Lucas di Grassi, Audi, Formula E, Valencia pre-season testing, 2018

From curiosity to credibility? Formula E’s second generation arrives

2018-19 Formula E season preview

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Formula E’s first four seasons were its ‘first generation’. That such a radical concept has made it so far is remarkable, but it intends to go much further, starting with the first race for its second-generation car this weekend.

Many great new ideas for single seater championships did not make it to the grid, let alone through a first season. But despite a few close calls, Formula E is not only cementing its position, but increasingly being spoken of as Formula 1’s inevitable future rival.

During its first four seasons, development of the technology and racecraft was primarily left to the teams, manufacturers and drivers once the initial Dallara chassis and Williams battery had been agreed.

After those four seasons, however, Formula E is taking a step forward. The spec elements of the first car were, it would be fair to say, hastily assembled as the scramble to put together 40 vehicles in time for the first season got underway. Since then, the series has wanted to revisit and redevelop that technology, creating a more elegant car and a more distinct look as well as pushing the limits of the series in line with developing road electric vehicle technology.

When Formula E began four years ago the world’s top-selling electric road car, the Nissan Leaf, was rolling off the production line with a 26kWh battery. Consequently, Formula E set theirs at 28kWh, to promote the idea that efficiency lessons learned from racing technology could translate into mass-produced vehicles.

Jean-Eric Vergne, Techeetah, Formula E pre-season testing, Valencia, 2018
Jean-Eric Vergne is out ot defend his title
This limitation led to the need to swap cars halfway through race distance, creating a spectacle you either think of as iconic and important to revive at the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2048 or an embarrassing abomination against racing. Today, the Leaf ships with a 40kWh battery – and Nissan themselves have entered Formula E, replacing alliance partner Renault.

Likewise, during the early seasons it wasn’t clear how far batteries could be pushing during races – both in terms of what temperatures it would be safe for them to sustain and how long they could hold out. Williams Advanced Engineering’s experimental battery worked, taking the race cars well over 55,000 kilometres without a failure on-track and paved the way for a more robust system, not only in terms of storage capacity but in output and regeneration potential. Racing has improved the breed.

This has brought us to the second generation Formula E car, affectionately dubbed ‘Batmobile’ for obvious reasons. It is designed to provide a new testing ground for road EV development for at least the next two seasons of Formula E, with it successor already at the research stage.

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With a maximum output and regeneration of 250kW, a top speed somewhere well in excess of 230kph (dependent on powertrain, circuit and driver nerves) the ‘Gen2’ car is much more robust, aggressive racer.

The now-mandatory Halo safety device was a key part to designing the car. Mimicking the push-to-pass lights in Japan’s Super Formula championship, an LED array on the Halo will be used during races to indicate what mode a driver is using and whether they have activated extra energy output.

By increasing its battery size, as well as the potential regeneration a driver can get under braking, Formula E has done away not only with the car swap but pit stops entirely. Races will therefore have a completely different character.

Stoffel Vandoorne, HWA, Formula E pre-season testing, 2018
Stoffel Vandoorne has switched to Formula E…
the championship’s other restrictions including a limit of just two sets of Michelin’s treaded all-weather tyres per car per day of an Eprix, to be spread across two free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

Without tyre changes or car swaps, where will the tactical element come from? The series has decided to move to a timed race of 45 minutes plus one lap, timed to whenever the race leader crosses the start/finish line after 45 minutes has elapsed. In principle, it sounds straightforward but a leader with plenty of energy left, under pressure from a rival, could choose to speed over the line at 44:59, extending the race and leave energy-starved drivers high and dry.

Equally, someone waiting for that scenario who discovered a sluggish leader coasting across the line well after 45 minutes might find they had a single lap left to make a large amount of energy count. It keeps strategic decisions in the drivers’ hands but allows the teams to have input, communicating energy targets and tactical usage.

Especially when you take into account the much-vaunted Attack Mode. While Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag likened this to being something out of Mario Kart, the benefit of Attack Mode is it offers a way to prevent Formula E tracks being over-simulated.

With large manufacturers entering the sport, Formula E made a bid to ban data transfer to ‘mission control’ rooms, as in Formula One. This failed, as some of the larger marques wanting to take full advantage of their racing facilities in order to remodel and reprogram data within sessions.

The compressed schedule of a Formula E weekend leaves less far time for teams to have their simulators running than in F1, whose competitors have a 48-hour stretch from first practice to the race.

Now Attack Mode essentially knocks pre-programmed racing on the head in Formula E. Drivers and teams will be informed, an hour before the start of a race, where the Attack Mode activation zones are – areas of the track that, if run through, allow an extra 25kW of power to be engaged.

Felipe Massa, Venturi, Formula E testing, Valencia, 2018
…as has Felipe Massa
It keeps the action trackside – both visible via the drivers’ moves and as a tactical dialogue with the teams, letting smaller outfits continue to compete with manufacturer resources.

So what can we expect?

At the moment, no one has any idea. A simulated race at Valencia testing told us very little, being both disrupted and at an unrepresentative circuit, with no qualifying procedure. The first race weekend of the year will be a voyage into the unknown. The same also goes for the venue, as Formula E is breaking new ground with its first race in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The race comes at a time when the country is relaxing its notoriously strict laws on women’s rights, which until recently forbade them from driving. Saturday’s race will be followed by a test at which each team can run an extra car for a female racer, and most are taking the opportunity to do so. However the country’s human rights record remains a concern for many, especially in the light of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents earlier this year.

The rest of the schedule is more compressed than before, with shorter gaps between several of the rounds. There will be only one double-header, the season finale in New York.

There’s been a shake-up on the entry list as well, with no fewer than five rookies making their debuts this weekend. Every Formula E championship so far has been won by an ex-Formula 1 driver and in Felipe Massa the series has attracted its most high-profile convert so far. Stoffel Vandoorne joins fresh from McLaren along with former Mercedes junior driver Pascal Wehrlein, plus Gary Paffett and Maximilian Gunther.

For them and the contingent of new teams and manufacturers, Formula E’s overhaul represents an ideal opportunity to join as they shouldn’t have as much catching-up to do.

F1’s growing manufacturer appeal is reflected in the arrival of three new brands and one entirely new team. It’s probably the best time to come in, as it coincides with the new hardware and race format. Whether Formula E’s new generation will propel electric racing to a new and wider audience we will begin to discover on Saturday.

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2018-19 Formula E entry list

No.DriverTeamPower unit
11Lucas di GrassiAudi ABTAudi e-tron FE05
66Daniel AbtAudi ABTAudi e-tron FE05
27Alexander SimsBMW AndrettiBMW iFE.18
28Antonio Felix da CostaBMW AndrettiBMW iFE.18
6Maximilian GuntherDragonPenske EV-3
7Jose Maria LopezDragonPenske EV-3
5Stoffel VandoorneHWAVenturi VFE-05
17Gary PaffettHWAVenturi VFE-05
3Nelson Piquet JnrJaguarJaguar I-Type 3
20Mitch EvansJaguarJaguar I-Type 3
64Jerome D’AmbrosioMahindraMahindra M5Electro
94Felix RosenqvistMahindraMahindra M5Electro
8Tom DillmannNIONIO 004
16Oliver TurveyNIONIO 004
22Oliver RowlandNissan EDAMSNissan IM01
23Sebastien BuemiNissan EDAMSNissan IM01
25Jean-Eric VergneTecheetahDE E-Tense FE19
36Andre LottererTecheetahDE E-Tense FE19
19Felipe MassaVenturiVenturi VFE-05
48Edoardo MortaraVenturiVenturi VFE-05
2Sam BirdVirginAudi e-tron FE05
4Robin FrijnsVirginAudi e-tron FE05

2018-19 Formula E season calendar

RoundDateVenueCountry
115 December 2018Ad DiriyahSaudi Arabia
212 January 2019MarrakechMorocco
326 January 2019SantiagoChile
416 February 2019Autodromo Hermanos RodriguezMexico
510 March 2019Hong KongHong Kong
623 March 2019SanyaChina
713 April 2019RomeItaly
827 April 2019ParisFrance
911 May 2019Monte-CarloMonaco
1025 May 2019BerlinGermany
1122 June 2019BernSwitzerland
1213 July 2019New YorkUSA
1314 July 2019New YorkUSA

Pictures: 2018-19 Formula E teams

UK broadcast details

All of this weekend’s sessions will be broadcast on the Formula E YouTube page and on BT Sport ESPN. Free practice 1, 2 and qualifying will be broadcast on Formula E’s Facebook page. Qualifying and the race will be broadcast on Eurosport 2. The race will also be broadcast live on BBC iPlayer and red button.

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Formula E


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Mitch Evans, Jaguar, Formula E testing, Valencia, 2018
The new machines will finally run in anger for the first time this weekend

Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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  • 50 comments on “From curiosity to credibility? Formula E’s second generation arrives”

    1. @hazelsouthwell is there a calendar that we could sync in with google for FE? As it happens for F1?

        1. Doesn’t seem to have session times?

          1. Session times are announced a few weeks before each event once cleared as part of the event – it’s a logistical necessity of street racing.

        2. thank you @ceevee appreciated

    2. i went in open minded and gave it a try but formula e has totally lost me now.

      the tracks are usually terrible, the cars imo don’t look that good and i cannot believe that they continue to use the nonsense fanboost gimmick and have also doubled down on the utterly absurd mario kart action zone gimmick this year.

      to be honest the gimmicks are the final straw, it is clear there aiming at those who dont understand the sport and only get video games which is fine i guess but i don’t think it is necessarily positive for the long term health of the sport because doubling down on and relying on gimmicks to create ‘entertainment’ just means you end up having to rely on these things more and more and eventually the ‘fake entertainment’ becomes what people expect so it becomes impossible to remove the gimmicks without alienating the fans who expect what they produce.

      it just is not for me which is fine, there certainly not aiming it at me which again is fine….. i just worry about the harm it will do if the thing that attracts new/younger fans to the sport is something that is so totally different to everything else. and i dont mean the electric aspect, just the reliance on gimmicks to create constant/fake entertainment creating an ideal that wont be attainable elsewhere.

      1. It’s just unbelievable they want to be a credible sport and then have a thing like fanboost.

        I was prepared to get into FE like I do F1, but simply couldn’t when I heard about fanboost. Haven’t watched a single race.

        1. I dont see fan boost as that big a deal imo.

          Tarmac run off in all F1 tracks is far more offensive to me.

        2. I sincerely doubt you’d even know fanboost existed during a race. I don’t know what people imagine the effect is but many drivers who’ve got it over the years haven’t even used it.

          Given that, it is a bit whimsy but an incredibly easy hook to engage fans and build loyal bases. The reason it continues is that it’s genuinely effective at that, so even if you think it seems embarrassing it is doing a job and doing so well.

    3. I’ll be watching this, curious to see what the racing will be like. Going to support Massa as well since i’m not familiar with all the drivers yet.

      1. I tried watching a few races in the first season but lost interest due to car-swapping.
        I’ll give the new season a try, just to see what it’s like and how competitive it is.

    4. To shift from “Curiosity to Credibility” I think FE needs a big shift from “Electric to Excitement”.

      The races I have tried to watch have been dull and contrived with the gimmickry as mentioned above by “RogerA”.
      Being a video gamer, I could possibly live with the Mario Kart type stuff but only if it made for mind blowing races, action packed with thrills and spills …. so to speak.

      I’m going to give it another try from this weekend to see if the changes made will improve things but I am not optimistic to be honest :/

      1. Agree, if they want to make electric racing the next big thing, they will have to shock us…somehow

        1. Good jolt, @johnmilk. Try to stay grounded amid this low energy density hype.

          1. @jimmi-cynic I will and won’t offer much resistance

            1. @johnmilk Helps you stay current :-)

            2. sorry @jimmi-cynic I shorted out of puns

            3. @johnmilk: Oh well…someone will be along soon to give us a jump.

