Race is on to build the fastest electric car

As Formula E’s first year on the track reaches a climax, preparations are underway to further develop electric racing cars

As the inaugural season of Formula E draws to a close in London this weekend, the series will crown its first champion, but the story doesn’t end there. It is only just beginning and next year the biggest change will be behind the scenes as teams have the green light to innovate.

For years racing technology played catch up with road cars as cutting-edge hybrid engines became more popular, while those on-track tended to lack green credentials. Formula E raced into the spotlight to tackle this problem and has left rival series in its dust.

Electric racing is no longer just an idea or dream – it’s reality. Fans have described it as being new, weird, unique, mad, unpredictable, action-packed and just what motorsport needed. A series that steers clear of politics and focuses on the most important thing – the racing.

Powered by an electric motor made by McLaren, alongside a 30kw battery from Williams Advanced Technology, Formula E’s STR_01E car is the first of its kind.

Its chassis has been beautifully shaped from carbon fibre and aluminium by Italian manufacturer Dallara, the same company which makes the chassis for F1’s feeder series GP2 and America’s IndyCar championship.

Formula E cars hit 140mph which is just 60mph shy of F1. However, the difference is less noticeable due to Formula E’s decision to race on city-centre tracks. These circuits use existing streets so lack sweeping corners which purpose-built tracks are famous for. Instead, they are full of tight angular turns, which require the cars to reduce their speed, making it harder for them to accelerate to their limit.

The same is true when F1 races on street circuits, so it levels the playing field with Formula E. This is why the difference between the average speed of the fastest lap for the two series at Monaco, the only track they both race on, reduces to just 24mph. Racing on city streets has other benefits too. It showcases local landmarks on television which benefits the city and country. The buildings also become soundboards for the high-pitched screech of the cars which sound like giant remote-control racers.

They draw in fans as tickets to many of the races are free. Even those watching from home can get stuck into the action through the FanBoost online voting system which engages fans unlike any other championship. It rewards the three most popular drivers a boost of 50bhp to encourage overtaking in the bumpy, narrow streets that Formula E calls its circuits.

Formula E will next year become an open championship by allowing manufacturers to pursue in-house innovations, beginning with the development of bespoke powertrains

The standings going into this weekend’s finale are dominated by Nelson Piquet Jr, son of the F1 legend. However, just 23 points separate the top three drivers and there is good reason for this.

Although Formula E is new, its drivers are seasoned with backgrounds in a range of top-flight series, including F1 and the World Endurance Championship. Alongside Piquet sit other relatives of famous names from F1 history, including Bruno Senna and Nicolas Prost. It gives Formula E history and tradition which are two qualities usually missing from a new series.

One of the big attractions for drivers is that the cars do not give anyone a significant advantage. This is because Formula E is what is known as a “spec series”, which means that all competing teams have to use the same chassis, engine and tyre supplier.

Now that Formula E has established itself, it is building on this and next year will become an open championship by allowing manufacturers to pursue in-house innovations, beginning with the development of bespoke powertrains. It should give a jolt to the running order.

Apple’s Steve Jobs once said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Formula E is firmly in the former category and, as it continues to evolve, its manufacturers will be able to have more of an impact on the development of electric-powered road cars. The race is on.