Start, Formula E, Saudi Arabia, 2018

Does Formula E’s new generation deserve your attention?

Formula E

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Formula E’s potential to attract a new generation of motorsport fans has been seen as one of its key strengths.

Particularly as Formula 1 has struggled in recent years to attract younger viewers. This was, of course, no thanks to the leadership of Bernie Ecclestone, who famously dismissed the need to find younger fans, questioning why the series needed the interest of anyone who couldn’t afford a Rolex.

According to Formula E, its popularity among the key junior demographic has improved drastically in the past few years. It claims that over the last two seasons the online interaction of 13-17 year olds grew by 347%.

Of course any measure of growth means little without knowing where they were starting from. And despite being part of that age group when the series launched in 2014, Formula E’s first generation was never essential viewing for me.

But with new, faster cars and a revamped format arriving for the 2018-19 season, which began last month, now was the obvious time to give it a try.

As an 18-year-old sports enthusiast who can usually be found on the PlayStation or scrolling through Twitter. Sports marketers know that by tapping into the interests of me and my peers they can win fans for life. That’s why we hear so much talk about the importance of the youth market.

Jean-Eric Vergne, Techeetah, Formula E, Paris, 2018
The previous generation of Formula E cars were slower

So why did I never get into Formula E to begin with? There were various reasons, but my biggest was that the on-track action lacked authenticity. Then and now, Fanboost is my biggest problem with FE.

Running a poll to decide which drivers should get an extra power boost is an obvious social media tactic intended to court younger fans. But changing the performance of the cars and therefore the outcome of a race based on a popularity contest does not appeal to me.

For me, the outcome of the race should be determined by the performance of the driver and the team working together to extract the most out of their car, not which driver has the most Twitter followers. Not everyone agrees, as the numbers who participate in the Fanboost polls show. But would a true sport ever entertain a concept like Fanboost?

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who will enter a team in Formula E’s next season starting later this year, admits he is unsure whether to regard Formula E as “racing or… more an event”. Fanboost is a dividing issue in this debate.

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If Fanboost is my main concern, another was the lack of spectacle. While Formula E often enjoys the kind of overtaking and close racing Formula 1 too often fails to produce, the gulf in performance between the cars is just as obvious. As Lewis Hamilton put it last year, cars that are “slower than Formula Ford” just done have the same awe factor. The lack of noise doesn’t help either.

But for its fifth season, which began at the Ad Diriyah circuit in Saudi Arabia last month, Formula E introduced a raft of changes including a new and more powerful car. The arrival of ex-F1 drivers Felipe Massa and Stoffel Vandoorne also captured my interest.

A big plus in the series favour – and one which has certainly played well with younger viewers – was their announcement that all races would be streamed live on YouTube. It’s the perfect way to grow the series as well because it makes it easier for everyone to access the action live which is something other motorsports like F1 struggle to do. This adaptation to the rapidly changing world of technology is vital to ensure that FE can reach all generations around the world and grow as quickly as possible.

Andre Lotterer, Jose Maria Lopez, Formula E, Saudi Arabia, 2018
The new second-generation machines are more striking

It also helped that the new ‘Gen2’ cars look absolutely wicked. It was clearly designed to be the most aggressive race car in the world and for me it fulfills that label with ease.

All of this increased my anticipation for the start of the new season, which saw Antonio Felix da Costa lead the 22-strong field. He may have won from pole position, but the race was not short of action and his winning margin over reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne was less than half a second.

The first thing I noticed was how the spectacle had improved, thanks in part to the new cars which actually looked fast. But there were other factors at play as well: the coverage seemed to use lower camera angles which gave a better sensation of the speed the drivers were doing. And it also helped that the Ad Diriyah circuit is one of the more challenging examples of Formula E’s street circuits, some of which can be a bit point-and-squirt’.

Fanboost still left me cold but the introduction of the Attack Zones – another contentious addition – intrigued me. With drivers no longer needing to pit to change cars thanks to the longer battery life of the new models, the Attack Zones created an element of strategy that had been lost. It does look like it will need a bit more fine-tuning, however.

Formula E’s new generation is a step in the right direction. I’ll definitely be watching more of this season’s races and I’d encourage others who were sceptical of it at first to give it another try. Round two fo the 2018-19 championship takes place in Morocco this weekend.

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Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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39 comments on “Does Formula E’s new generation deserve your attention?”

