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FIA announces Formula E, is it the future of motorsport?
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Aug 2012   |  12:10 pm GMT  |  146 comments

The world of electric motorsport has taken a step closer after the FIA announced that it has awarded the promoter contract for the new Formula E series to a group called Formula E Holdings, involving French company Formulec, former UK science minister and champion of green racing Lord Drayson and GP2 entrant Alejandro Agag. It is also being funded by entrepreneur Enrique Banuelos.

The series will start in 2014 with a race in Rio de Janeiro after some demonstration runs in 2013 and will feature 10 teams each with two drivers. The prototype car, produced by Formulec, will have a Lithium Ion batteries and a maximum speed of 220km/h and will run for 25 minutes between charges. Entrants will be able to use a Formulec car but are also allowed to design and build their own cars to FIA regulations. This leaves room for Toyota, Honda and other interested manufacturers to enter the series.

FIA's Jean Todt (C)with Agag (L) and Banuelos (R)

The series is interesting in several ways; first it takes some of the heat off F1 being required to be seen as going green, at least for a while.

One of the ideological struggles of the past year or two has been the debate about how far down that road F1 should go with its 2014 new engine formula, with some parties like Renault keen to really push the boundaries and move far away from the gas guzzling V8s used today. Others believe that F1 should remain all about conspicuous consumption, despite the obvious evidence that the world is running out of oil and thus its cost is increasingly unsustainable.

An uneasy compromise has been reached with the V6 1.6 litre turbo engines, which are already being dyno tested by Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. These will be 30% more efficient than the current units, will have a large proportion of regenerative energy from braking and will run on electric only in the pit lane.

Talk of the new engines not sounding like proper racing engines has dominated the debate, with many parties once again guilty of short-term thinking. The sound will be one of the key things the Formula E promoters must get right from the outset, using synthesised noise.

However the arrival of Formula E allows the FIA to have something to point at to highlight its work in this area and it is a response to pressure from the European Commission chiefs, among others, for the governing body to do more to provide the platform for manufacturers to push innovation in technologies around electric vehicles. Racing has long been proven to be a very effective test bed for the automotive world.

The Formula E races will take place in cities which are leading the sustainable motoring agenda; to maximise the population reach and to underline those cities’ desire to promote environmentally friendly motoring.

FIA president Jean Todt said, “This new competition at the heart of major cities is certain to attract a new audience. We are pleased with this agreement with Formula E Holdings as they bring a very strong experience in motor sport. This spectacular series will offer both entertainment and a new opportunity to share the FIA values and objectives of clean energy, mobility and sustainability with a wider and younger audience as well.”

It will be interesting to see whether the FIA is able to persuade the promoter of F1, Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM, to find a way to showcase Formula E in front of its huge global audience, which would help to spread its influence more quickly, or whether it will have to stand on its own feet.

Will battery powered cars be the future of electric motorsport? I put that question recently to Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, now engaged in work on the future of mobility and transport. He pointed to an experiment in Korea, which he thinks will provide the future model for motorsport.

“The weight of the batteries required to do 15 laps is too much,” he said. “So I think the online vehicle technology, which is a very exciting new technology, only recently developed, for me is the most likely.

“In Seoul, under the tarmac of the road an inch down a primary coil is installed. In your car is a secondary coil. There’s no electricity coming from the primary until your car is over it, so it’s very little energy loss; 93% energy transferred to the secondary coil. And the car is driven on that energy. You have a small, low weight battery in the car and that battery is always fully charged until you drive off the track. Then you use the charge left in the battery.

“I know that sounds like Scalextric. But I think the future of F1 is going to take up these amazing new technologies. ”

It’s a fascinating theory and one we will watch out for. Meanwhile Formula E will start a process of shifting the perception of the way men (and women) race cars and we will see where it leads us.

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I have just made a quick calculation: To match the energy i 140 kg of gasoline (47,2 mega joule / kg) you would have to drive around with a 6.608 kg Lithium–sulfur battery (1 mega joule / kg)


Anyone noticed how modern films with all their synthasised CGI are total crap, there’s just something missing when you know the action isn’t real. Electric cars, at least in the currently accepted form certainly aren’t the future not unless there is some quantum leap in battery technology, for the time being, at least, there is plenty of scope for making liquid fuel engines far more efficient and conserving the oil we have. As far as F1 is concerned the amount of fuel used when spread across the number of people that derive pleasure from it( that is what it exists for after all) is absolutely miniscule so I don’t think the enviromental issue is relevent. By the way when it comes to the sound, have you ever spectated touring cars? On the longer circuits everyone nods off while the cars are round the other side. Electric cars will be one big ZZZZZZ!


