Start, Formula E, Zurich, 2018

Brawn: Formula E’s “tame” races show why F1 isn’t ready to go electric

2018 F1 season

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Formula 1’s managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn says the sport could use electric engines one day.

But he believes Formula E shows all-electric power ‘doesn’t deliver the spectacle’ people expect of Formula 1 at the moment.

“I think we have to respect what Formula E’s doing and what it’s achieving,” Brawn told F1 Fan Voice. “[But] if you look at the magnitude of the two they’re not really comparable in the number of fans we have, the appeal of Formula 1. Formula E is still very junior in that respect.

“I think Formula 1 will evolve in the direction that has the right balance of sport and relevance and engagement with the fans. If in five years’ time or 10 years’ time or whenever there is a need, desire, wish to have a different type of power unit in Formula 1, we’ll do it.

“There’s nothing to stop us having electric Formula 1 cars in future. At the moment they don’t deliver the spectacle.

“With all due respect it’s a pretty junior category of road racing. it’s a great event in terms of all the stuff that’s going on around it but the race itself is pretty tame compared to a Formula 1 event. The cars are not particularly fast. They don’t have the personalities involved. It’s a smaller, junior formula.

“But they’re doing a fabulous job of the event, making it a street party. But Formula 1’s different. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. The speeds we do, the calibre of driver we have, the calibre of teams we have.”

However Brawn does not rule out F1 moving towards electric power in the future.

“I don’t see Formula 1 necessarily being locked into internal combustion engines forever. Who knows where we are in 10 years, 10 years ago I don’t think many people would [have been] able to predict where the world is now and therefore I don’t know where we’re going to be in 10 years’ time. But Formula 1 will move in the right direction.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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57 comments on “Brawn: Formula E’s “tame” races show why F1 isn’t ready to go electric”

  1. Daniel (@collettdumbletonhall)
    9th August 2018, 12:12

    Has he never watched F1?

  2. The only merit Formula E has is actually quite a significant one, low noise (except for the rather daft mood music that must accompany everything these days). That means promoters can bring it to their customers in urban centres without the outcry that might accompany even today’s ‘quiet’ F1 cars.

    1. It also has no exhaust emissions, sets up and tears down in less than a week. F1 setup takes well over a month.

      1. Gaseous and most certainly particulate emissions would be reduced even if the racing was using ICEs. You’re comparing an intermittent racing programme with c.20 vehicles with the norm of crowded city centre traffic running bumper to bumper.

        Set-up times I would put into the same category as noise, the quicker it happens, the fewer neighbours you’ll upset. It’s a natural for city centres, at Silverstone it would simply look and sound tame.

      2. 99.999% of all exhaust emissions in formula e and f1 race come from the trucks, spectator cars and the jets that are used to freight the f1 circus around the world. The f1 cars themselves could be made of diesel and we could burn the cars after the race and the carbon footprint of the race cars themselves would still be less than a thousandth of a percent compared to the the emissions that are created when we move the people and equipment to and from the races.

        If f1 wants to be green it focuses on mass transportation and making its jumbo jets more green. The f1 cars only matter for the pr perspective.

        1. Of course – and they’re things the series should address, certainly. But in terms of getting permission to race in a city centre, many of which ban high-emissions cars the political weight that the FE race cars have no emissions is relevant.

        2. @ Socksolid, Excellent point. When you count the 50.000 spectators that sat in a traffic jam with their engines on at Paul Ricard for no reason other than poor organization, the F1 cars themselves become utterly irrelevant.

        3. It’s telling that a single Boeing 747 will probably burn more fuel on a single full trip than all F1 cars, on all races, on all sessions, put together. Besides, they are already slower than 1970s jets to save fuel. Ideally F1 teams would move throughout Eurasia and the Americas for the races on electric trains and trucks, but the technology and infrastructure isn’t there and won’t be for decades.

      3. @hazelsouthwell @frasier You both are spot on. Ross Brawn makes us believe it’s a bad thing that Formula E is not up to F1 standards (and as a boss in F1 maybe he should be), but the differences between F1 and FE makes FE so unique. It’s designed as a one-day event in the center of big cities. F1 will never be able to do that, nor do they want to. Second, FE has never been about performance first. Low on power, hardly any downforce, rockhard tyres. If you compare it to F1 that seems turnoffs but better compare FE with touring cars like WTCR.

