Can Formula E Make an Impression on Motorsports Fans?

Fraser Masefield@@fmasefieldContributor IMarch 23, 2014

A new all-electric race car, the Spark-Renault SRT 01E Formula E, is taken on a demonstration drive by Brazilian Formula One driver Lucas di Grassi on the grounds of the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino in Las Vegas Monday, Jan. 6, 2013. Organizers of the FIA Formula E Championship, the first series exclusively for electric cars, are giving racing aficionados their first chance to see a fully-electric car in action. (AP Photo/Hannah Dreier)
Hannah Dreier/Associated Press

If you thought today’s Formula One cars were too quiet as a result of the radical new engine regulations, you’re unlikely to approve of the new motorsport series that launches in September this year.

The Formula E Championship is the first-ever full electric series of its kind and will see 10 teams and 20 drivers competing in 10 races over five continents, starting in Beijing.

The series has been described by Renault TV (see video embed) as a revolution in the history of motorsports, and it certainly is that.

If you can get over the not insignificant factor of the weird whirr of the electronic power plant, the stats are impressive. The cars achieve 0-60 mph in less than three seconds with a top speed of 140 mph and look mightily slick, too.

The one-day event consists of a 60-minute practice session, a qualifying session over two timed laps and the race in which drivers must make a compulsory pit stop in order to change cars.

And according to Formula-E Development driver Lucas di Grassi, because the cars have a lot more torque, much like today’s F1 cars, they will be a handful to drive.

The electric cars have a lot of torque so for a driver the technique has to be very gentle on the throttle and how it behaves on wheel speed and controlling that. And also this car for racing aspects you need to be very efficient to you have to drive as fast as you can but consume the least battery as possible.

There has been significant investment in the series with the aim of ensuring it is here to stay and not just another gimmick. According to the Daily Telegraph, the series is committed to paying €18 million (£14.7 million) to the FIA with owners of the teams including Sir Richard Branson, ex-Formula One champion Alain Prost and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Former F1 drivers including Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld have been involved in promoting the series with former world champion Damon Hill praising its merits.

I think this is very interesting for drivers now. It’s another opportunity for drivers to get their hands on a competitive car and go and race and show what they’re about so from that point of view I think it’s an interesting development.

The big question, of course, remains as to whether the series will be a hit with those that matter most, the motorsport fans. Television viewing numbers and ticket sales will be the ultimate measure to whether this ship sinks or floats.

What lures most dyed-in-the-wool fans to motorsport events all over the world is the roar of the combustion engine and the smell of petrol fumes that gives it its unique atmosphere.

You certainly won’t get that with Formula E, although the racing promised to be competitive with former F1 drivers such as Sebastian Buemi, Karun Chandhok, Tonio Liuzzi and Takuma Sato being targeted by teams, according to Autosport.

We now live in an era of hybrid cars and energy saving in a press to develop future technology for ever greener environment. But if Formula One fans are already disillusioned with quieter engines and diminishing speeds, then Formula E faces a tough challenge to win over a new fanbase.

All 10 rounds of the championship will be screened live on ITV in the UK and other global television networks.