Short sighted humans once again. Someone tell me the net energy cost to make this happen. Tell me the costs to produce the batteries. The cost to dispose of the batteries. Recycling? Land fill? The smart future isn’t electric. Not in its current form.


Doesn’t matter. Thats all out of sight and out of mind and therefore does not exist.

Michael Schumacher

Now that the FIA has something to satisfy the tree huggers, can we have proper F1 please. We need to stick with V10,12,8s….V6 is just not F1 !!!!!


I have to say I watched some pretty damn exciting racing in the eighties. As I recall there were a bunch of guys with names like Senna, Prost, and Mansell driving around in 4 bangers, and that was definitely the pinnacle of motorsport technology – not sure I would be willing to say that about today’s V8’s.


Here, Here! F1 is about entertainment. Normally when there is a party one relaxes the rules of consumption temporarily. Didn’t they burn the couldron at the Olympics continuously for 17 days, and leave all the lights on 24/7. No one will be interested in electric cars rumbling silently around a track and synthetic noise? don’t be silly!



Loved those V10’s!


I’ll be huge fan of this new formula! I’ll love the new sounds, tires in the the track, winds, and the noise of the electric motor. I’m sure it will be a great deal!


I drive a Tesla Roadster and there’s nothing like the sound of that motor whine to make me smile every time I drive it. Artificial sounds have no place in sport, that will just turn it into a game.

Battery swap-out can be done in 2-3 minutes with existing technology and no “race motivation”. Let the professional racing engineers and designers get at it and we’ll be seeing battery swap-out times measured in seconds and not in minutes. Look up “Better Place” to see how it’s already being done with road cars in some countries.


I think it is a good idea that this new racing series is to run on new street tracks, if you put this type of series on at Silverstone etc.. no one would watch it.

Personally i do not see why this series has even been formed, Battery powered cars are not and will not be the future of transport let alone motor racing. Maybe someone will now ask the F1 designers to build a Hydrogen Fuel Cell engine and properly exploit the only alternative to petrol.

I for one will not be watching battery powered cars go racing.



Electric race cars could be interesting but why should there be some sort of expectation on motorsport to be ‘greener’? It’s ridiculous!

If all the petrol consumed from every form of motorsport from the last 100 years was added up, I would be shocked beyond belief if it happened to amount to anything greater than a single day’s worth of fuel consumption by ordinary road traffic around the world in our present time. Keep in mind that air travel and power generation are not being included either.

When you really think about it, motorsport’s ‘non greenness’ is of absolutely no consequence whatsoever to the big picture of global warming and environmental sustainability. Charging these battery packs still takes energy out of the power grid which is generated mostly by the burning of coal and gas. No real savings or gains are made (basic thermodynamics). It is all PR bull in my opinion.

The real scary thing is that once fossil fuels have been exhausted, motor racing will have to be electrically powered. This probably sounds like one of those silly statements Jeremy Clarkson might proclaim, but real petrol should be rationed for racing! 🙂


Agreed. For me it’s not about the green-ness of it. It’s about the cool potential of developing this new way of looking at cars and racing.

The green-ness (if it actually is) is a happy bonus for me personally.


But everybody will *think its green because the power plant is NIMBY!


Green? As in more plant life?

That will require there being more C02, the vital plant food gas that all things green live off.

Green F1 = bigger fossil fuel engines.


In general, electric motorsport is a very interesting idea. Considering current battery performance, short races are appropriate.

But I would say that mounting batteries into a touring car body would be easier and more fitting in many ways. An open wheeled car has normally higher drag than a sedan body. Which means it is not a very “green” idea to force battery power into formula car. In addition to that, it is simple to associate street vehicles with their racing versions. So I expect EV-s to shine in a series like WTCC(they have a really good format, 2 short races per weekend).

Synthesized noise? The organizers probably think that we are cucumbers. You can only make people hate this series. It almost sounds like a oil-company conspiracy.

