Formula E: A Pioneering Form of Motorsport Made to Help the Planet

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Imagine stepping out your door to see electric race cars whizzing past you.

If you live in certain cities around the world — like Berlin, Rome, or London — that dream could become a reality with one racing series.

Formula E is the first-ever all-electric open-wheel motorsport series on the planet — basically, it’s the most specialized form of electric racing you’ll find on Earth. Thankfully, you don’t have to be an expert to tune in. You just have to enjoy a little drama; seeing the evolution of electrification take place before your very eyes is just the cherry on top.

Related: Meet Real Housewives with Hybrid Engines: A Girl’s Guide to Formula One

A Wild Ride With Formula E. Photo: Sam Bloxham/Fia Formula E

A wild looking ride with Formula E. Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E

Why Should I Watch Formula E?

It’s not every day that we’re able to watch the rapid progression of innovation in real time — but that’s just what you’ll find with Formula E. During each race, called an ePrix, you’ll have the opportunity to see the rapid development of electric vehicle technology being played out on the streets of gorgeous countries around the world. It’s a little bit like getting a peep in the engineering room at Mercedes (except, y’know, with a lot less jargon and a lot more fun).

Related: How Electric Cars Will Become a Reality for Us All: Through Formula E Racing

Race Car Gorgeousness. Photo: Andrew Ferrari/Fia Formula E

Race car gorgeousness. Photo: Andrew Ferrari/FIA Formula E

Will I Recognize any Automakers?

This year, Formula E boasts a handful of automobile manufacturers that you might recognize: Nissan, Maserati, McLaren, Porsche and Jaguar are all competing in 2023. DS, a French automaker; Cupra, a Spanish performance car maker; and NIO, a Chinese marque; also have teams. If you’re familiar with farm equipment, too, you might recognize Mahindra.

FE has seen some tidal shifts when it comes to automakers involved in the sport; some enter, a few leave, and more will come to take their place. This year, both Maserati and McLaren are new, serving as a replacement for brands that have left the sport, like Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

With fewer than 10 years under its belt, FE has served as a place for automakers to experiment with EV technology. Some, like Mercedes, came to find greater value in in-house EV development. Others, like Porsche, are using motorsport as a way to find a competitive edge, both on the track and in your road car.

Related: Does Anyone Have A Full-Size Electric SUV In The Works?

Jaguar Fe Car. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Fia Formula E

Jaguar FE car. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/FIA Formula E

What Makes a Formula E car so Special?

Formula E cars are the first electric purpose-built open-wheel machines in the world. Open-wheel vehicles are specialized racing machines that are often lighter, more powerful, and more aerodynamic than their road-car counterparts — making them an ideal platform to experiment.

Formula E’s current car is known as Gen3 because, as the name suggests, it’s the third vehicle the series has seen in its nine-year history. While each generation has been cutting edge at the time of its release, the evolution of those generations shows just how far EV technology has come since FE’s first race in 2013 — for example, the top speed in 2013 was just under 140 mph, while it now sits at just over 200 mph.

This current car has shattered all expectations of EVs. About 40% of the energy used in a race is produced by regenerative braking, making it the most efficient open-wheel-style car in history. It boasts a 95% power efficiency from a 350 kW battery pack, which means that the car harnesses almost all of the energy it creates. It features a powertrain in both the front and the rear of the car, enabling all four wheels to engage in regenerative braking rather than just the rear. The car has also been designed to implement mid-race power boosts from a 600 kW supercharger. (For reference, Tesla’s superchargers have a maximum charging rate of 250 kW.)

Around The Track. Photo: Simon Galloway/Fia Formula E

Around the track. Photo: Simon Galloway/FIA Formula E

Has Formula E Developed any Technology I’ll see on my Own Car?

Motorsport provides a competitive test bed where manufacturers can try out tech evolutions in real time, and FE is no different. Since its inception, FE has helped build faster, more powerful, and more efficient batteries (for example, in season one, a single car battery couldn’t last a full race, so drivers had to change cars halfway through). That’s come through innovative battery regeneration systems and a broad effort at reducing energy losses. Further, sponsors like Shell have used FE as a way to develop greener fuels and greases for things like your powertrain — products we’ll see hitting the market thanks to the track day testing in FE.

Photo: Andrew Ferrari/Fia Formula E

Some of the women of Formula E. Photo: Andrew Ferrari/FIA Formula E

Will I see any Women Racing?

Even if you don’t consider yourself a big motorsport fan, there’s a good chance you probably understand that racing has traditionally been a male-dominated arena — and it is, unfortunately, very similar in Formula E. A handful of women competed in a few races during the first two seasons (Simona de Silvestro, Michela Ceruti, and Katherine Legge), but for 2023, FE lacks a diverse grid.

The series is aware of that, though, and has been working on ways to introduce young women to motorsport through its Girls on Track program, which we’ll dive into deeper here at A Girls Guide to Cars in a future story. At its most basic, this program brings local women and girls to the race track during an ePrix, showing them the various ways they can be involved in racing: as engineers, track marshals, safety crews, mechanics, or drivers.

And FE boasts women in high-profile positions, such as Julia Pallé, the series’ sustainability director, or Alessandra Ciliberti, the FIA technical director who oversaw the development of FE’s latest cars. We’ll write about them in greater detail at a later date, too.

The Starting Grid. Photo: Sam Bloxham/Fia Formula E

The starting grid. Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E

How can I Watch Formula E?

The Formula E season has already kicked off with its first race in Mexico City on January 14, but there are still plenty of events to catch up on in tons of diverse locations:

  • January 27: Diriyah, Saudi Arabia
  • January 28: Diriyah, Saudi Arabia
  • February 11: Hyderabad, India
  • February 25: Cape Town, South Africa
  • March 25: São Paulo, Brazil
  • April 22: Berlin, Germany
  • April 23: Berlin, Germany
  • May 6: Monaco, Monte Carlo
  • June 3: Jakarta, Indonesia
  • June 4: Jakarta, Indonesia
  • June 24: Portland, Oregon
  • July 15: Rome, Italy
  • July 16: Rome, Italy
  • July 29: London, England
  • July 30: London, England

If you’re looking to watch a race, you can find TV schedules on Formula E’s website. Here in the United States, FE generally airs on the CBS Sports Network.

Check Out Formula E! Photo: Simon Galloway/Fia Formula E

Check out Formula E! Photo: Simon Galloway/FIA Formula E

I’m tuning into an ePrix — now what?

Because Formula E closes down active city streets to create its race course, the weekend format is generally condensed into a single day of practice, qualifying, and then the race. Races themselves last around 45 minutes, making it simple for a casual fan to check out a new sport. Don’t be fooled, though; those 45 minutes are some of the most exciting in all of motorsport.

Everyone knows the race is the main event, but I’d recommend watching qualifying, too. In a traditional qualifying session, every driver tries to set the fastest lap time; the faster your lap, the farther up the grid you’ll start the race, and starting position is everything — there are fewer cars separating you from first place.

FE does things a little differently, though. Last year, it introduced something called “duels.” In it, the field is split in half, with each half having a few minutes to set a fast lap. Then, the four fastest drivers from the first session move on to the quarter-final duels, where they’ll be paired head-to-head with the four fastest from the second session. Each driver has one chance to set a fast lap; the driver with the fastest lap moves on to the semi-finals. The fastest driver from the semi-finals moves on to the finals. The fastest driver from the finals starts the race in first place; everyone else lines up behind that driver.

It can be a little confusing at first, but this unique format provides a massive amount of excitement; it’s hard not to be seduced by the tension. Check it out!

I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock