The tight regulations should also prevent a manufacturer ‘arms race’ that would make the championship cost-prohibitive. “Companies want a balanced return on investment,” says McNish. “Get the regulations right and you get cost control.”
McNish notes that part of the appeal of Formula E is that it is a new championship. “It started without history, so we can make the product for today with no baggage,” he says. For car makers, the 45-minute races, all held on temporary street circuits in major cities, are crucial in appealing to younger motorsport fans – who will grow up in a world where EVs are considered the norm.
That said, the racing is still a work in progress. The ‘Gen2’ cars, introduced last season, are faster and capable of completing a full race without stopping – but still slow compared with other, more conventionally powered international racing championships. And, as a consequence of Formula E’s otherwise enviable inner-city race locations, the race circuits tend to be tight and disjointed. The Brooklyn Street Circuit might have an unbeatable backdrop, but you’d never mistake the bumpy, cramped, stop-start track with the flowing majesty of Silverstone.
That, in turn, means the racing is often processional and somewhat messy, with plenty of contact between the cars in the close confines. Concepts such as the Mario Kart-aping Attack Mode short-term power boost helps, but only go so far.
“We’re lucky to get to race in some very nice places, but the tracks can be a bit short and aren’t great for overtaking,” admits series veteran Edoardo Mortara. McNish agrees it’s a problem, especially as the cars get faster, but says “the tracks can evolve with the cars. We can open them up, make them faster in places.”
But the real success of Formula E isn’t shown on the track but by what’s going on around it. In Brooklyn, the main fan area was filled by sizeable displays, where car firms involved were all showing off their electric machines, including the Mini Electric, Jaguar I-Pace, Audi E-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC.
It wasn’t just the OEMs: there were sizeable displays from other firms, notably including Harley-Davidson (with its range of electric bikes) and series sponsor ABB. The Swiss-based technology company’s stand showcased not just its EV fast chargers, but electric tech for both public transport and home use.
Tarak Mehta, ABB’s electrification boss, says Formula E offers a chance to “showcase what the latest technology can do in terms of EV performance” and “pushing sustainability mobility forward”. Mehta also points to how Formula E’s urban race locations allow ABB to talk about noise: “The cars aren’t noiseless, but they show EVs can be both quiet and entertaining.”