  1. Formula E is great if you want to take a nap, as far as racing action, not so much.

  2. Fanboost is a terrible idea. I don’t think it’s being particularly old-fashioned or purist to say it severely compromises the intergrity of a result. It is an anathema to racing, and as far as ‘Fanboost is a dividing issue’ goes. The 2 sides in that debate are people who get racing and people who don’t. It doesn’t matter which side is in the majority. If FE continues down the popularity contest model then they may be gaining one type of fan but alienating another. Which may be fine for what they want. Viewers mean advertising revenue after all. Just don’t expect to be taken seriously, and don’t get all uppity when your series is laughed at. Basically, give us the technology for the road cars, thanks very much, but you can keep your silent sub-Formula Ford ‘racing’.

    1. Pretty much says it all. If FE cars become even faster than F1, Fanboost would still ruin it. Kill Fanboost. Soon.

  3. Bunch of F1 rejects and has-been’s driving slow, electric cars around boring city circuits?

    I’ll pass, thanks.

    1. @joeypropane
      Please dont get me wrong but with such a thought, you will be confined to F1 for the rest of its (short) life. F1 isnt all rosy at the moment. We all know it. Every third race or so tends to be boring. If you ask me, i would say that the comparison is moot. F1 is on a downward spiral; Formula E can only improve from where it is now.
      I had a similar view like yours till 2016. But gave FE a try last year and have decided to watch the whole 2019 season.
      Try it once. Its easily accessible on YouTube, gets over in half the time it takes for an F1 race. It may not be all too good and entertaining, but there are lot less things to complain about if compared to F1.

      1. If formula e is the future of racing, then racing might as well be dead for all I care.

        1. Yep. If F1 dies then so does motorsport. At least we’ll always have football to watch long after F1 dissappears.

          1. @yoshif8tures @John Y

            Sorry to say but those are short sighted views.
            Hope F1 lasts long enough at-least for you guys.

  4. I like it. Fan Boost has never really affected the outcome of a race – it’s too short a boost to be effective, so it tends to be used to slightly extend a lead, or slightly reduce one, not for passing. Though I agree it should go away completely.

    In the first two seasons it was easy to find the races on YouTube, so I watched them and enjoyed them, but then someone started removing the races, so I stopped.

    This year I plan to watch all the races, and while some of it does seem gimmicky, there’s a lot of F1 that’s gimmicky too. And frankly, I’m not the kind of person who wallows in the past, reliving rose colored nostalgia.

  5. I have somewhat of a vested interest as my brother works as a mechanic for one of the teams, so it adds an element of enjoyment for me watching the races and supporting his team (NIO).

    There are things that I like and things that I don’t like. As with all motorsport, the technology is helping to develop our future road cars and that’s not to be sniffed at. There’s more racing to watch and I enjoy it generally, even with the lack of engine noise…

    Fanboost is frankly ridiculous and I’d be amazed if they don’t scrap it soon. Conversely, the Attack Zones actually seem a reasonable idea and make sense… it’s the same for everyone, so there is no unfair advantage given.

    I’m not sure anyone would disagree that 95% of the drivers in the series are either F1 “rejects”, old or at a loose end and looking for a stop-gap. I’m sure if you offered any of the FE drivers a race drive in the worst F1 car, they would still take it.

    Having been to the New York event last year, I think more needs to be done to improve the spectacle for the spectators. The grandstands allowed you to see very little and most people got bored during the relatively short race and left frequently for food, drink etc… some didn’t return.

    It’s still a young series and I think it has a valid purpose. All in all, I think I’d watch it even without my personal interest in it.

  6. I’ve watched FE since the beginning and have enjoyed it, the circuits are challenging and you get close racing and overtakes, the cars are improving all the time and coverage is pretty good.

    I don’t like fanboost although the attack zones seem to be a positive addition and not what I was expecting.

    I know there’s complaints about the speed but that’s only relative to F1 and because the circuits are tighter I would say the two series are similarly challenging.

    Hopefully in the future they get a more regular calendar as it’s a bit hard to follow at the moment.

  7. I’ve watched every race. Is it as fast as F1? No. Engine noise? No – just the whine and jet engine like sounds. Does it have traditional circuits like F1? Well half of Monaco and half of Mexico. BUT its close racing, entertaining and most importantly easy to access. I can get it on iPlayer, YouTube, Eurosport and others. Viewing wise comparing Formula E to F1 where I can either buy Now TV where I cant pause it and no catchup or pick up the scraps 3 hours later on Channel 4 (I will be). Formula E is available in 1080p as live, with pause and catchup for no additional charge. It’s not a replacement for F1 and its not the same as F1 but I’ll watch both and honestly from a home viewer’s perspective FE is getting it right and F1 is getting it so very wrong.

