I’ll be the first one to admit I was sceptical of Formula E, especially when I heard there’d be a “fanboost” feature allowing the public to decide which drivers get an extra push-to-pass boost.
I’m not a fan of artificially enhanced racing, and, to me at least, this smacks very much of tweaking things to manufacture excitement.
But put this to one side for a moment and you’ll realise Formula E is really, really, quite cool.
I’m here at the second test day up at the series’ base at Donington Park, and just five minutes watching the cars circulate almost silently, it’s managed to change my opinion on the championship. Not totally, as I still have some reservations, but here seeing really is believing.
Bring the noise – no, really…
I love the noise of a race engine. There’s something so atmospheric about the howl of a Judd V10 and something that sends my stomach into excited somersaults when I hear a Le Mans Corvette V8 or one of the old, shrieking Formula One V8s from afar.
But the lack of conventional noise in Formula E is actually a feature – and I never thought it would be.
I say lack of conventional noise because the cars aren’t totally silent. If you’ve complained about the downward turn in decibels from this year’s turbocharged F1 cars (something I’m sure Richard will be able to shed some light on, as he’s at Silverstone today), you’re not going to be too happy here. But I think it’s actually brilliant. I really do.
They sound like massive remote controlled cars, with a high-pitched whine from the motor and transmission. Close your eyes and on approach to your vantage point it could be a far off fast jet accelerating rapidly towards you, such is the rush of air, whooshing and whirring.
And the lack of engine noise reveals something you don’t usually hear on a race car: the tyres.
They’re treaded items designed to be used in the wet and dry, and you can genuinely hear the friction they’re generating through the corners.
It’s an odd experience watching a car lap Donington in 1 minute and 35 seconds (so far, only a few seconds off a Formula 4 car round here) in this fashion.
It’s all too easy to let the fury of a race engine fool your brain into automatically associating it with speed. And the opposite is true for electric cars. But it’s just not so.
E is for excellent
These things are fast, and they’re the future. There’s bound to be some teething problems in the first season – there already has been in the first session today – but as the championship opens up moving forward into year two, the pace of development will surely accelerate with it.
And it’s here that this will help your next road car. Motorsport is a great breeding ground for road car technology: disc brakes, double-clutch gearboxes, turbocharging and direct injection – items we take for granted on modern cars – were all developed in the cauldron of a circuit.
If the future of on-road motoring is electric cars, then I’m glad there’s a motorsport series such as Formula E to ensure that sphere of motoring improves.
As a complimentary championship to the usual motorsport formulae, I think E is for excellent.
It offers an alternative experience to noisy race engines rich in character by presenting its own personality, and I applaud that – as long as we can still have the former, too. I mean, you wouldn’t want to eat the same thing for every meal, would you?
Formula E is electrifying in more ways than one. The fanboost however, I’m still not so sure of…