            4. Will Power should have the capacity to assist.

        2. Watts the point in watching revolting cars charge around short circuit?

    5. I watch but the tracks are just awful. Thats stopping better racing

      1. And the tracks are designed after the cars which are designed after the gimped powertrain.

    6. I’ve never watched FE, as it was introduced as very gimmicky (did not even notice they stopped the driver boost vote)
      But I’ll give FE a (new) chance with the Gen2. Probably have to, as I plan to buy a electric car myself next year ;)

      1. I plan to buy a electric car myself next year ;)

        Seriously @coldfly, when you have had a bit of experience with it, consider writing a short review for us. Really interested.

      2. @coldfly F1 has DRS and high degradation tyres. I don’t see fanboost as any less gimmicky but at least they’re honest about it. They have created fan engagement and any extra energy used has to be conserved elsewhere in the race, so it’s benefit with consequence. I’m a kiwi and big fan of Mitch Evans, which is mainly why I’ve followed it. I’ve enjoyed it though. I didn’t much like the in race car swaps so I’m glad they’re gone and the tracks can and will get better as the series becomes more mainstream. To even start a new racing series and have it run for 5 seasons is a massive feat and I have huge respect, especially when it goes against what is traditional and easily digestible. I know someone people have a hard time digesting what’s new, but those cars look good! Should help. And the driver line up is pretty sharp, no pay to race drivers there at all, all there based on talent.

        Probably quite obvious, I’m really looking forward to the new season.

    7. Is it me or is there a lot of commas in this article?

      1. @tonyyeb I don’t think there are any more commas in this article than in any other article.

        1. @jerejj Must be me then. Just whenever I read a sentence with more than comma in, it makes me question whether the additional ones should be there or should it be multiple sentences.

          1. *One comma

    8. As a watcher of many forms of motor racing but primarily F1, I think that one of the key strengths of Formula E is that the first half of its season is on free-to-air TV during the F1 off-season. Winner!
      For those of us who watch a wide variety of motorsports, FE fits in nicely. Swapping vehicles (seasons 1-4) was like pitstops for tyres, or swapping bikes when weather happens in MotoGP. Tight little circuits? More like watching F3 at Pau or Macau, or even F1 at Monaco. No engine sound? Same as F1 then, according to many who post online.
      Personally, I’ll be watching every round and supporting Vandoorne, Vergne and Bird. Maybe Massa too, we’ll see.

      1. @tribaltalker
        I share your enthusiasm.
        Very much impressed with the way things are improving in Formula E. Gen 2 cars look and sound uber-cool.
        The racing can certainly improve though. The biggest positive is the accessibility for the fan and the near perfect equality in the components in the car which sort of puts the drivers ahead of their cars.
        It has progressed a lot for a series that is only in its fifth year. That a global star like Leonardo di Caprio is the co-owner of one the teams (Venturi) certainly tells you how attractive it has become.
        If there is one aspect that i hate about the series, its the Fanboost. Its a conundrum for the organizers. They think they are listening to the fans through the fanboost, but i really hope they get rid of it sooner rather than later.

    9. It’s got a way to go before it becomes exciting and credible. As it stands it’s very cheesy (watch a race and the podium and you’ll see). Don’t know why it gets so much attention from the “journalists” on here.

      1. Don’t know why people liking anything other than F1 gets so much flack from the “commenters” on here.

    10. Vocal minority out in force in this comment section.

    11. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
      13th December 2018, 18:50

      Any Dutch viewers on this site? I have seen the occasional YouTube clip and maybe one full race of Formula E in the past years, and now I want to give it a go to follow the entire season. But what would be the best way to so from The Netherlands? I am willing to pay any reasonable amount. Up to €5 a race I would say.

      1. @hanswesterbeek

        I checked the Formula E website and it looks as though FP1 and 2 will be on YouTube/Facebook for you guys, then Ziggo Sport and Eurosport 1 are showing qualifying and the race. I think this link will work to show the schedule.

