Formula E: motorsport’s brightest sparks

Fast, furious and zero carbon neutral, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship has become a motorsport must-see. This season – its seventh – it’s even been given special status as a true global world championship by motorsport’s governing body, meaning that it now ranks alongside the likes of Formula One and the World Rally Championship. With the new season having kicked off on the streets of Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, there’s no better time to get yourself acquainted with the all-electric series boasting a whole stack of exciting rules and innovations. Whether you don’t know your FanBoost from your Attack Mode or you’re a fan who needs a refresher, we’ve got you covered with our guide to Formula E. 

Two Formula E cars battle for supremacy on the track
Lighting up the track: TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team's Pascal Wehrlein (#99) leads the way

1. The cars: on an equal footing

First thing’s first, the big difference – of course – between Formula E and other motorsports is that it’s the only global all-electric racing series. Another huge attraction is how Formula E cars play on a much more level playing field than other race series. Cars share the same chassis, battery and tyres. The only variable is powertrains, where teams can develop or deploy their own choice of electric motor or gearbox, for example. It all adds up to 12 teams of two cars providing exhilarating, evenly matched motor racing.

Performance-wise, these single-seaters are strapped to a feisty electric motor that outputs 250kW (335hp) of raw power. This may not sound like much when pitted against an F1 car that can generate over 745kW of power, but Formula E cars go from 0-100km/h in under 2.8s. That's very quick indeed.

“Formula E is really competitive, with a lot of manufacturers, but what I enjoy is that it’s still fair,” says Pascal Wehrlein, one of two drivers, along with André Lotterer, who races for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team. “With teams a lot closer together, it’s fairer for the drivers. There’s not only one or two teams which are able to win, nearly all of them have the chance to win. And I really like that.”

2. The tech: sustainable speed

If you needed further convincing that the Formula E championship is something special and a vision for a more sustainable motorsport future, then it’s also the first global sport to be certified with a net zero carbon footprint. It’s not only about promoting all-electric vehicles as the future of global mobility, but also delivers a powerful message about how we can help combat the effects of increasing global warming.

As well as running off 100 percent renewable energy, the cars use hybrid tyres designed to last the entire race – and in all weather conditions – which can be recycled at a later stage. And with Formula E being predominately a city-based series, its organisers also encourage fans to make their way to the circuits by jumping on the metro, bicycle or even doing a bit of speed walking.

‘Green Light’ sign inside Formula E cockpit
For motorsport, the future is definitely green

3. The race: close combat

Unlike F1, all three elements that make up a Formula E event take place in a single day. It starts with free practice, where there are two sessions – one of 45 minutes duration, the other 30 minutes. Next? Qualifying. Here things are a little different to most other motorsport series. The 12 teams and 24 cars are broken down into four groups, each containing six drivers, with the groupings defined by the drivers’ positions in the Championship standings. Finally, there’s Super Pole. Here, the six fastest drivers have a lap to earn a spot at the front of the grid but with a sizeable added bonus – the pole sitter also earns three additional Championship points.

Talking of points, when it comes to the races themselves – which are set to 45 minutes plus one lap in duration – the winner receives 25 points, second 18 points, third place gets 15 points, all the way down to a single point for the tenth-placed driver. Like Formula One, each season there are titles for both drivers and manufacturers.

Aerial view of André Lotterer’s TAG Heuer Porsche car
“Lots of little things make a car faster”: André Lotterer, TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team driver

4. The Boosts: power surge

You might be thinking that Formula E race weekends sound somewhat traditional, albeit with the occasional twist, yes? Well, the series also gets a further couple of boosts – quite literally, in fact. Four days before the race begins, and up to a nail-biting 15 minutes before the start, fans all over the world can vote for their favourite driver online. The five drivers with the highest number of votes qualify for what’s called the FanBoost. This gives each of them a significant injection of additional power that can be used during a five-second window in the second half of the race. 

And it doesn’t end there. For those drivers who dare diverge from their racing lines and over designated Activation Zones, an Attack Mode is granted. This gives the car an extra boost of 35kW of energy for a more aggressive driving speed. You can spot a car that’s in Attack Mode by the illuminated halo safety bar over the cockpit.

TAG Heuer Porsche driver Pascal Wehrlein grabs his race helmet
Pascal Wehrlein: “In Formula E, if you’re always driving at the limit, you will only cover about 70 percent of the distance”

5. The tactics: winning the mental game

In Formula E, drivers start their journey to grabbing pole position long before a race weekend. All drivers get a feel for the car and circuit with compulsory turns using a racing simulator. This ensures that by the time they’re at the actual starting line, they are well versed with driving lines, duelling tactics and the circuit layout.

Energy management is another vital strategy. The way the driver accelerates, steers and brakes, as well as where exactly on the track they perform these actions, determines not only their total speed, but also their energy consumption. And, as you might expect from a race series where sustainability is at its heart, using as little energy as you can in order to drive as fast as possible is key. It’s all about finding the right balance.

Two TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E cars side by side
Formula E series has confirmed eight races this season, with more to be scheduled

6. The locations: hot in the city

When the Formula E circus swings into town, it brings with it a mobile village of crew, tents and kilometres of red and white Tecpro barriers. Over the space of just one weekend, purpose-built circuits are constructed in the city centre, allowing awestruck fans the unique opportunity to watch as futuristic Formula E vehicles hurtle down roads that many use every other day of the year. Watching these elegant, all-electric speedsters roar past the bakery where you usually pick up your morning croissant from in near silence, at speeds of up to 280km/h? That’s where lasting memories are made.

Then, almost as soon as the weekend’s winners have been garlanded and held trophies aloft, Formula E’s convoy of 18-wheelers are on their way to the next vibrant city venue. After Diriyah, this season’s COVID-19 pandemic-adjusted calendar will head onto Rome, Valencia, Monaco, Marrakesh and is due to end, currently, on the streets of Santiago, Chile – although there are considerable hopes for more races to be added soon.

For TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team’s André Lotterer, the future for the series is an appropriately electrifying one. “It’s really impressive to see the championship grow as it has,” he says. “I don’t think many would have believed it at the beginning. Just seeing how many premium brands are involved in this championship shows how relevant and how important Formula E is.”

Crew replace tyre on TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E car
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