It is alright to beep in the pits, but that should be it. How many times we have heard that EV-s are quiet and nice, why blow up this positive image in a such idiotic way?

No nonsense, please.


Yes, it would be *really exciting to watch a pack of killer Prius on the charge.


– “Whatever Tesla has done lately is invisible.”

Sad to hear you think so, they are doing great things right now, you should check them out. And they have a really cool, modern thinking boss.

– “And we’re not talking ‘hybrids’”

You’re the one who talked about the Prius in your original post.. But don’t worry I think that hybrids are just a mid point to going full electric eventually anyway for some of these companies, so I think you were right to bring that car up.

– “Btw to be “relevant” they need to at least *look like road cars, not open-wheelers”

Completely disagree. This would mean that Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and so on are wrong for being in F1 because it won’t help them sell their cars. I think you will find that they don’t agree with you, especially Ferrari. In fact you could say that because F1 and open wheelers are the most advanced form of motorsport, they are in fact the best way for a company to show innovation and forward thinking, and so in this respect are the best way to sell cars.

– “so today’s choices are Prius, Chevy Volt, and… er, what?”

So that’s Toyota, and GM, two of the biggest car companies in the world. They you also have Honda (Insight), BMW (i Series of cars coming out soon), and Audi has also played with electric cars, most notably in the TT (so that’s the VW group). Then there are smaller players like Telsa, who recently joined up with Toyota to develop electric technology further. And the list of hybrid cars coming out are endless (which is just one step away from full-electric).

The future is promising for this technology.


They don’t need to be Prius’ (Prii?..) mate. You watch what happens in the next 5 years. Everyone has jumped on the hybrid bandwagon, even Ferrari (thanks to a little car called Prius), and you cant say what Tesla had done lately is boring… Give it a chance.


Whatever Tesla has done lately is invisible.

And we’re not talking ‘hybrids’. This is pure electric stuff. The world doesn’t give your business a chance; you make it or break it.

Btw to be “relevant” they need to at least *look like road cars, not open-wheelers, so today’s choices are Prius, Chevy Volt, and… er, what?

Is there a VoltageWagen yet, btw?


James, you say “The prototype car, produced by Formulec, will have …”

“will” have.

So, IS there an actual, running prototype? Or is the picture just a mockup or CGI?


James reviewed a hybrid-ish car a few months ago, with a small jet engine used to charge a small number (and therefore less heavy) bunch of batteries… That sounds interesting and the noise issue is taken care of by the jets, so why not do it this way?


Hi James from sunny Perth

Interesting concept ,would this mean the lower noise levels and speeds would see say an old circuit with good saftey and facillities come back into use?


Funny that so many so-called racing fans are against another open wheel series. A series that because of the shorter race weekend and less noise could be brought right downtown in more cities.

My city lost it’s Indy race years ago primarily because of noise complaints. I don’t mind flying to Montreal but still it would be nice to attend another race in my backyard.


Not sure why you think the race “weekend” would be shorter. And most street courses really suck and are arguably harder to organize and put on *because they’re usually downtown.

No, I’m not against another series, I just don’t see any need for F1 to be associated with it.


Street races seem to be pretty easy to sort out in the US, but other than at Monaco, Pau and the Norisring they’re almost non-existant in western Europe and non have really taken off in Eastern Europe.

Heck, for a street race to be held anywhere in the UK would require an act of parliament.


I forgot to add… and given how slow these cars are going to be they will be imensly boring around trackslike Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Donington.


Only in the beginning. I bet if given the chance this kind of technology would start developing at a geometric rate. All we need to do is embrace it and stop fearing change.

I know that petrol power in the last 100 years has ingrained itself in the passion we feel for motorsport but surely it’s not the be all and end all. We should embrace this exciting new era and maybe we will look back on the present petrol era the same was as we do on steam power and the industrial revolution today . Cool and awe inspiring, but ultimately low-tech, old and dirty.

Our grandkinds may even thank us for it.


No, it’s not the future because battery power is just completely inefficient, hydrogen fuel cells would be an infinitely better idea.

Captain Lightning

If sound is to be synthesised, why not the clippity clop of horses hooves? Makes as much sense.

Would it make any real difference to television viewers whether there was any sound at all?


