James Herne

Formula E

We can stop the clock, but we cannot stop the time. It is time for pollution-free vehicles. Motor racing has always been the number one factor that has improved everyday cars we use and Formula E - the racing series for electric formula cars - has proven its vitality.

The series started in September 2014. The seasons start in the end of a year, so Formula E seasons overlap the calendar years. The most important thing about the series is that electric cars, which are rather silent, can be used for racing on temporary tracks in the city centers. That is important as people are not willing to travel to race tracks, so now the races are brought home to them. The temporary city tracks also offer more excitement to the spectators as it is more difficult for the drivers to share the narrow temporary-built competition tracks.

Driving flat-out, the cars naturally use a lot of electricity and because of that each driver has two cars for the race – when the battery goes out, not the battery, but the car is replaced. Initially it looked like a temporary solution until the battery technologies improve, but the car-change has become a special attraction of the race, especially for the TV audience – so this routine might even stay despite the improvement of the battery technology. As the new power sources are harder to accept by many established petrolheads, it is clear the electric racing series target new (younger) people.

Where did it start

South African company Formulec is the author of the idea of the format that has become FIA Formula E. It was Formulec that commisioned French company Segula Technologies to develop an electric formula racing car for them. The car, Formulec EF01, was first testdriven in September 2010. With its exterior design and fat tyres, it looked like every other serious single-seater formula racing car. In 2011 it was announced that in 2012 a Formulec World Series will start as a series of city street races. Here are some key points from the 2011 press release:

"Formulec is the only Formula series which really makes sense as a street race due to the extremely low noise levels produced by the vehicles – this means that the public can view a world class racing event on the streets of their own city."

"The EF01 will be the exclusive vehicle for both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, allowing selected topclass international drivers to measure their skills behind the wheel of a high performance car on race tracks around the world. The vision for the 2014 season and beyond is for the ʻFormulec World Championshipʼ to be created for car manufacturers and industrialists who have developed their own electric single-seater racers to enter the Championship."

"The EF01 heralds a new era in racing, and is the fastest electric single-seater race car in the world."

In the end of August 2011, FIA announced in a hurry that it will start a Formula E championship in 2013 if sufficient number of teams will sign up by October 2011. At the same time in August, Formulec demonstrated its EF01 at the Moscow City Racing motorsport show and in September also at the Rotterdam City Racing show in The Netherlands. While Formulec's idea was to earn money with the project and FIA had to accept it has to go electric, both entities had a significantly overlapping future vision and a similar target, but not enough steam on their own, so they teamed up and in August 2012 announced that the FIA Formula E Championship will start in 2014. It was announced that Formulec will provide the cars. Three months later, Formula E Holdings, the official promoter of the FIA Formula E Championship (both have the same CEO Alejandro Agag), announced that the cars will be built in UK by a new company called Spark Racing Technology (SRT). Many of the staff at SRT came from the Formulec EF01 development team.

The first FIA Formula E car

For the first season all participants used a car called Spark-Renault SRT_01E. Although Renault by name, the latter had joined later as a sponsor. The main components of the SRT_01E were built by Dallara (monocoque, chassis and body - almost all except the powertrain), McLaren (electronics and electric motor similar to the one in the McLaren P1 supercar), Williams (battery) and Hewland (paddle-shift sequential gearbox). The tyres – a single type of tyres suitable for every weather - were developed by Michelin. The external dimensions for the car set by FIA were 5.0 metres long and 1.8 metres wide.

The SRT_01E was announced in May 2013 and was shown to the public in September 2013 at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show.

2014 April: SRT_01E and Alain Prost, a 4-time F1 champion

2014 May: the teams get their cars in Donington Park


A unique feature of the Formula E is the FanBoost. Fans can vote for their favourite driver in social media or with Formula E app and the top three drivers get some extra electric energy for the race. This means if the driver is a likeable person, he/she gets a bit of real support in the race from his/her fans. That's a real 21st century thing - it pays to be a nice person. The three drivers who receive the Fanboost, each get extra 100 kJ to boost the maximum power of their second car for a moment.

Season 1 (9/2014-6/2015)

10 teams contested the series with each having 2 drivers and 4 cars. The first car manufacturer team in the series was Mahindra. Audi and Renault joined with private teams.

At the Punta del Este (Uruguay) race the SRT_01E was put into the Atlantic ocean for a publicity photo to show that electric cars are safe.


Virgin Racing drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sam Bird posing the Miami Vice way. The fun factor that is written into the Formula E formula, is cool.

Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings and Formula E Championship

Monaco ePrix in Monte Carlo

Race at the Berlin Tempelhof airport

Formula E's DJ/mascot Ej

During the season, the series visited the following city centres: Beijing (China), Putrajaya (Malaysia), Punta del Este (Uruguay), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Miami (Florida, USA), Long Beach (California, USA), Monte Carlo, Berlin (Germany), Moscow (Russia) and London (UK). In the first Formula E season there were 7 different race winners: Sébastien Buemi, Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet Jr., António Félix da Costa, Nicolas Prost, Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Lucas Di Grassi. Nelson Piquet became the first Formula E champion.

Nelson Piquet won the first Formula E Championship with 1 point over Sebastien Buemi

Season 2 (10/2015-7/2016)

From the second season the maximum allowed power during the race was rised from 150 to 170 kW (still 200 kW in qualification) and regulations didn't demand the use of the SRT McLaren/Hewland powertrain anymore. The manufacturers of the electric motor, inverter and gearbox were now free, while the chassis and the battery had to stay the same. While most of the teams used their own new motors, Aguri and Andretti kept McLaren motors and Dragon Racing went on to buy the powertrain from rival Venturi. Citroen joined through its DS design and sports trademark with Virgin Racing. New racing locations were Mexico City and Paris.

Ej with new helmet

Putrajaya, Malaysia

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Environmentally friendly Formula E publicity event in CDMX (Ciudad De Mexico)

From Season 2 teams could use wheels from different manufacturers


Sebastien Buemi, who lost Season 1 with 1 point to Nelson Piquet, won Season 2 with 2 points in front of Lucas di Grassi and Nicolas Prost.

Sebastien Buemi won the 2015/2016 championship in driver's category and helped Renault to win in teams category

Formula E season 2 winner Sebastien Buemi

Winner Buemi

Season 3 (10/2016-7/2017)

From third season Jaguar joined the series getting the free spot thanks to Jarno Trulli's team flaming out. BMW joined as a partner for Andretti to share and gather knowledge before they join with factory team (from Season 5, mostly likely through purchase of Andretti team). Andretti started using its own motor instead of the McLaren and Dragon Racing went from Venturi motor to Penske. The former team Aguri changed owners and name - now Techeetah - and a Renault powertrain was purchased to replace the McLaren unit that was used for the first two seasons. For the third season Williams supplied new batteries and the cars recieved a more stylish frontend to give a trademark look to the Formula E cars. New race location in China was Hong Kong, other new locations were Marrakesh (Morocco, Africa), Montreal (Canada) and New York.

Season 3 gave the cars new much cooler looking frontend

Bad luck to one might be good luck to the other - Trulli out means Jaguar in

Publicity event in New York in September 2016 prior the 2017 July race (which unfortunately was not a street race, organized in an industrial zone)

While for the first two years the season opening Chinese race was held in Beijing, it moved to Hong Kong for the third season

When the battery is used up in one car, the pilot drives into the garage to change the car. Two team members help him fix the harness. Note the team members do not have to wear flame resistant overalls as there is no flammable gasoline in this game.

Sebastien Buemi easily jumps so high showing the bodily strength of the top drivers

Publicity event in Las Vegas in January 2017


Roborace is a human-less electric racing vehicle driven by artifical intelligence. AI makes the decisions about the acceleration, braking force and turn angle using cameras and a lot of other sensors. The design of the vehicle is a 3D CAD masterpiece.


The third season of Formula E was won by Lucas di Grassi (3rd in 1st season, 2nd in 2nd season), followed by Sebastien Buemi and Felix Rosenqvist. The e.dams Renault team took the third championship title in a row among the racing teams, Abt Audi was second again and Mahindra rose to the podium.

Season 3 winner Lucas di Grassi

2016/2017 season winner Lucas di Grassi and the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team members

Season 4 (12/2017-7/2018)

While the maximum power allowed in the qualification has stayed the same from the start of the series - at 200 kW, the maximum power allowed in the race was increased to 180 kW (was 150 kW in the first season and 170 kW from the second to third season). All the teams stayed the same, just that Audi/Abt switched to an Audi e-tron powertrain instead of Abt. While in the first season all the cars had a 5-speed gearbox, everyone was free to implement its own system starting from season 2. The Abt powertrain used to have a 3-speed gearbox while the Audi e-tron from season 4 has no gearbox at all, just a single gear transmission that is typical to all fully electric passenger cars.

For the 4th season the team NextEV NIO became just NIO, their new trademark for electric vehicles. New locations in 2018 are Santiago (Chile), Rome (Italy), Zürich (Switzerland).

BMW and Nissan have announced to join with factory teams from Season 5 (end of 2018) and Mercedes-Benz and Porsche from Season 6 (end of 2019). It is likely that the 10 team maximum is not expanded by FIA, so the manufacturers have to buy up all the private teams. Electric cars are present day, not the future anymore, so there are more teams interested in electric car racing than the street race championship format can allow.

© James Herne

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