What to make of Formula E? It’s a tough question to answer.
Audi announced its exit from the electric-car series in 2021. Then BMW quit, and Mercedes also said auf Wiedersehen. As factory support dwindles, the team roster reads more like the usernames in a Fortnite lobby: DS Techeetah, Nio 333, Rokit Venturi. Regardless of the players involved, most enthusiasts have never tuned in to a single race over the series’s eight seasons. Formula E has even brought the show to Road & Track’s doorstep with the ePrix in Brooklyn, but of the many New York–based staffers at this magazine, only one attended the 2022 event. So why should we be paying more attention?
This story originally appeared in Volume 13 of Road & Track.
Mostly, it’s the potential of Formula E that keeps me curious. It’s a reason to advocate for eyeballs on the sport. We’ve seen the highs and lows of internal-combustion racing, its limits and edges. Yet we haven’t a clue where electric racing could take us. This fresh 2023 season offers hints, bringing us third-gen cars capable of recharging in a single 30-second pit stop, with regenerative braking so exceptional, the car will forgo hydraulic rear brakes entirely.
What if we could apply that tech to electric sports cars? Doesn't that perk your ears up?
Of course, this line of reasoning hinges on on what Formula E could be, rather than what it is or even what it’s trying to be. Formula E feels too self-conscious now, too busy catering the spectacle to advertisers instead of fans. Scuttlebutt from the ground floor suggests Formula E drivers aren’t all that interested, either, filling race seats as placeholders while they await their turn in a higher-profile series.
But how might electric racing change the landscape of motorsport if more fans, drivers, and manufacturers bought into the idea with full hearts? This series is our best chance to find out. If you don’t believe there’s emotion worth chasing, you probably haven’t watched Romain Dumas wrestle the Volkswagen ID.R up Pikes Peak at daybreak, the car skipping like a thrown stone up the mountain’s asphalt, whizzing by so fast that your neck snaps to keep up.
Electric race cars can provide that carnival-ride glee if we let them. But so far, they can’t do it for very long (Formula E critics are quick to point out this shortcoming). We need battery breakthroughs for all electric cars, both race cars and street rides. Racing should always lead the way. Unshackle the minds of the sport’s engineers. Free the cars to be bleeding-edge test beds: no more managing battery usage to limp across the finish line, no more spec cars and powertrains, no more race distances dictated by current technology. Throw the salary cap to the dogs and get all the big manufacturers in on the vision.
We could bring Can-Am’s no-holds-barred thrills to the modern age.
This is a plea to both series management and motorsport fans. To the Formula E cognoscenti: Make the racing feel wild and visceral, the technology vital and unrestrained; the newest regulations for 2023 inch us closer, but there's still work to be done.
Keep going and you’ll get your payday, Formula E. To motorsport fans: Keep an open mind. If electric racing is to run alongside Formula 1 in earnest, give it a try as it learns to walk. I’m not sure we can solve the world’s transportation problems by tuning in to Formula E, but electric racing can’t deliver the future if we look away.
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