        1. Yep, FE is a proving ground for racing EV technology. It is quite road relevant and as you say is opening motor sport to more areas. Its racing however is excellent. I watched in amazement last year as one driver went about 10 laps virtually touching the car in front (the front mounted camera could see nothing but a large view of the rear of the leading car!). He didn’t get past in the end but it was great watching the battle.

          Lets hope the new wings get F1 closer to that sort of racing rather than having stupid DRS.

    2. Wow, are they still playing that music during the races? I thought that was a first-season thing, trying to seem hip and cool for the youngsters.

      1. Once you go hip you never go back.

  3. Obviously I do have a leaning bias here but surely the absolute LAST thing anyone in F1, all-to-frequently an extremely expensive camping trip to watch a fancy car procession, can point at Formula E and say is that the racing is comparatively poor?

    Formula E races contain more overtakes than entire F1 seasons. Also not to be funny but this odd focus on the event – the ‘street party’ vs ‘pinnacle of motorsport’ – is truly bizarre; F1 is also an entertainment event and anyone who’s ever been GA at Silverstone will know it feels a bit like an overcrowded village fete. FE has minuscule numbers of event attendees compared to its global TV audience (same for Formula One of course) so I don’t think we need worry that it’s bringing in manufacturers with a bit of bunting and some exceptionally well-made cucumber sandwiches.

    1. And single Formula Ford races contain more overtakes than entire seasons of Formula E seasons. What’s important is the quality not the quantity. Someone running out of power on the last lap and dropping from 2nd the 14th means there were 12 overtakes but are they really worthy of mention?
      Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Formula E and have watched every race since it’s inception but the level of excitement is not currently comparable for F1.

      1. Not unless Formula Ford has ten times the number of cars I last saw it with; FE has tight, thrilling overtaking battles (with, yeah, the odd ‘out of power’ situation but it’s not like reliability in F1 is amazing currently – or ever has been) and it’s very, very rare for the top three, say, not to be duelling to the end.

        It’s a bit hyperbolic of me to say F1 is a total snooze-fest (I obviously still watch and indeed work on and write about it) but even Brawn himself acknowledges they must change the cars to improve overtaking and increase the excitement of the races, currently.

        1. Don’t forget that F1 will be locked behind a paywall next season so lots of people like myself will no longer watch it. That leaves Formula E. So I like thousands of others will happily watch Formula E whilst forgetting about F1. F1’s greed has killed itself. No doubt Formula E will follow suit when it becomes popular. It is what businesses do when they smell cash. By then F1 will return and the cycle will begin again.

          1. This!

            Once F1 disappears fully behind a paywall it will be dead to me. Which is a shame as I have been watching for 35 years…

            It will also not be long before it is gone completely as already teams are struggling due to the lack of sponsorship which is in turn because the audiences have dropped which in turn is because it is behind pay walls.

    2. Fikri Harish (@)
      10th August 2018, 4:58

      Yeah, an F1 weekend is always a party, like literally so.
      We sang happy birthday for Verstappen in Malaysia last year and the Dutch fans went mad when he won the race the day after. I sat next to a Danish entourage who’s there solely for Magnussen and to have a good time.
      Met a guy from Mauritius who stumbled upon a group of students from the same tiny island in the F1 village nation by sheer chance.

      Attending a live F1 race is more for the euphoria and the atmosphere, it’s not like attending a tennis match where everything unfolds in front of you. That particular comment from Brawn is odd given how Singapore managed to be so successful is by pushing the entertainment aspect.

      By the way @hazelsouthwell, loving your article over at Jalopnik.
      FE’s next season is going to be interesting. New cars, no more car swapping but we now have ‘hyperboost’.

    3. Stop this. Formula E is just crap compared to F1. That is not real racing, that is not real motor sport. I tried to watch 2 time a FE race and I find myself sleeping before the race ended. No noise, no F1 DNA, no Hamilton/Alonso/Verstappen/Vettel. And F1 is not just spectacle. With the hybrid engines thei mantein a balance between spectacle and racing. Not all the world will be full electric in the future. The hybrids will be around as well. And by preserving MGU-K F1 will retain the status as the queen of motorsport. Its a disgrace to even compare F1 with that formula.