    1. It’s not a replacement for F1 and its not the same as F1 but I’ll watch both and honestly from a home viewer’s perspective FE is getting it right and F1 is getting it so very wrong.

      Nicely summarized. And yes, like you, I’d like to see the races run a bit longer than the current format which is almost like a sprint.

      At the moment, FE hasn’t got me hooked the way F1 has, but that might very well change once more attention is given (from both the promoters and media) as to the theme/narrative of a season.

      Right now, F1 can be compared to a TV series, with a “pilot” at Australia (or is it testing?) that sets the scene for the year, and then we see how cars and drivers evolve over the course of the year, culminating in a finale where the championships are won/season closes. For instance, in 2018, very early on it was apparent Ferrari were contenders, and the rest of the year was spent seeing how that went down. Similarly, Haas emerged as a strong midfield performer, and their ups and downs were something to follow. Ditto for McLaren and Williams’ travails. And these were the subplots that we were all following through the year, the threads that united the individual races into a tapestry.

      In contrast, I’ve not got that sense of the ebb and flow of a team’s fortunes in FE, the races tend to feel more standalone, the running of the race feels more like “wham, bam, thank you ma’am”. If that changes, that would be the “hook” that FE needs to guarantee repeat viewers and followers.

      1. Spot on Phylip, I feel the same.

  8. Forgot to say….My only criticism of this season is the races are a little bit too short. I’d like to get them up to at least 60 mins and ideally 90 mins but all that will come with time and I’m sure once they are fast enough they will progress onto the F1 tracks.

  9. I watched the opening race and it was a waste of my time. I will not be watching any more formula-e races. The cars looked so slow. The commentators did not know what was going on half the time. There was a clear jump start but nothing was ever done about it and the commentators were at a loss. Strange drive through penalties caused the leading two cars from the same team to have to loose their places, not sure why they said something about their wheels spinning too much because it was raining they could not calibrate something properly, Masa also received a drive through for the same issue. Anyway it was a joke and very amateurish, wish I could get that time back.

    1. Jack Nicholls has confirmed that the reason the commentary was so scrappy was because all the notifications of events (including team radio and the various boosts) weren’t being correctly indicated in their booth, so they kept talking over everything.

    2. @AliceD

      The penalties incurred during the race were for incorrectly (and I use ‘incorrectly’ somewhat generously here) installed battery management software.

      What happened is that the batteries were able to be charged more when the software said that they were charged to 100% – as of this year it is mandatory that all batteries reach the minimum required charge state (100% for Ad Diriyah) in order to legally start the race.

      That sounds nuts – why would you start with less battery than you could have? But it means you can reach the percentage (under 85%) when regenerative braking is possible faster, so the battery will be under less stress and as a consequence cooler. With battery discharge/charge the biggest stress on FE systems, hitting regeneration earlier means that, as a net, you will actually have more power to play with during the race – despite starting with less.

      The DS and Venturi powered cars were identified after Shakedown as having the software incorrectly (“incorrectly”) installed – this was not recalibrated or reinstalled before the race, so all cars previously penalised for it (with €1,000 fines) were subsequently penalised again with drive-through penalties, for participating in further sessions with illegal setup.

      Hope this helps!

      Happy to answer questions that RF readers have about Formula E, btw – there’s loads of new stuff to understand this season.

      1. So yeah, I had to miss the race, but from the above comments I can see why it might have been frustrating @aliced!
        @hazelsouthwell great post, I am guessing that kind of content is what fans should be able to get from the commenters.

  10. Keep a few, smaller, city showcases. Double the HP and race on proper tracks!

  11. How many times have we seen articles like this?. Not but a month ago the headline was “From curiosity to credibility?” I feel the world is trying to shovel FE down my throat.

    If this wants to be an analysis of what the second generation cars have produced, doing it after just 1 race doesn’t seem appropiate. Specially given it was the first time they tried that mario kart-style gimmick.

    I don’t like Formula E, and I tried watching a lot of races, including the first race of this season. It’s just too slow, too unexciting, it has fanboost which I despise. And particularly at the last race, the coverage of the race was the worst I’ve ever seen in any motorsport race. I had no idea what was happening, they didn’t explain it to me, they were just as clueless, I had no information regarding penalties, why were they given and when were they taken… It also feels a bit amateurish… but I’m sure that’s going to change now that there are so many respected drivers in it. Until last year, it was just a bunch of F1 rejects.

