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I See Lightning on the Horizon

September 11, 2013

We seem to be quite focused, at the moment, on the future. The focus of the Formula 1 world is firmly on the driver contracts for next year, with speculation rife as to who is going to be racing for which team. At the same time we all wait with bated breath to see what next year’s technical changes will bring to the sport we love. With completely redesigned engines and numerous other regulation changes, be they fuel or reliability related, there is no doubt that things will be different.  With this year’s championship all but won by the relentless Sebastian Vettel it is no wonder that the eyes of the fans, and even some teams, are turned to the future in secret (or not so secret) hope that something can be done to knock the German off his seemingly comfortable perch.

The future, however, seems to hold considerably more than some driver and regulation changes in the F1 arena.  We are on the precipice of making an exciting leap forward in motor sport and, quite possibly, the automotive world in general.  I am talking about Formula E, the brand new FIA championship that is set to begin at the tail end of 2014 and is, I believe, the most exciting thing to happen to motor sport in a long time. The concept is simple: take a formula race car and power it exclusively with electrical energy, take 20 of these cars to 10 of the world’s most iconic cities and race.  In essence it is the electric version of Formula 1.

There are a number of exciting things about this new championship, not least of which is the fact that it will provide us with an opportunity to watch high-speed vehicles tearing along the streets below some of the world’s most famous landmarks. It is hoped that it will provide some sort of catalyst for research and development in the realm of electric vehicles and, by showcasing the capabilities of the vehicles, seeks to shatter some of the stigma associated with electric cars. In order to promote development the series will run as an open championship in order to facilitate innovation. That being said, the first season will see all teams using the same car in order to let the competition establish itself.  The Spark-Renault SRT_01E was unveiled in the past few days and I must say, I think it’s rather good-looking.

Spark-Renault SRT_01E

A number of measures have also been taking to control spending by the teams and keep the costs associated with the competition down. These include housing all of the cars in a central workshop, fixing gear ratios and dropping tyre changes during the race hence removing the need for expensive pit equipment. In place of tyre changes, teams will actually perform entire car changes with each driver having two cars for the race and the rules stipulate that he must make two mandatory pit stops in order to change vehicles.  Presumably this is to allow one car to charge while the other is on circuit. There are a number of other regulations, all of which can be found on the championship website.

As with anything that upsets the world as we know it, there will be those who are not on board with this idea. Those who feel that this is a bad idea, a waste of money or a waste of time. The most common argument I have seen against Formula E is the idea that it will lack the scream of fossil fuelled engines. To this I say that, while it is certainly true that Formula E will not sound anything like traditional forms of motor sport, anyone who uses that as a reason to withhold support for this series can’t truly call themselves a fan of the sport. If you are in it only for the noise then you can quite easily spend Sunday afternoons with a pair of headphones on listening to recording of engine noises. This new championship is a good thing; an exciting new idea in the motor sport world and one that we should get behind. I cannot wait.

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