It’s Electric: First Formula E Season Begins

The world’s first Formula E season begins in the Chinese capital this weekend.Billed as a new era in motor racing, the Beijing E-Prix will mark the start of an entirely new sport with 10 races in cities around the world, and a season finale on a street circuit in London next June.

It is a Grand Prix but with no roars and no fumes; high octane is now high voltage. Each car is powered by a massive battery.

There is, quite literally, a buzz around Beijing’s Olympic Park. The noise of these state-of-the-art racing cars is unique.

The sport is backed by the FIA, motor racing’s governing body, and has the support of big names in Formula 1.

Sky News was given early morning access to the garage of the Virgin Racing team.

We watched the team’s four cars unloaded from their air transport boxes and bolted together.

“Electric motors are a lot more compact, smooth and are better in every single way,” said Sylvian Filippi, Virgin’s chief technical officer.

And the battery power isn’t the only stark difference between Formula E and its big brother, Formula 1.

Spectators and audiences around the world will have the chance to influence the race via social media.

Through a concept dubbed “Fanboost”, the public can cast votes to give three drivers a speed advantage at certain points in the race.

The votes close 20 minutes before the race, when the winning drivers are announced.

They will be then be given a 30kW (40 horsepower) boost which can be used at any point during the race for five seconds.

“Fans have never had the opportunity to interact directly with a racing driver before and I think a lot of new fans are going to get involved,” added Sam Bird, a driver for the Virgin team.

There’s more, too. The practice, qualifying and the race all take place on the same day.

And each driver has two cars, as the batteries used don’t hold their charge long enough to complete a race.

So rather than just changing their tyres halfway through, they will change cars, too.

All this has divided the motor racing community with many dismissing the whole concept as a gimmick which will flop.

But Bird said: “If this was a gimmick then why would we have so many drivers interested in doing it with some of the biggest names in motor sport?”

Four-time F1 world champion Alain Prost co-owns a team, with his son Nico one of the drivers. Another team, Mahindra, has signed up Ayrton Senna’s nephew, Bruno. With Prost and Senna together again, this represents a generational shift and a renewed rivalry.

And big names in sustainability have also been attracted to Formula E, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Sir Richard Branson both fronting teams.

But this is about much more than just a new motor sport. The idea behind it all is, according to the organisers, “to help develop electric vehicle technology, accelerate interest and promote sustainability”.

It will help kickstart the commercial electric car industry; longer lasting cleaner batteries, better engines and more developments which could encourage many more of us to drive electric cars in the future.

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