How can someone address why ABB Formula E racing has become one of racing’s hottest commodities on an international level? Granted, the star power of someone like Lewis Hamilton or Bubba Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Sebastian Vettel is noticeably absent. Instead, drivers such as former NASCAR standout Nelson Piquet Jr. have hoisted the championship trophy while drivers such as Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Massa are regulars on the grid. OEMs aren’t an issue in the paddock; Mercedes, Porsche, and BMW all have entries on the grid along with Jaguar, Nissan, and Audi.
There are some familiar names associated with the sport. Former IndyCar organization Dragon Racing become one of the founding Formula E teams in 2014 and was renamed GEOX Dragon, while fellow IndyCar group Andretti Autosport has also branched into the series with BMW i Andretti Motorsport. Other organizations include Indian conglomerate holding company Mahindra and Chinese manufacturer NIO.
Some of the appeal of the all-electric racing division goes into the international aspect. Races are held all over the world, with events in places such as New York City, Marrakesh, Saudi Arabia, and Berlin. But what makes the events draw such big numbers for a relatively young form of racing is its fan appeal. The events are curated around fan participation, with fans participating in such initiatives as Fanboost, where fans vote for which drivers to receive a brief boost of power during the race. This is akin to the “Attack Mode,” where drivers access a predetermined strip of the racetrack; accessing this during the race will also bring them a brief boost of power. That’s like playing a racing video game like MarioKart or GTA Online and achieving a boost on a portion of the race track, although the power is actually doled out from race control.
But it’s in this electric aspect that the whole field seems to be equal in competition, making the race more about the driver than the car. That’s not to say what’s going on with the car isn’t awesome (although it’s sad to see that the teams won’t switch entire cars on pit stops like they used to). But the Formula E division has become a playground for drivers of all disciplines, and it’s been entertaining to see which drivers would succeed. All of this is considering the monotony of some of the other racing divisions with FIA in their title (looking at Hamilton’s F1 dominance, here).
Rather, the cars are evenly matched up in making it as close of a race as possible. For that matter, most events are held on street courses which keep the competition tight; winning the race by several second or several laps is unlikely. Formula E’s product has become the sort of thing other FIA divisions wish they could be, to put it bluntly: Fan-friendly and highly competitive.
Formula E exploits one of the greatest things about motorsports: Science. The science that goes into a competitive race team in any discipline is something to behold, yet in Formula E it’s actually part of the team’s mission. This is what goes into the car. And this. And this. This too.
For that matter, Formula E also disproves some of the notions that some hold regarding what makes motorsports appealing. The cars aren’t loud but sound like slot cars on a track. They’re slower than a stock car, an IndyCar race car, or even an F1 car. The events aren’t endurance events, clocking at 45 minutes plus a lap. Then there’s the matter of prestige, as Formula E’s first season was 2014. There hasn’t been enough time for an event to build up a history like you’d find at Indy, Daytona, or Monaco.
Still, the series has been growing and establishing itself as a gift for the fans. The base is growing in both fans and supporters, and that makes a huge difference in the success of Formula E. If the product has a say in anything, however, then it looks like the FIA has found the formula it needs to make Formula E a heavy hitter in the racing world.