      1. Of course it is real racing. Of course it is real motor sport. The lack of noise is just something you are trained to like. Kids now will be growing up with silent cars and so they will not care about the lack on noise at all. You may be snobbish about it but lets face it, many people would say they fall asleep during F1 too.

        Yes F1 has the best drivers but how long will they want to be racing in F1 when no one is watching anymore? F1 has drivien itself (Well Bernie has) into a corner and it now has nowhere to go.

        1. The kids are kids and when they will grow and become men they will want to see F1, not that crap series. Never… never the DNA of F1 will dissapear. They will always be the prime series, what ever changes will they do.

          1. I think the fact you assume the kids are going to become men probably speaks volumes, here.

          2. How will kids want to see something they have never been exposed to? Would you gamble 1000’s on subbing to some unknown sport just in case it might be good? Or will you watch what is in front of you? F1 will become a distant memory or a boring computer racing game found in bargain bins. Grandfathers will tell of the glory days of days gone by where anyone could watch. Kids will just say meh and move on.

    4. Indeed @hazelsouthwell. One might object to the cars being rather sluggish and slow – from their weight/power ratio and lack of downforce, and some still feel the need to critisize the simple fact they are electric and don’t make engine noise and smell. I do feel the overtaking aids and theway for handing out the extra boost with a fan vote is lame though.

      One thing that made the racing look awkward – the mid race car swap – although now I think it was great to have it, because then it shows how electric is develping when they will race full distance from next season onwards.

      The racing itself in FE though, the on track action, has almost always been far more alive than F1 where the teams are so good at their simulation that the optimal race resembles each driver just executing that simulation with orderly distances between them so as not to upset aero, save tyres and fuel and get the points.

      1. @bascb Fanboost is undeniably shonky. I have developed a weird affection for it now we’ve lost car swaps as the ‘early funny stuff’ of Formula E, like the first weird albums of your favourite band but it is quite daft. I think it only very rarely affects race outcomes, as it comes from your usable energy anyway – one notable exception being Buemi’s habit of using it to send himself into a spin on a corner.

        1. one notable exception being Buemi’s habit of using it to send himself into a spin on a corner

          Nice comparison with the early album stuff there too Hazel

  4. *shrug* Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Blackberry and the like were happy with their position when Apple started making smart phones too. Just because something is smaller now doesn’t mean it won’t eclipse your product if it’s better. Keep up or be left behind.

    He should be championing his planned long-term revisions for the sport. He wouldn’t have the need to comment on Formula E’s supposed inferiority if it wasn’t a credible competitor with interest being shown.

  5. Electric “engines”? Motors would be the correct description.

  6. lol I laughed as he made sure to say more than once ‘junior formula’. I prefer call it Formula R, for F1 rejects and retirees.

    But seriously, I do watch F-E races if I happen to stumble on them live, I rarely watch TV except for live sport events, so it takes a lot of luck for me to have a F-E race going on right after an F1 session or some other game just ended.

    I’m sure some people can love F-E. But the track layouts, the speeds, the quality of the drivers, they are just not good enough to get me excited. I rather watch a really bad F1 race than the best F-E race of the season. People can have different opinions of course, and F-E can grow with time and become more interesting to me and to more people.

    Like I said some other day, in my opinoin F-E would be very interesting if they ran at an F1 track with slick tires and F-2 levels of downforce and power. I would watch that for sure.

    1. You know you can call it FE right?

    2. Just watch F2 then, because that’s what you are describing. Formula E was never meant to be “F2, but electric”. It’s clearly going for a different audience; hence the city centre races. The reason they don’t use slicks is because they use all weather tyres, like a road car. That way Michelin don’t have to bring Pirelli F1 orders of tyres compounds to a race day; this season it’s one set for the whole weekend, plus a few some spares in case of a puncture. Infact I heard one rumour that Michelin think a single set of tyres can do the entire FE season. The downforce/power is the only issue of yours that is being addressed; the Gen 2 aero package is much improved from the Gen 1 package, (note the massive diffuser at the rear) and as in every FE season they’re increasing the KW/PH limit; especially with the whole gimmicky Hyperboost format change. (Basically slow zones at the side of the track which once you’ve gone through them allow you to use higher energy modes)

      1. Exactly… in that other day when I commented about this, I said I think it’s completely fine if F-E wants to be its own thing, with music over the broadcast, fan boost, spec chassis, all weather tires, boring track layouts, ex-F1 drivers crashing on chicanes, low cornering speeds…

        If F-E doesn’t change to something closer to F1 or F2 but with electric cars (it probably won’t), I’m pretty some other series will emerge, or even F1 and/or F2 will drop ICE for electric, and IN MY OPINION it will be more interesting than F-E.

