Formula E gets plenty right while at times being as wrong as F1 ever was

first_imgReuse this content Since you’re here… Twitter Support The Guardian Share on Twitter As with Formula One, ordinary fans wanting to know why Jean-Éric Vergne and André Lotterer had been demoted and why António Félix da Costa was standing on the top stepof the podium soon found themselves lost in a fog of technicalities. In this case it was eventually announced that Vergne and Lotterer – both entered by the same team – had infringed the rule concerning the amount of braking energy that can be harvested by the regeneration system and fed back into the power unit.If there is anything Formula E doesn’t need, here it was. Not much has harmed modern Formula One more than the gigantic furball of rules leading to the imposition of penalties for everything from engine and gearbox changes to driving over the painted lines that mark the boundaries of many of today’s circuits. In the live transmission, even the commentators on BT Sport and the BBC (free to air via the red button) seemed at a loss to explain the incident that ended up defining the result. The fifth season of Formula E roared into life in Saudi Arabia at the weekend. Well, that’s not quite true. It whirred into life. Or hissed. Or whined. Or however you might describe the sound of an electric motor powering a single-seater racing car. But certainly not roared.For some fans of motor racing, that alone is enough to remove it from the list of their priorities. The roar has to be part of the deal, whether it’s the scream of a 12-cylinder Matra engine from the 1970s – the absolute gold standard of car noise, guaranteed to pierce any form of ear defence – or the rather more decorous sound of the hybrid power units employed in today’s Formula One. And as long as petrol is still being extracted from the earth’s finite resources, the sound of internal combustion will be in some sort of demand.But that technology is 150 years old now, give or take, and is in rapid retreat. Formula E is an attempt to recreate single-seater racing for the modern world in a way that satisfies the appetite of those who enjoy the spectacle of artificially propelled vehicles competing with each other on enclosed circuits, an entertainment as old as chariot racing.If Formula E wants to convince us that it is different from the obsolete world of Formula One, however, it has a funny way of showing it. The new season kicked off with a race on the outskirts of Riyadh – evoking the memory of Bernie Ecclestone’s habit of awarding races to any regime, no matter how repressive, waving a humongous cheque – and ended with the two cars that seemed on the brink of finishing first and second being called into the pits for drive-through penalties that knocked them down to second and fifth. Facebook Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks. … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Pinterest Motor sport Formula E António Félix D da Costa (centre), Jean-Éric Vergne and Jérôme d’Ambrosio make up the the podium in Riyadh. Photograph: Getty Images Share via Email comment Share on LinkedIn There are good things about Formula E. All the races in the 11-venue series are held on street circuits, as many as possible in “world cities” like Paris, Berlin, Rome and New York (well Brooklyn, actually, but with the Manhattan skyline visible across the East river). Some circuits, such as Marrakech, Santiago and Sanya, on the shore of the South China Sea, are new to international single-seater racing, which is welcome. But the short tracks are bordered by high-safety fencing covered with sponsors’ logos; this makes everywhere look the same, give or take a few overhanging palm trees, although it has the benefit of making the cars – slow by F1 standards – appear quicker than they really are. And no spectators are visible, which diminishes the sense of theatre.The duration of each race is 45 minutes plus one lap, or less than half that of a grand prix, and the whole meeting – including practice and qualifying sessions – is packed into a single day. While reducing the inconvenience to residents of the host cities, this takes motor racing further away from the more relaxed era when the Formula One circus pitched its tents for the best part of a week.On the technical side, the absence of complicated tyre regulations is a fine way of differentiating itself from Formula One, which has bad tyres and worse rules. Formula E cars race on one standard all-weather tyre – although perhaps not as all-weather as it should be, since last weekend’s practice sessions were cancelled because of an unexpected rainstorm in the desert.The new second-generation cars have more attractive bodywork and more powerful batteries, meaning that the drivers no longer have to switch cars in mid-race. But to the naked eye they are still differentiated only by their colour schemes: genuine technical variety will never be a feature of this formula, although that does not seem to be deterring the major manufacturers, including Audi, Jaguar, Nissan and BMW, whose investment – albeit tiny compared with F1 budgets – shows which way they think the winds of history are blowing.The Fan Boost feature, which allows watchers to give their favourite drivers an extra burst of power via online voting, is a computer-game gimmick that will always alienate purists. New for this season is the Attack Mode, another extra temporary power-surge activated by swerving off the regular racing line on a specified section of track. Like F1’s DRS, it would seem unnecessary in a series that has got its competitive balance right.All this being said, the actual racing on the Al-Diriyah circuit wasn’t bad. Maybe Formula E will help the advance of useful technology, as grand prix racing once did. At least it’s better than the other 21st century alternative, which is watching a bunch of kids playing on eSports simulators, competing for “championships” that exist outside any kind of reality. Topics Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp Share on Pinterest Share on Messengerlast_img

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