        1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
          14th December 2018, 16:42

          That looks very promising. It’s the first year they do it like this I guess! Looking forward to tomorrow.

    12. I think this is what F1 need. No pit stop but having less practice session that would lead to some unpredictability and make it less costly. If they manage to ban data transfer to mission control rooms, it would be perfect.

      Preach it more, and I’ll convert.

    13. Pascal Wehrlein will be racing in Mahindra instead of Felix Rosenqvist.
      The chart must be edited.

      1. Felix is in the car for the first race, then Pascal takes over.

        The chart must be edited.

        lol

        1. I *demand* it be edited!

    14. Why does everyone assume that Electrical vehicles powered by batteries are the future? Because Elon Musk tells you?

      I’m with Toyota on this, hydrogen is the future, its actually a no brainer when you look at it. Storing energy as hydrogen in the most viable method I’ve seen thus far. Sure, there are challenges that need to be ironed out, but this can work. Especially in countries with abundant sunlight, like Australia, there are many plans being drawn up (backed by the likes of Woodside energy) to develop this tech.

      Companies like Exxon and Shell are rebranding as “energy” companies. Hydrogen will be their next Oil, and plans are already in play.

      Once Hydrogen become commercially viable (cost is still on the high side but forecast is for it to get cheaper with demand), EVs with batteries will not make sense.

      1. @jaymenon10 what a hot take.

        Not sure if this post is actually intended as a criticism of Formula E(?) but at least one of your example companies, Shell, disagree as they will be in FE with the Nissan team this year: https://www.shell.com/media/news-and-media-releases/2018/shell-backs-nissan-formula-e-team.html

      2. its actually a no brainer when you look at it

        I don’t think I’d call Leaf/i-Miev/Formula E electric cars a no brainer but I don’t think hydrogen’s a no brainer either

        Sure, there are challenges that need to be ironed out, but this can work

        …doesn’t the same go for “normal” electric cars?

        Once Hydrogen become commercially viable (cost is still on the high side but forecast is for it to get cheaper with demand)

        I kind of doubt that doesn’t go for batteries either.

        I probably sound like someone who thinks “normal” EVs are 100% a no-brainer – it’s not but I think neither is hydrogen.

    15. @graham228221

      It wasn’t meant to be a criticism of FE at all. Racing is racing, regardless of propulsion, if it’s on the limit and competitive, I have no problem with it. I do however feel a bit uncomfortable when people say things like FE is the inevitable future of F1. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      Shell is in FE because they are marketing their lubricants. Electric motors need lubricants, and Shell is one of the biggest players in the market. For Shell it’s a win win, lubricants are used for everything.

      1. @jaymenon10 fair enough. as far as I know, there are several challenges around Hydrogen fuel production, performance and cell reusability that will ultimately limit hydrogen as a competitor to electric (battery) cars. It’s not really my area of expertise though, so perhaps I’m wrong or ill-informed.

        I’m actually pretty disappointed that the powerchain regulations in FE aren’t more open – I thought that the original idea was to eventually open up the battery to development, but I guess that got dropped at some point to keep to spec battery for the foreseeable future. I hope that they eventually open up the battery regs, and it would be cool for them to allow other alternative electric/hydrogen/whatever solutions to compete.

        Shell are also looking to capture the market for EV recharging, presumably to keep their forecourts alive as the number of diesel and petrol powered cars begins to decline over the next few years: https://www.shell.co.uk/motorist/welcome-to-shell-recharge.html

      2. @jaymenon10 Shell work directly on EV promotion and on building EV charging infrastructure on a commercial level and fund EV research programmes with university teams.

    16. All these commenters that are complaining that the one FE race they watched was “dull” must have been extremely unlucky, because I’ve watched most of them and I can recall only a handful of actually dull races.

      To refute some common points about FE from my own point of view:

      “It’s dull”
      Well, no it’s not. The races are unpredictable, it’s almost impossible to predict who is going to do well before qualifying or even the race itself. There have been a few lights-to-flag victories, but more often than not something crazy happens.

