Formula E is a rather divisive racing series. Some people—including us here at Ars—love the fact that there’s some fresh thinking in motorsport. Others find the idea of electric racing cars stupid. These critics think they’re too slow, complain about the lack of noise, hate the fact that the cars’ batteries can’t yet last a whole race, or rail against the whole “fan boost” thing. (OK, we’re probably in agreement about that last one.) But now even some of those gripes are becoming less valid.
In season five, which kicks off toward the end of 2018, we will finally see the Formula E cars get enough batteries to last the entire race—56kWh compared to the current 28kWh cars. And ahead of that, it’s evident that the teams are developing faster and faster race cars, as shown in this new video put together by the series.
It compares Sebastien Buemi (last season’s victor and the man leading this season’s championship) at the 2015 and 2017 Monaco ePrixs. (The Monaco Formula E race skips a year because it alternates with the historic grand prix meeting.) It’s a shortened version of the iconic F1 track; instead of climbing up the hill to Casino Square and then coming down through the tunnel, the drivers jink right and then rejoin the F1 layout. But even when racing over just 1.09 miles (1.76km), the current cars are noticeably faster.
2017 Buemi is maybe a car-length ahead at the turn into Ste Devote; at nine seconds in, he is at the apex already. By 19 seconds, he has reached the Nouvelle hairpin while the original car is several meters behind. The old car is more than 50 meters back by turn five—known as Tabac—and takes another two seconds to get there. It’s three seconds difference on the way into the swimming pool complex and four seconds by the final turn (the tricky Anthony Noghes).
However, a look at the race data from 2015 and 2017 paints a slightly less dramatic picture. Buemi was the polesitter for both races, and his 2017 time of 53.313 seconds wasn’t actually that much faster than his 2015 time of 53.478 seconds. The fastest race laps do show an improvement, though; Sam Bird set the fastest time in the 2017 race time of 53.822 seconds, a decent improvement compared to Jean-Éric Vergne’s 55.157 second lap in 2015.
What’s more, Bird’s fastest time wasn’t really representative; damage to his first car early in the race meant he wasn’t going to finish, so the British driver took his second car out specifically to claim the extra point on offer for the fastest race lap. That meant he didn’t need to drive in the “lift-and-coast” driving style that has now become almost mandatory when a racer needs to eke out more energy. (Note, lift-and-coast isn’t exclusive to Formula E, it’s common even in the 1,000hp hybrids of the World Endurance Championship and helped Alexander Rossi win his debut Indy 500 last year.)
From where we sit, this bodes well for the future. Formula E is only going to get faster as more and more OEMs get involved with the series—something that prompted the leading drivers to call for the series to use the full F1 track next time it visits the principality.
Now, if they’d just get rid of the “fan boost.”
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