Formula E is the accumulation of more than 100 years of motor racing. What started with vast circuits and slow, lethally under-equipped cars is now a futuristic science of construction and engineering honed to create the most exciting sporting experience possible.
Having established itself in a nail-biting first season, Formula E returned in 2015 with new rules, new teams, more funding and a swollen brigade of devotees. What fans discovered is that this isn’t simply an environmentally friendly type of Formula 1, but an entirely new code of racing.
Formula E vs Formula 1
The cars run with a whoosh rather than a roar and do not emit harmful fumes. Some sound has been added to mimic petrol engines; a century of listening to them roaring around tracks means people still expect noise. But these are only two of many things distinguishing Formula E from its fossil-fuelled counterparts.
Constructors use the same chassis, but are permitted to develop large parts their cars’ infrastructure, including the e-motor, gearbox and cooling system. Like Formula 1, teams have two drivers, but different rules govern pit stops, tyre use and available power.
Qualifying takes place on the same day as the ePrix and the five fastest drivers are invited back on to the track to vie for pole position on the grid in a “super pole shoot-out”. Fans can even win their drivers extra power by backing them on social media in the weeks leading up to races.
All this makes Formula E unique. It retains the glamour associated with racing and adds spice, for example by staging meets on temporary race tracks in city-centre locations, such as London, Mexico City, Berlin, Hong Kong and Long Beach in Miami. This gives organisers the chance to set tracks in large metropolitan areas, among awe-inspiring scenery with familiar backdrops.
In its first two years, race organisers have been blessed with closely fought, competitive seasons, something which has given this fledgling race category an almighty boost. Two years of dominance by a single team or a driver way out in front might have poured cold water on its development.
In season two, fans have been treated to a photo finish, between two established stars of the sport, Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi, who are separated by a single point at the top of the leader board.
This close competition is one reason why Formula E has attracted increasing amounts of sponsorship from big and glamorous advertisers such as Julius Baer, Visa Europe and Avis UK.
Sam Piccione III, chief revenue officer of Formula E, says: “We started season one with an amazing group of world-class sponsors who came on board because they could see the potential and understood the ethos of Formula E. Moving into our third season we have added concrete evidence of the sport’s impact such as audience figures and, of course, the races themselves, which enhance the story greatly.
“We experienced 95 per cent growth in sponsorship and hospitality sales in our second year compared with the first and, such has been the success of these deals, we have entered into 40 times more commercial conversations year on year heading into season three.
“We are constantly evolving the opportunities by targeting individual race sponsorships and developing a headline cup sponsor for major brands with whom we want to strike long-term partnerships. Being a mobile event, we can also customise hospitality spaces to suit people’s needs, making our product very enticing to commercial partners.”
Summing up Visa’s decision to take lead sponsorship at the inaugural Paris ePrix, Mark Antipof at Visa Europe says: “The partnership between Visa Europe and Formula E represents the coming together of two truly innovative brands. We share fundamental values with Formula E, namely mobility, agility, speed and technology.”
We experienced 95 per cent growth in sponsorship and hospitality sales in our second year
According to president of Panasonic Industrial Devices Jeff Howell, Panasonic elected to co-sponsor the Dragon Racing team with Mouser Electronics this season because of Formula E’s reputation for advanced electronics and cutting-edge innovation.
Organisations sponsoring races are exposed to a global TV audience. At the start of season one, the value of this exposure was estimated by organisers at about $50 million a race, an amount that has increased as interest continues to develop.
The final race of the season was broadcast on ITV and drew 1.2 million viewers in the UK alone, as well as 60,000 people trackside over the three days the circuit was open to ticket holders.
But Formula E is not standing still. It is justifying its reputation for constant innovation with new additions such as the ROBORACE, in which the competitors are all autonomous vehicles. Chief designer Daniel Simon, who previously worked on futuristic Hollywood films such as Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, says: “My goal was to create a vehicle that takes full advantage of the unusual opportunities of having no driver without ever compromising on beauty. Racing engineers and aerodynamicists have worked with me from the beginning to strike that balance.”
Another innovation is eRace, which allows fans to compete virtually in a race against their favourite drivers. They are invited to set their best lap times on the Battersea circuit in a gaming booth and the winners get access to the grid on race day.