Formula E is Not For Me. But is it Really the Future of Racing?

I have tried.
I really have.
But I just can’t do it.

Try as I might, after hours spent watching it on TV, I cannot get interested in the FIA Formula E Championship, or as a good friend and ex Formula 1 driver calls it ‘Formula Exit’ for reasons that I will explain later.

The tight hairpin of the Hong Kong street circuit.

Of course it goes without saying that Kiwi driver Mitch Evans would have my full interest and support in whichever series or form of racing in which he chooses to compete.

Clearly in this new season of Formula E – the fourth such – which kicked off in Hong Kong last weekend, his Jaguar Racing team has made a step forward in performance and are now giving him a vehicle to match his talent. That is if the weekend’s tour of the small city streets is anything to go by.

However, I say again, I just cannot get into it, the whole Formula E racing thing that is.

The entire scenario of getting out of one vehicle, that looks like some form of bumper car driving on truck tyres, about halfway through the pursuit and swapping into another as part of a compulsory pit stop because there is not enough battery life to make a decent length event is just plain silly.

At least as far as ‘racing’ as I know it is concerned.

What sort of advert or promotion is it for road going electric cars if people see these high tech, battery powered, ‘cutting edge’ electrical marvels simply unable to complete more than half a race?

Season Five (2018/19) will, I am told, incorporate batteries that will hopefully last the entire race and so do away with the car to car dash for the drivers.

Formula E Fan Boost.

It could be that the real future of all electric road cars is as purely inner city, short journey, zero emission person carriers in which case the series is in the right place, performing on tiny inner city streets around the world.

Another ‘innovation’ from the organisers is to canvas the public to vote for a favourite driver who then, if he is one of the three drivers to get the majority of the votes, gets an extra energy boost.

Called a ‘FanBoost’ it is, once again to me at least, a gimmick and something that belongs in the realm of computer ‘E’ games, not on a race track, and there I use the term race track loosely.

The dreadful sound the things make while moving also does nothing to enhance the concept.

An electric car on the public roads is almost silent so the sound of so many cars resembling that heard at a radio controlled car convention must be either from the drive train or simply have been invented.

So why not invent a sound that at least is pleasant to hear in racing terms?

It doesn’t have to be loud, just, well, racey!

Despite the stars and the hype it just does not scream (pun not intended) motor sport to me. More like video gaming than motor sport.

Close but quiet makes racing boring?

It seems the car manufacturers are rushing to enter the sport as a way of banging their chest like a big Silverback Gorilla while saying “look at me, look how green I am.”

Make no mistake, the Formula E series is a technicians series as well as a marketing exercise and publicity tool developed to push forward the electric road car message for, and by, the major manufacturers who will all, at some point if they have not already, be marketing all electric road cars.

A message that, in my eyes is still unproven (and yes, I do believe in global warming).

The on-going debate around ‘embodied carbon’, carbon emissions, renewable energy sources and all-electric and highly fashionable Tesla cars is a lively one and not one I wish to explore here.

The event in Hong Kong, incidentally a city where the energy for that city is produced primarily by coal burning power stations plus nuclear power stations and natural gas with a tiny amount of renewable energy thrown in, was reminiscent to me of the A1GP series of some years ago.

That series was over populated by A1GP personnel, wearing white shirts and black trousers, having a wonderful time, looking important and travelling the world on expenses, while achieving little but doing, apparently, something.

As I watch on TV I see the same traits in Formula E.

I also see the vast majority of the drivers on the grid being made up from those legions of drivers who are trying to recover from, resurrect or prolong a career that stalled or failed completely some while ago..

Hence ‘Formula Exit’.

Talented drivers all but for one reason or another passed over at the very top levels of the sport but who need good jobs.

Kiwi Mitch Evans.

I see very few drivers like Mitch Evans, still only 23 years of age, who are young and probing for that ‘open door,’ so clearly the Formula is not one that is seen as a stepping stone to other things.

It has been proved over many years, many generations, that competition, like war, pushes innovation and development like nothing else can and that will hopefully be the major contribution to society that the series will bring and I am more than prepared for it to take over the tiny city streets and the ‘sustainable mobility’ mantle and good luck to them all.

Although with the power supply, the materials used in the batteries and all the other associated ‘non-sustainable’ elements involved, that particular mantle is up for very serious debate.

I have no doubt that all-electric cars have a future and also no doubt that, with major manufacturers involved, the battery technology will go forward in leaps and bounds, but I also have no doubt in my own mind that a hybrid car, not fully electric, is the way to go and those hybrid engines will be powered by either miniscule amounts of fossil fuel or indeed hydrogen, one of the fuels of the future and truly renewable in every country around the world not just the fortunate few.

What then of the future of Formula E?

We, the public, are probably for the first time ever, witnessing innovation and technological development, live testing as a sport, in front of our very eyes.

Switzerland will hold it’s first racing event since 1954.

It also has to be said that the concept is bringing entertainment and a form of car racing to the very centre of major cities, even to Zurich in Switzerland, a country that has seen no circuit racing since it was banned in 1954, and for that the organisers should be congratulated.

I am told I should embrace the concept and I am almost made to feel guilty, a heretic of some sort, a dinosaur, a fossil even, for not keeping up with the times and being swept along with the wave of ecological and environmental responsibility.

A bit harsh I thought.

It is the way of the future I am told. We cannot keep racing traditional Formula cars with proper tracks, big tyres, loud noise, burning fossil fuel (in ever decreasing amounts incidentally) with the associated pollution, so I am told.

The series is not designed to convert the unconvertible, like me, but to attract a whole new audience of non-motorsport people so once again the organisers should be congratulated on that.

But, if I don’t like Formula E racing (not to be confused with the all-electric road car shift) if I think it somewhat tedious and unexciting, contrived, artificial, and at times pure farce, almost appearing to justify it’s own existence. If I think it is anathema to actual ‘motor racing’ and I want to swim against the tidal wave of adoration for the series from my peers, colleagues and contemporaries alike then, well, that’s OK… isn’t it?

Am I and countless others not allowed to think that way?

Is Formula E the way of the future?

Only the future can answer that.

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Bob McMurray has had a long relationship with motor sport – especially Formula 1.  He spent over thirty years with the McLaren Formula 1 team and then many years as a commentator on TVNZ ONE . He is also regularly called upon to contribute to various TV and radio stations as the ‘expert comments’ person. For three years he was the CEO of A1 Grand Prix Team New Zealand. Bob is also a Director of two sports marketing companies. In 2006 Bob was awarded the ‘Motorsport Personality of the Year’ award and in 2007 the ‘Motor Trades Association Award for Contribution to Industry. He has also the subject of a successful and well-received book about life in Formula 1.   Bob was the presenter of the many Indy 500 shows produced for TVNZ One, as well as co producing and presenting the ‘Kiwis and Characters’ TV series.  He is currently the co-host of ‘The Driven Hour’ weekly radio show on Radio Sport, a columnist for the ‘New Zealand Herald’ and ‘Driven’ supplement, a Trustee of the MSNZ Scholarship Trust / Elite Academy and a Trustee of the ‘Kiwi Driver Fund’, a new initiative that aims to help aspiring New Zealand race drivers contest the Toyota Racing Series as well as being a regular F1 GP tour ‘host’, most recently at the 2017 Singapore and Malaysian Formula 1 Grands Prix. Very much still connected to F1, Bob gives Pit Talk Asia and exclusive look behind the scenes of the pinnacle of motorsport.