I like the sound of clippity clop of horses. And the poorer

slower teams could have a two man car and the second man will have two coconut shells to bang together because they can’t afford the clippity clop horse sound.


Ps: watch monty pythons holy grail movie


James, could this be a first? An opinion it seems ALL your readers (appear to, at least) share?!

And there was me thinking I was going to be the first one here to mock the noise synthesis… 🙂

Replace The Whole Car At Pitstops

Because it’s more sustainable that way.

Formula E-larious more like it.


Won’t doubt the improved technologies and the greening.

The sound will surely be like Scalextric multiplied by 32 times? Will it also sound like a huge fork lift.

From V12 > V10 > V8 > V6 Turbo (bumble bee) > hissing, ermm.

I prefer F1 to be as loud as possible, sorry and don’t believe in greening F1 at all. Let Formula E be on its own entirely.


I think should the boffins choose to, they could make a racecar sound awesome regardless of what’s powering it. The current F1 cars are case in point. They too generte a contrived sound. Achieved through certain methods like extractor piping, lack of mufflers etc. I just think people are making this a sticking point for no reason. These guys could pull off an awesome sound for electric cars if they chose to. Maybe not identical to the petrol cars but something new and truly unique perhaps.


Imagine a Formula E series that had no limitations on innovation, speed or technology- just a simple rule that restricts the amount of non renewable energy permitted per race.

This would drive some remarkable innovation and inventiveness during the early years, just like F1 used to have, with a wide variety of solutions. This would attract the best and brightest I suspect…


Because then the corps of lawyers at FIA would be out of work?


Really disappointed in F1 on this. They had the opportunity to do something truly ground breaking here, instead they settled on short-term again. It’s clear now that Todt felt the need to do something and F1 didn’t come to the party.


No reason they should. F1 is a business. Why develop a competing series?


Sorry just to clarify, what I meant was that Todt was looking to these guys to reinvent F1 a bit to reflect today’s social concerns, not for them to create a rival series. But now it’s clear that when F1 was reluctant, Todt had no choice but to do it another way – new people, new series. He had to act, look at James’ comments about the FIA and the EU.

I can see people like Renault, Honda, Toyota and maybe even VW look closely at this new series SHOULD the promoters do a good enough job. They all have massive investments in green energy technology and this could potentially be a great way for them to market that fact, and to also develop their car related green technologies under competition. Like you say, motorsport is firstly a business after all.


“Had to act” and “Todt” in the same para is just laughable.

FIA sets the rules, not “F1” so if thats what he wanted thats what he’d get.

But, no he’s got some good buddies of his, compatriots as it were, that have a plan to make some money.

And why on earth would all these big manufacturers pay the slightest attention to a non-existant “series” promoted by some little outfit no one ever heard of.

I don’t really believe car companies go racing to “improve the breed.” If somebody else comes up with something new, fine, they’ll adapt it.

But they go racing to sell more cars.


It worked in Tron. So it’s not new thinking. Fake sound? What a fail.


Good intentions definitely but do we need ANOTHER racing series? I smell another A1GP ..


This is such an exciting development and sure to generate a new racing experience. Electric vehicles are really cool to drive even today and that’s before we see any real sporty EV’s (Tesla excepted)

If they could run the series like the Procar series of old that would be great, but I suspect the series will have to be run on shorter tighter tracks than F1 given likely lower speeds.

Either way this is another important important step in the evolution of transportation and mobility from carbon liquid fuel to the clean electro mobility of the future.


James do you know can engine manufactures develop new engine through 2014 season and beyond that?


Yes, there will be development permitted, as I understand it, so engines will again be performance differentiators


After rewatching the 1996 and 1997 seasons in the break, I am REALLY looking forward to seeing engine development playing a part in F1 again!


I guess that the most important thing is how motorsports racing affects the global climate and the overall situation in the world.

Motorsports should be green or at least greener. I agree with those people who say here that there are more important issues at stake than somebodys ego or a few lost or gained tenths. It is again about long term thinking.

It is not a thing that started only recently, it should have been thought about some time ago. The benefit of today is that with modern technology and resources it is a bit easier to make the sport green and more nature friendly.

I think that the way the engine sounds is not important at all – if it sounds more or less OK and is not too loud. I think it should be within some norms. If it is quiet, fine with me.

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