The 2017/18 Formula E season kicks off this weekend with the Hong Kong E-Prix.
As we gear up for the fourth season of the world’s premier electric street racing series, we take a look at its potential to rival the popularity of Formula 1.
Another season of Formula 1 racing is done and dusted. After 20 races, Lewis Hamilton joined the ranks of the immortals, overtaking Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher to top the list of polesitters and claiming his fourth World Drivers’ Championship title – level with Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel, and behind only Schumi and Juan Manuel Fangio. On the streets of Hong Kong, however, another racing season is just about to get underway.
The 2017/18 Formula E season will see 20 drivers from 10 teams competing in 14 races around the world. The stage is set, but will Formula E be able to grow its fanbase and become a spectacle of its own? We think there’s every possibility. Here’s why.
The locations and timing
We don’t watch motorsports for the racing alone. Part of the fun of it is getting a window into different destinations with every race, each with its distinct culture and connection to pivotal moments in seasons past. Among these Grands Prix, there is a special love for street races: Monaco, Singapore and (after this year’s race) Azerbaijan are highlights of the calendar. Formula E provides both draws in spades.
With Formula E, you’ll travel to destinations Formula 1 can’t take you to – Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Santiago, Zurich (incidentally, the first circuit race in Switzerland in more than 60 years) and more – and in familiar cities, drivers will do battle on the streets. The Hong Kong E-Prix is run in the heart of Central, the New York E-Prix cuts through Brooklyn and the Paris E-Prix loops around Les Invalides.
With the odd exception, Formula E will also benefit from the fact that it complements the Formula 1 calendar – it can be a competition that runs in parallel with F1 without having to fight for its own market share. Six of this season’s races take place during the Formula 1 off-season, and most other E-Prix are contested on weekends without an F1 race (or on the Saturday of a F1 race weekend). It’s perfect for fans who can’t bear the breaks between races.
A key element of Formula 1’s popularity is the fanatical support behind its most successful constructors. Ferrari vs Mercedes is every bit as tempestuous a rivalry as Liverpool vs Manchester United or Barcelona vs Real Madrid. But what about other famous marques? You’ll find many of them in Formula E. The team line-up reads like a who’s who of the world’s top car manufacturers alongside some of motorsports greatest champions (and most memorable characters).
There’s Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler (the team of defending drivers’ champion Lucas di Grassi), Panasonic Jaguar Racing and the Citroen-backed DS Virgin Racing. Renault e.dams, meanwhile, have won every team championship since the series began.
American racing icons Andretti Autosport and Team Penske are also represented in MS & AD Andretti and Dragon Racing respectively. Venturi, the name behind some of the fastest vehicles ever built, are in the mix as well.
Looking ahead, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche will be joining the fray in future seasons.
The Asian presence
We’re well into the “Asian century”, and with Asia taking a leading role in clean energy and eco-friendly practices, it’s only fitting that Formula E has two Asian teams.
A veteran of every season so far, India’s Mahindra Racing will look to continue their improvement after winning their first race in Berlin this past June. China, on the other hand, is represented by Techeetah, who return for their second season having already made headlines for racing an actual cheetah. We’re not joking.
While both teams are currently led by drivers from outside the region, both have fielded talents from their home countries in the past – Karun Chandhok for Mahindra in 2014/15 and Ma Qing Hua for Techeetah last season. Ma is now the reserve driver for NIO, a China-owned team based in London.
Beyond these two teams, Japan’s Formula 1 veteran Kamui Kobayashi will debut for Andretti this season.
The history waiting to be written
While Formula 1’s rich history is a big part of why we love it, there’s a case to be made for following a sport with almost no history. Formula E was announced in 2012 and had its first season in 2014. There hasn’t even been enough time to see a driver win more than one championship.
The sport’s folklore will be carved out by an exciting mix of old stagers with Formula 1 experience – di Grassi, Kobayashi, Nelson Piquet Jr, Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nick Heidfeld – and young up-and-comers.
Formula E’s unique “double header” format at selected E-Prix (Hong Kong, New York and Montreal this season) adds to the drama – two full races will be run in these cities back to back, delivering a double dose of contests, controversies and clashes.
The future is electric
You only have to look at a Tesla or a BMW i8 to realize that the era of electric cars has well and truly begun. Far from being punchlines with all the design appeal of a box on wheels, some electric cars are now sought-after status symbols. Soon, however, going electric won’t even be a matter of choice – the UK and France have already announced their intentions to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars.
With electric cars becoming the norm, Formula E will only grow in importance. And you can bet some of the technology developed for its races will go into your future rides. Following Formula E now gives you a front row seat to not just the future of the sport, but the future of driving itself.
The Hong Kong E-Prix takes place from Dec 2 to 3. Catch all the action on Fox Sports.
Read More: Singapore Grand Prix: Why We Need Formula 1