        Some people will love and defend F-E as it is, maybe it’s exactly what they wish F1 would be. I don’t like it, but it’s just one opinion out of 7 billion people :)

  7. I agree with Brawn. The races have this odd impression of seeing formula cars going about as fast a Porsche Supercup car and sounding like a battalion of giant Roombas. I tried to save them on the DVR to watch in the week but I could never get through an entire one. At the very least, they should use slicks. I can’t see how anyone cares or can even really notice that they have street tires, and it just leaves a lot of performance on the table. Maybe they do this to limit acceleration and thus extend battery life, but formula race cars on street tires seems silly.

    1. The wrongheaded assumption by the Formula E evangelists is that all they have to do is replace ICE cars with battery cars and I’m simply going to watch because ‘motorsports’. I already see my enthusiasm for F1 diminishing year over year since the beginning of the hybrid era and Formula E does absolutely nothing to reinvigorate the exhilaration I felt or the passion I had for F1 ‘back in the good ol days’. That’s not to say that battery powered motorsports won’t find an audience, it’s just that I don’t happen to be that audience.

      1. So what would you have done if the ICE had not been invented and Electric cars had carried on as the only form of motorised personal transport? Would you be moaning about wanting explosions or would you simply be watching electric motor sport as you watch F1 now?

        FE is not going to get to F1 levels of performance in the next few years but longer term it probably will and could well surpass it.

        You do not have to like FE as it is now but it is early days. Look at the amount of investment that has been poured in to getting to the F1 we have today. EV technology is taking off and will catch up at some point.

  8. I used to like watching Formula E, but every time I’ve watched a race lately (haven’t watched them all, so maybe I got unlucky), it seems like 80%+ of the ‘overtaking’ has been because the driver ahead was harvesting and lifting off 100m before the braking zone. It looks like a driver being lapped, not overtaken.

    The rest… it reminds me of flimsy touring cars. The relatively low speed, frequent contact, and the fact that if you’re on the outside you have two choices – either back down or get stuffed into a wall/off the track. As a fan of a fairly wide variety of racing it’s interesting and can be exciting, but ‘tame’ is probably fair. There aren’t many series I’d place below FE for excitement and ‘pulse-quickening’ stuff.

    1. I do think they need some wider corners. There are some like this but many are a little too narrow for my liking.

  9. I dunno about FE not having “personalities”. I think there’s quite a lot of interesting characters with entertaining personalities. FE also has better access to drivers, so more chance to display those personalities out of the car.
    If he means household names then yes it doesn’t have a Hamilton or an Alonso, but to write off folk (sorry, champions) such as Buemi, Vergne and Di Grassi is a bit disrespectful just because they’re ex-F1.
    Why can’t we enjoy both for their differences without getting told which one is better or worse?
    Answer: the Internet!

  10. Some 20+ years ago lot of people were sure that by 2010 all top racing will be using ceramic engines…and it never happened. By the time electric motors will be developed sufficiently to power Formula 1, they will become old news themselves. If F1 wants to develop new cutting edge power unit, they should look into hydrogen cell technology.

  11. I think it actually needs to go the other way. Once the battery tech improves to let FE be a real racing spectacle, F1 should go back to just ICE. High-revving, loud engines that shake the bones of spectators and the TV audience alike. Chances are cars of the future will be entirely electric, removing the “road-relevancy” that manufacturers tout as a reason for their participation.

    Let FE have take the place of the “future”. Let F1 be the dinosaur that is about the whole-sensory experience it’s been. People’s desires to see/participate in extreme sports will never disappear. And I think F1 could have a real place in the future as a modern “gladiatorial” entertainment.

      9th August 2018, 23:25

      Good idea! And then see which series survives!

  12. Fully electric formula 1 should be the next step. In my opinion if no new PU manufacturer is interested in joining they should keep current regs for another 5 years. In the meantime that could start working on something really advanced like e.g. hydrogen fuel cell technology. In fact it could actually fit F1 much well. Fuel cells are rather lightweight compared not only to battery-based FE solution. And it could easily cover race distance at F1 speeds. Just imagine that instant torque delivery when rushing from corner exit. This technology already exists – all major manufacturers have it.

