Not sold on Formula E? Dario Franchitti thinks you need to reconsider

A decade since its debut, Formula E has established itself as a forward-thinking series with highly-competitive races. But despite the positives, the all-electric championship still has a vocal collective of naysayers that deride it purely because its cars don’t go ‘vroom’.

As a self-proclaimed internal combustion fan with a collection of supercars at home and a trophy cabinet bursting with mementos from a career mostly spent in the loud IndyCar arena, Dario Franchitti ought to fit that mold. But he doesn’t. He’s not even close, having been a part of the Formula E fold since day one as a TV commentator.

“To me, racing’s racing, whatever the vehicle is, however it’s powered. There’s pluses and minuses to all forms,” he tells RACER. “Me, I’d watch two flies racing up the wall.


“There’s some people who just won’t be swayed because it’s not an internal combustion engine. I love internal combustion engines. I’m an old petrolhead and I love the sound of different cars, different engines, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy FE. The level of competition and the types of races that it puts on are bloody good.”

Franchitti admits Formula E was regarded as “a bit of a joke” in its early days, but that it “pretty quickly earned the respect of a lot of people in the racing world.” The series is a far cry from what it was in those initial seasons, but the early-established opinions have lingered among many.

“People form an opinion because they’ve heard it somewhere else,” Franchitti points out. “That’s a dangerous thing to do, and I do it with other things – I do it with people – and I think we all do it. We all form opinions when we’re not fully informed.

“But watch the races. Not every race is going to be an absolute barn-burner, but over that season there’s a lot of bloody good races. And it’s when you actually get into it and understand the intricacies of it, you understand what a challenge it is, as well.”

For the first four seasons, Formula E races required the use of two cars to make it to the checkered flag. It was a necessary evil due to battery technology not where it needed to be at the time, but while the championship left that behind several years ago, it’s something that some of Formula E’s biggest critics continue to cling onto.

“How many years ago was that? Six that we went to the GEN2 car,” Franchitti says, with a hint of disdain about the two-car point still being clung onto.

Franchitti’s racing roots are as old-school as they come, but time in the FE paddock has given him a strong appreciation for what the all-electric series brings to the table. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

“I feel that in that first season, some of the races were mega. It was just, again, people had formed these very strong opinions before they’d even seen a race. I think things like the two cars because of the energy limitations, or the batteries in those days, kind of played into some people’s opinion, shall we say. But all that’s changed.”

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the lack of sound. But while the ‘engines’ are quieter, that has unlocked other positive elements, both off- and -on track.

“If you talk to younger fans, and you say, ‘do you guys miss the sound of a V8 or a V6 or a V12?’, they’ve never heard one. So there’s different audiences, and that’s good for attracting more and a wider range of audience to motor racing,” says Franchitti, his point about sound handily being interrupted by a loud bang as Sebastien Buemi makes contact with the wall.

“If you tune into it, certainly in the early days, I could hear – it sounds weird to say – I could hear how much grip a car had by the amount of tire noise they were making. It’s like ‘he’s in trouble, you can hear his tires are screeching and he needs to put some input in. You could hear stuff like that.”

The different sounds you can hear help highlight what Franchitti describes as “mental acrobatics” the drivers are doing behind the wheel. Far from being a simple, flat-out series, driving style and energy saving are key in Formula E, but it’s not unique to the category any more.

“It’s very difficult,” he says. “Energy’s fuel. I won a championship saving fuel, but here it’s in every lap. Anybody can save energy, it’s going quick and saving energy, and that’s another part of the difficulty we give the drivers.

“I think there’s still absolutely a place for flat-out racing. A lot of IndyCar races are just absolutely flat-out, but sometimes if you can save point whatever gallons a lap, you can do one less pitstop in the race and it’s a much more efficient way.

“All types of racing, probably highlighted by FE, have become more efficient. More efficient in tire use, more efficient in the internal combustion cars, fuel consumption. Some of the numbers that we got in the early CART days… I remember seeing 1.5 miles per gallon with a qualifying engine in the car; the number of engines used, qualifying engines, all that stuff. Now you’ve got engines that have to do X amount of miles. All sustainability has become so important.

“And we want the sponsors. A lot of these sponsors, the first question they ask potential teams now, whether that’s a team here, or a team in F1, or a team wherever it is, is what are you doing sustainability?”

While Formula E’s lead on efficiency has spilled into other series, Franchitti says that’s not where Formula E’s influence on ‘traditional racing’ stops. And there are also things that the relative newcomer can still learn from more established championships.

“I think if you’re smart, you’re learning from everyone,” he says. “I think Formula E can learn from all the other series, and I think IndyCar can learn from everybody, including FE. FE have brought some really strong new things into racing because there was no rulebook. The series did not have to conform to tradition, and traditional values of how we go racing – ‘we’re an electric series, we can make this up as we go along’. And I think a lot of the series that are smart will look here and say ‘yeah, they’ve done this, this is a good idea’, as opposed to just being ‘oh no, no’.”

Story originally appeared on Racer