    Any videos of it in testing action? Would love to hear how it sounds like!

    1. vicnsi says:

      Probably will sound something like this:
      http://goo.gl/DhLlo

  5. Tom says:

    Will they be transporting the vehicles from rio to Rome by tallship I wonder? Seems a ridiculous paradoxical gimmick if not.

  6. JW1980 says:

    James, a lot of negative comments here. However, to put a positive spin on it do you know of any other cities likely to hold races and indeed whether UK will have any rounds.
    If there are some good drivers in this series it could be good. It could be like 2020 cricket – a good addition to F1 rather than a competitor. This concept could appeal to a new audience, an important consideration considering lack of young fans in F1.
    Engines may not sound good but one of the successes of London 2012 was the background music.
    Lots of opportunities with this series providing the drivers are good and not amateurs, pay drivers, etc.

  7. Tim says:

    “IF is a very long word in Formula One; in fact, IF is F1 spelled backwards.”
    Murray Walker

    OK Murray, might need a new one.

    Tim

    1. Sebee says:

      “…Rome, which will become a second world city…”

      Indeed it will if this economic funk continues in Italy.:-)

      As for the series, lucky for F1 that there is a plan on alternate energy sources or F1 would be toast!

  8. Surya says:

    James, is it a typo error or we are missing something. 10 teams and 20 drivers meaning there will be 20 cars right? Don’t seem to understand the sentence (40 car between them)?.

    1. James Allen says:

      No, they have 2 each.

      1. Stephen Taylor says:

        So does that mean both drivers have a spare car each? e Also who is in line to supply tyre compounds for this series?

  9. Andy says:

    James, is this series being marketed as a ‘green’ or ‘eco’ series, or just an electric formula?
    I notice in your post that there are no ‘environmental’ words used, so I’m assuming it’s going to be just marketed as electric racing. If so, this is probably a wise thing.
    There are far too many things that are claimed to be green or eco friendly, because they are the words to be associated with.
    McLaren have received a Carbon Trust Award and people can have ‘green’ perceptions from that.
    It’s a bit like giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer an award for reducing inflation year on year, when he’s only reduced it from 30%, to 29%, to 28% etc. It’s all relative.
    Doesn’t a wind tunnel use more electricity in 24 hrs or a week, than it takes to light the entire F1 factory for the whole year. It’s all a question of scale.

  10. Colm says:

    Hi James,

    Any info on the range of these cars? How will they manage battery changes, if they are to do that in the race? How many laps will each race be?

  11. Werewolf says:

    I have seen Paul Drayson’s electric LMS-type Lola derivative in action and there is no reason why these things shouldn’t be quick and aggressively driven. The natural sound, however, is as unpersuasive as the series’ green credentials.

    They could make entertaining television if they are set up correctly but I do not think I would personally pay to see them.

    Is alternative pollution making a difference?

  12. Very interested to see how this series goes

    Any idea how different these cars will be able to drive to F1 cars?

    Will we see electric car specialists in the same way we see rally specialists or oval specialists?

    p.s. 40 seems like a lot of cars…

  13. The car looks like a take on the 1st generation of GP3 machinery, only without the airbox, obviously.

    If they can make this technology affordable – why not? I drove a fully electric car (for fun at my local car dealership) and it felt perfect, just a bit too expensive to buy and own, well, hugely expensive to tell the truth.

    Good luck to the series. Come to Lisbon.

  14. Alex W says:

    A look into the (distant) future of F1, I can’t wait.

    1. MC says:

      Don’t get too excited. If it’s commercial pattern matches electrics in the consumer marketplace, expect the series to fold in a season or two with a lot of folks bankrupt or in dept.

  15. Liam in Sydney says:

    It pains me to have to even write something so negative on this site, but this E-series is a total waste of time and money. It is nothing close to traditional in terms of sound, the series is hardly ‘green’, and car manufacturers already are designing and testing their own electronic cars. Do you really believe that Ford or BMW or whoever really care about this series?

    1. J says:

      I hate to multi post on this issue but the fact that this formula won’t have the traditional high volume sound is the main thing that makes it possible to have racing in the downtown core a few blocks from my house when my closest grand prix is 2000 km away. I’ll still travel to see F1 every few years but more racing is better than less.

  16. aveli says:

    I think the race would just as much fun as f1, to watch and take part, but will need a lot more money than f1 to make it last 5 seasons. The long history of f1 sustains it. If success of the series is based only on tickets sales, it wouldn’t last a single season. It may survive 5 seasons if they’re willing to lose money year in year out, full of motivation to keep it alive.
    The airmiles covered to make a single battery if enough to let them realise that they need deep pockets to keep it alive.
    All that said, i want to se it happen because i love watching cars competing for lap times at the same time.