    As a marketing tool, it works just fine and I respect the series for “bringing motorsport to the people” in a way. I don’t like it but I still watch it, even more now that’s readily available on youtube. If F1 was on youtube for free, everyone would watch it and it’d be an even bigger thing marketing wise, I’m sure. It brings manufacturers attention because it’s cheap and it makes them look good in this new green present/future we’re living.

  12. I’m still in the ‘trying to love it’ phase with Formula E… as I have been since it was launched. I’ve honestly never wanted to like a series more in my life, but I’ve yet to reach a point where it’s essential viewing, even on F1-free weekends. Even with the new cars, the speed is still a problem for me because the cars don’t look quick enough, even on fully enclosed circuits. Trackside furniture enhances the illusion of speed (probably part of the reason they use city tracks) but even with that, there’s a difference between what my mind expects from a rapid-looking, lightweight single-seater, and what my eyes are seeing.

    The tracks, which I hoped might improve and lengthen a little, are still mostly crap. I don’t necessarily hate all of them but too many of them remind me of those little ‘City – Short’ tracks you get on PlayStation games, where they slash off all the fun bits of their made-up city track and leave you with a fiddly little Circuit de la Dull that’s about as enjoyable as a mouldy rice pudding.

    And I think another big issue, certainly for me, is the gaps between races. After the Saudi race I wanted to be able to think to myself ‘OK, next one in one/two weeks’, as I do with F1 (or even MotoGP), but I knew that was it for another month. I like following series’ where I can keep my interest rolling along, topping it up every couple of weeks with a race, but once you get more than two weeks between events the momentum dies. Looking at the calendar, FE’s race gaps this year are 4-2-3-3-2-3-2-2-2-4-3… 12 events, 13 races, spread across 28 weeks. Not enough action.

    On the plus side I’m happy enough with the quality of the drivers, and I couldn’t care less about the gimmicks as long as the racing is interesting. The new cars look far more capable of producing decent, flat-out action than the old ones did, and as crap as the tracks are I do appreciate the precision required at certain points on some of them, and I like that drivers who make a mistake tend to pay a heavy price.

    But I still feel a bit like FE is my girlfriend’s favourite football team, and I’m trying to overcome an overwhelming sense of indifference to force myself to cheer for them. My conscious mind is telling me to care, but my subconscious is just shrugging its shoulders and looking out of the window…

  13. When Formula E initially launched I went in open minded but found myself losing interest as each season went by & by last season wasn’t that interested at all.

    With the new cars & regulations for this season I decided to jump back in for the first race. There was some decent racing but again something about the series just doesn’t grab me & i’m not totally sure why. Even when there’s some good racing going on i’m just not as engaged with it as I am with other categories.

    I think part of it is things like attack mode which is as stupid as it sounded beforehand & I don’t think it’s really adds anything. Watching drivers have to slow down/drive offline & through a box painted off towards the side of the track just looks really silly. Never really been a fan of fanboost and that hasn’t changed.

    The cars look OK & they are faster but I still think there missing a ‘wow factor’. With F1, Indycar, WEC & even junior categories like F2 just watching the cars been driven around the circuits is a spectacle which I feel Formula E lacks. I just don’t enjoy watching those cars been driven in the same way I do other categories.

    Then there are the circuits themselves. They just don’t grab my interest because they tend to lack defining sections/corners & the fact they change the layout’s of the one’s they go back to so frequently doesn’t help. The series lacks a Spa, Silverstone or Suzuka… Circuits that have history & corners which make you go ‘wow’ when you see a car go through them. I get why they don’t want to but it would be great seeing them race on proper circuits.

    1. Also this hud they continue to use for the OnBoard/Telemetry display is still as terrible an idea as it was when they first introduced it 2-3 years ago. No need to darken the entire screen just to show us some telemetry data.

  14. I love IndyCar and F1! Watched the first FE race and races last year, but find it painfully boring. The sound (of dentist drills) is annoying, the SLOW speed and parking lot tracks… Sad since it’s the only racing going on.

  15. Duncan Snowden
    11th January 2019, 16:28

    Pretty much my own thoughts, Josh, and I’m well over twice your age. The answer to the question posed in the headline is definitely a (qualified) “yes”. It still leaves a lot to be desired – fanboost has to go – and obviously you can’t judge a series by one race, but it’s a vast improvement on what went before.