    Just like they say: differentiate or die.

  13. Lame, it’s spelled L-a-m-e.

  14. michael hassall
    9th August 2018, 20:22

    I would rather watch my neighbour charge his Toyota prius then watch formula e

  15. Hydrogen. Can anyone tell my why hydrogen is not a future consideration for F1?

    1. Have you seen an fast hydrogen car?

      1. I have never even seen a Hydrogen car full stop and my quick search on the matter did not show up much regarding HP output. Fuel efficiency though apparently is twice as good. Apparently. Australian scientists have recently developed a new transport system for the fuel. It may become an alternative to electricity? A better one? I have no idea hence why I asked but ty anyways. Elon supposedly hates the idea and thinks it is only good for rockets. You would think perhaps the HP output is pretty high if it is good enough for rockets. Yes – I have no idea. :-) All I know is the sound and hence feeling (vibe) of a fuel burning engine is what I would prefer any day over electricity. Especially if it only expels water out of it’s tail pipe.

        1. @stash hydrogen fuel cells aren’t an alternative to electricity, they’re an alternative to batteries. The fuel cell creates electricity to power electric motors rather than having a regular battery. Problem is, hydrogen is costly to produce, difficult to store, and the fuel cells are very expensive to produce. Plus they haven’t been able to deliver anything like the kind of current you’d need to compete with battery powered electric vehicles.

          I think you’ve assumed that it’s an internal combustion style engine that burns hydrogen as fuel. That’s not the case.

          1. Thank you for your response MazdaChris. Yes I was hoping hydrogen based cars utilised combustion engines. Damn! If only there was another way. Maybe if we all just accept that Formula 1 is based on the one formula of fuel, as the competitions name implies, and stick to it. Otherwise it will cease to be Formula 1 as I see it. I appreciate your writing skills Hazel! Good work. :-)

        2. Pininfarina have built a hydrogen-powered GT race car – it is pretty fascinating. The tanks for the hydrogen have to be so tough they form the survival cell of the driver.

  16. Dutchguy (@justarandomdutchguy)
    10th August 2018, 7:34

    Formula E has one big problem, and it’s tracks they use. Almost every race they go for tracks with sections barely wide enough for a single car. I knoe the whole street racing thing is a nice gimmick, but they really need to get better tracks
    (to prove my point, look at the recurring firstlap pile-ups/traffic jams in narrow sections)

    F1 cars would never be able to pass there either
    Okay, except Ricciardo maybe, he’ll find to literally jump over others

    1. Tedious Formula E pedantry: turn one pile-ups are so frequent because electric torque is full, instant. F1 cars can’t use the electrical power until after turn one, on a race start (so they have full combustion torque starts) so FE cars get off the line and to full speed quicker, can hit turn one as hard as they like and at the start you’re not worrying as much about saving energy as gaining places.

      But yeah, they are street circuits with width limitations. At the events it means you’re breathtakingly close to the cars – Adam Carroll nearly binned it into a wall I was absentmindedly leaning against in Montreal last year during shakedown. Made me take my fingers back sharpish.

  17. Just curious as to why Formula E has the high nose design, yet F1 moved away from such design for safety reasons

    1. The Gen2 car coming in next year has a low nose.

  18. That Volkswagen Pike’s Peak electric car certainly wasn’t lame. It also beat the times of 5 Formula One cars at Goodwood Hillclimb.
    Formula E is ‘lame’ because the cars can’t carry enough juice to travel as far as F1 cars. It’s an endurance problem that will be solved. Although F1 would probably be less boring if they too had sprint like races.

  19. As I sit here in my living room, with my fake fireplace crackling, eating a tofu “burger”, with my robo-puppy curled up at my feet (he needs a recharge), I’m really digging watching a bunch of extra-large, perfectly matched slot-cars quietly buzzing around some cookie-cutter race track (sic). But as long as there’s lots and lots of passing, it must be great racing, right?

    Let’s get real. E cars are b-o-r-i-n-g! It’s not all about speed. It’s about harnessing violent, flaming explosions inside a beautifully designed engine, with thousands of bits and pieces, all operating together, like magic. Casio watches have more functions than a Rolex, but so what? Electric motors are for kids toys and for commuting, … NOT for racing.

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