  17. Jon Wilde says:

    I hope the cars look a bit more exciting than the prototype!

    Unfortunately the model seems a little flawed. The series, similar to GP2 or GP3 will be a spec series, i.e all cars are the same. Thus limiting / prohibiting development. Surely the justification for such a series is that of innovation in motorsport. A spec series will not entertain that.

    I would far rather see a Formula Innovation series, in which innovators are invited to compete, the only limitation being a drivers safety cell. Surely this kind of opportunity would be far more enticing to manufactures, entrepreneurs, and inventors. Freedom of design in a forum in which boldness in concepts will be rewarded is how to make a future formula engaging for competitors and supporters (ultimately consumers)

    1. SteveH says:

      Did you actually read the post?

      “But the intention is to have teams designing and building their own cars and drive-trains so that the competition will drive development of the technology. Formula E will provide the platform for innovation in this emerging area of motorsports technology.”

    2. Stephen Taylor says:

      This series will give teams the option . Use the their gven or build their own. Though they will all start off initially with the given chassis

  18. I actually saw one of the French Formulec cars in action during Rotterdam City Racing in 2011, and I spoke with driver Alexandre Premat. These cars are very powerful although it must be said the current battery packs only last 25 minutes or so.

    But the Formulec cars are fast and racing with electric cars is in my opinion feasible. Power-wise, Premat compared the Formulec car with GP3 and GP2 cars, but they are a lot lighter and don’t have a traditional gearbox, that’s what makes them fast.

    At least there is no emission from the car itself, that’s why a city like Rome signed up, and after all, one of these days we’ll run out of fossil fuel and we need an alternative.

    Whether it is environmentally friendly depends on a lot of factors, the biggest problem are the battery packs. Battery packs are expensive and use exotic materials, the Formulec cars use Lithium-ion batteries, of course they have to be recycled in an environmentally friendly way.

    Problem with the batteries is that they are charged and recharged very quickly, due to the high currents they have a rather short lifespan. But the same goes for the KERS battery pack in F1, they have a short lifespan as well and are expensive too.

    And yes, the sound, we love the screaming petrol engine don’t we? The sound of the Formulec cars is actually not too bad, the same sound as a radio controlled toy car, but 20x louder, and a lot of revs as well. You can also clearly hear the friction between the engine and drive train, and the tyre noise is more prominent. So it is rubbish to say you don’t hear them, the argument Ecclestone likes to use.

    But I think I could get used to that — if 25 of them would race through the streets of my hometown!

    And here’s one in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDZ4VSFC6z0

  19. quito says:

    I would think over time as teams start to develop their own cars that efficiency and reliability would be the contributors to real world applications. Inverters, motors, and batteries would be redesigned for maximum power while maintaining reliability. Given the infancy of the technology, I’m excited to witness the advancements. I don’t know what the rules are currently, but I can foresee limits on number of motors, inverters, and batteries per season. Whether the guise is cost or technology advancement.

    From another poster, I’m guessing both cars for each driver would be necessary due to battery life. So one of the stops would be a “fuel stop” with a fresh set of tires as the driver switches to the second car. Maybe over time they develop a method to swap out batteries during a pit stop. More technology to trickle down.

    In the interest of the green theme, we should all watch these races on television so as not to contribute to green house emissions. ;)

    James, great site! New to F1 so I really enjoy your articles.

  20. Mat.C says:

    A few points.

    I would prefer to see the cars race shorter races instead of using 2 cars. So say the maximum range is 25 laps flat out then make the race 27 laps so they need to conserve their batteries. Guaranteed the following year all of the cars would go flat out for 27 laps so extend the distance by 2 laps again. How exciting would it be to see the car come from last passing the other cars who peaked too soon to win a race.

    There is nothing wrong with the sound of electric motors, its just different. I’ve worked on electric trains and when you open them up and start going over 150kmh they make noise. But yes it will not be the same as a V8 because you will be able to hear things like the gears meshing too. This may get enginneers thinking about frictionless drivetrains more and bam… another great invention in history is created.

    My last point is why not run some events like a stage race with a couple nights partying in different towns/cities. As for a course how about Darwin to Adelaide the same as the World Solar Challenge….lol. That should get the technology moving along.

  21. Ian C says:

    This point has been brought up, but I really don’t see the point of this series if they are simply allowed to change car to get the required range. Range is the main obstacle of an electric car at the moment (from a consumer’s point of view). I really think teams should be forced to come up with an alternative solution such as changing batteries or maybe even rapid charging. Really like the idea of making the race length slightly longer than the cars range and incrementally increasing it. That would really fast encourage development.

  22. Lucille says:

    I don’t know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing problems with your website.
    It appears as though some of the written text in your content
    are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well?

    This could be a problem with my browser because I’ve had this happen previously. Thank you

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