    The main problem is that it’s being pushed as a global series with major manufacturer backing and top-level drivers, and the racing simply isn’t at that level. The cars aren’t as fast as other international series, and (most of) the tracks are rubbish. “Slower than Formula Ford”, indeed. I’m not sure that Gen2 actually is any more (genuinely unsure; the Saudi track didn’t really give us a chance to see them stretch their legs), but I think it would have gained more respect if it was the new F4, or at least pitched at the same level with multiple national championships around the world. However, cheaper than F1 though it may be, it’s too expensive for that. Or it could be sold, at least for now, as a bit of off-season fun, like the RoC. Starting the season in December is a good idea, but they shouldn’t let it run into the summer, when it’s competing with (sorry) “real” racing. Because it just can’t.

  16. Our national television agreed to air formula e’s events, with french commentary. I watch formula e occasionally since it began and found it decent though lacking in a few areas.

    One thing that struck me this year is the importance of a very present commentary when the cars are silent. I noticed it because the french commentary ruined my pleasure. It was absolutely appaling and sporadic at best, while english one is usually genuinely entertaining.

  17. As an 18-year-old sports enthusiast…

    Wait, what? Who’s your father? Are you Canadian?

  18. One very interesting point is this generation of Formula E cars have covered wheels. Open wheels generate lift, so I guess covered wheels reduce that tendency, meaning less need for downforce, and that the rear of the car is far more tapered than an F1 car, suggesting a less turbulent wake behind the car at speed. I see the cars do have front and rear wings but smaller and far less elaborate than what is used in F1. Looking at the close spacing of the cars in the race, including going around a corner, suggests they don’t generate such a turbulent wake as an F1 car does. I think the tapered rear end is also beneficial for this. I’m guessing these cars are going through a corner with a little over 1 G of downforce, whereas F1 cars go through with about 4 Gs. Nevertheless, I think the covered wheels and the far better tapered rear end are ideas that F1 will need to look at if they want to reduce the turbulent wake behind cars.

  19. Stephen Higgins
    11th January 2019, 18:31

    Its never really grabbed me other than the double-header weekend in London where Piquet Jr won the title.

    There’s a stench of smug, sanctimonious, pious, hoity-toty do-goodedness about FE. And the racing isn’t even that better than a modern BTCC meeting.

    Get them on proper slick tyres (and have wets in case it rains, you know, like in proper MOTOR racing), and get them racing on REAL circuits (Ironically I will be tuning in to the Monaco round out of interest now I know they’re racing on the GP circuit).

    Then you might stand a chance of this old-school fan becoming a new one.

  20. +1, FE cars look good,
    +2, their design generate low ‘turbulent air’.
    +3, There are close racing.
    +4, Electric car technology can be the future (of motorsport)…
    But AT PRESENT there are many problems with it:
    -1, The FE car’s sound is very annoying.
    -2, Street tracks are too narrow, dirty, bumpy so it can’t help overtaking. Street tracks are not good race tracks.
    -3, There is no need to Fanboost.
    -4, They are slow in lap time (at present).
    I think the battery technology will be the key area of development.

  21. I wasn’t hooked during season 1 and let fomula e on rhe side for a few season. Gave it a second chance last year and honesltly loved the campain…Especially seeing JEV winning it, after quite a few battles… sorry, but in spite of the low speed-no noise minset,I did find Formula E more attractive, more motorport “root” than F1 and its endless runoff tracks and can’t follow closely but still overtake thanks to DRS type of competition. This coming from a 28 years F1 fan

  22. It’s a joke. It was a joke to start with, and nothing’s changed

  23. No. Please stop giving it attention.

  24. Excellent racing! It can only go from strength to strength…

  25. So if nobody will own or drive cars in the future..what would be the point of having a sport that involves cars being driven around in circles?

  26. Well written article, Josh, if I might say so… Looking forward to when you tackle real issues… ;-)

    A couple of details that jumped out at me:
    “According to Formula E…” – and therefore not to be automatically believed…
    “Sports marketers know that by tapping into the interests of me and my peers they can win fans for life.” – Nothing is for life, not even a ‘life-sentence’… ;-)

  27. Good to see others so completely put off by fanboost like myself. It’s an abomination and ruins the reputation of the sport. Good and well that it might attract kids, but soon those kids will be adults and be put off by it.

  28. This race is not being streamed live on youtube. I stayed in to watch this and it was an utter waste of time.

    I had some good feeling for FE after the last race and was happy to give the championship a try, but now I feel massively disenfranchised.

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