      The teams don’t get 4 hours of practice before a race stretched across two days, they get 1 hour and it’s all on the same day. It’s so cool that they are only revealing the attack mode positions an hour before each race – I’d love to see F1 trying to force teams to think on their feet for once, rather than relying on their supercomputers back at base.

      “It’s too quiet”
      Sounds about as loud as F1 on the TV to me. I’ve attended two FE races (and several Grand Prix) and yes they are much less noisy than an F1 car, but they aren’t quiet by any stretch and it’s actually a really interesting and unusual aural experience to hear one of these cars at speed – whirring motors, tyres squeeling, the floors scraping over the bumps.

      “They are too slow”
      Context matters. A go-kart feels crazy fast to me, ok I can go much faster in my Ford Focus on a dual carriageway but it feels slower. FE tracks are smaller, shorter and suited to their speed. In person, on the insanely tight tracks making up many FE events, they are very very fast.

      “There’s too much energy management”
      If you hate drivers managing elements of their car, then presumably you basically enjoy drag racing and not much else? The energy management in FE has been extreme at times, but I see JEV’s point that it really has formed part of the challenge of the sport since the start, and I’m interested (and even a bit worried) to see how this will change with the Gen2 cars.

      But more important than them being slower or requiring energy management – they are challenging to drive and the circuits themselves are generally unforgiving. It’s not unusual to see a front runner, or even the leader themselves, crashing out, and qualifying is a genuinely exciting spectacle because the drivers are actually on the edge on tracks where taking things a few inches too far spells disaster.

      “It’s too cheesy”
      Yes, ok, occasionally their attempts to be cool and contemporary can miss the mark. The “EJ” single was a particularly low point. But on the other hand, I think they’ve toned down this side of things a bit to the point where the music is barely noticeable, and EJ now has about the same status as the Firestone Eagle that stands around in victory lane after every Indycar race. The podium ceremonies are brilliant, and have influenced F1 a lot. The races I’ve been too have been genuinely fun events even for non-race fans and great value for money.

      “It’s too gimmicky”
      Really? Umm… DRS? Designed to degrade tyres with countless contrived rules about compounds and extra sets and Q2 tyres… come on. The car swaps were a necessary evil, but I don’t think it looks any stupider than having 20-odd people changing 4 tyres on a tiny racecar; anyways they’re gone. Fanboost – I get why people don’t like it, but why not give a driver a boost based on popularity? Some drivers in F1 get a permanent performance boost on their car based on how rich their dad is, so…?

      I think the new “attack mode” is an awesome concept – poor choice of words to liken it to Mario Kart. I don’t care that it upsets a bunch of old people who think that motorsport is somehow still a “pure” sporting and engineering contest to build the fastest possible car. For decades, F1 has been about a bunch of arbitrary rules, limits and sporting regulations and then the teams and drivers have to work around that – all other series are same to a greater or lesser extent. I completely prefer “attack mode” to F1’s DRS, even though they are both arbitrarily imposed gimmicks designed to liven up the racing.

      My one big criticism – Saudi Arabia. Really FE? I am actually going to skip watching this race, I am really disappointed that they are going there; I think it’s a huge mistake and frankly an embarrassment for the FIA. But other than that, looking forward to a great season of racing.

    17. I think FE need a season where they concentrate on rubbish tyres, tea tray wings, rude noses, cheating aero, driver fights, dodgy billionaires, ridiculous politics, and bankrupt teams. Only then will they be taken seriously alongside F1.

    18. The new improved Nissan Leaf is the EV of the year 2018. But What Car still rated the real world range at 108 miles, that’s pretty much useless for a family with only one car.

      EVs are in any case a non-solution looking for a problem. We live on a planet that is still warming after the Little Ice Age which was a disaster for life on, how much of that warming is down to CO2? Nobody knows, and in any case what catastrophic things have happened? Er none.

      EVs fail on every level, except perhaps delivering full power at 14,000ft and winning Pike’s Peak, about as relevant as holding the lap record around the Nurburgring I’d say. Oh, they’re quiet too, so F-E events can be held in cities.

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