The first race of Formula E’s 10th season, the Mexico City ePrix, is set to kick off on January 13 – and if you’re a Formula 1 fan curious about the all-electric open-wheel series, there’s no better time to start watching.
Since its first race 10 years ago, Formula E has transformed the motorsport landscape and rapidly grown on the technology and competition fronts. The cars have become more impressive, the championship has grown more contentious, and the drivers are some of the best in the world.
The early start to Formula E’s racing season makes it a great series to enjoy if you’re looking to scratch that motorsport itch while waiting for Formula 1 to make its return in March.
What Is Formula E?
As noted above, FE is an all-electric open-wheel series in its 10th year of competition. It began as an idea jotted on a napkin during a dinner between former FIA President Jean Todt and FE founder Alejandro Agag.
The series has established several goals during its decade of competition. First and foremost, FE has been dedicated to further developing electric technology; motorsport has traditionally been a great proving ground for new tech, and the auto manufacturers that have participated in FE have been able to implement FE data in their road cars to create more efficient batteries.
That ties into the series’ efforts to create more sustainable racing, both for competitors and for the fans attending the events.
FE has also primarily been a street-circuit series, though, in 2024, it will hit proper race tracks like Portland International Raceway, the Autodromos Hermanos Rodriguez, and Misano World Circuit.
However, basing the calendar around tracks composed of city streets is intended to introduce motorsport directly to audiences that may not have heard of it before, and to enable fans to access the track without needing to take long flights or drive to countryside circuits.
The series gained official FIA world championship accreditation in 2020, meaning that it is sanctioned by the same body that sanctions F1.
What Are Formula E’s Similarities to Formula 1?
Because Formula E is sanctioned by the FIA, you’ll likely notice many structural similarities between the electric series and F1 when it comes to the organization of the championship.
Race weekends feature practice, qualifying, and a race, and points are awarded to the top 10 drivers based on the same FIA system that fans will recognize from F1.
Because both F1 and FE feature an open-wheel vehicle, you’ll find several former F1 drivers or F1 hopefuls converting their skillset to FE competition, including Jean-Eric Vergne, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Nyck de Vries.
Further, there are similarities between sanctioning and safety standards, which come from their shared sanctioning body.
How Is Formula E Different From F1?
Despite their surface-level similarities, Formula E and Formula 1 differ in many ways.
– Formula E cars are lighter, slower, smaller and less powerful than F1 cars. However, this enables tight competition between FE drivers, where F1 sees more stratification between the top-level teams and the backmarkers.
– Formula E is less expensive than Formula 1. Even with the introduction of F1’s cost cap, FE remains the cheaper series thanks to heavy regulation regarding spending and the mandatory use of spec components in FE.
– Formula E races last roughly 45 minutes, while F1 races are capped at two hours but can be expected to run about 90 minutes. This is due to limitations of battery technology; we can expect to see ePrix become longer as batteries become more capable.
– All Formula E drivers are paid for their services, whereas in Formula 1, drivers may actually pay their teams to compete.
– Formula E teams can only run one set of all-weather tires for a weekend, whereas F1 teams are required to run two different tire compounds during a race.
– All Formula E track sessions generally take place within one day, while a Formula 1 event is spread out over three days.
Of course, these differences only scratch the surface. We’ll get more in-depth regarding some particular differences below.
Formula E’s Format
Formula E events feature a fairly unique format. For single-ePrix weekends, there will generally be two 30-minute practice sessions, followed by qualifying, and a race – often all on the same day. Many FE events are also double-headers, which means that the drivers repeat the practice, qualifying, and race format two days in a row.
While practice sessions, as a concept, are fairly standard across all forms of motorsport, Formula E’s qualifying is quite unique; it employs something called a “duels” format.
Here, the grid is split in half, with each half attempting to set the fastest times of the group. The four fastest drivers from each group move on to the duels, where one driver from Group A will compete against one driver from Group B in an effort to set a faster lap. The faster driver from this “duel” will move on to the next round, until the grid is set.
Further, during FE’s 45-minute races, drivers must engage something called “Attack Mode.” Attack Mode is the name given to the 35-kW boost in power that drivers can access for a total of eight minutes during a race.
To activate Attack Mode, a driver must drive off-line through a certain part of the track. This extra boost in power helps those drivers pass their competitors, but drivers often lose positions by activating that extra power.
Each driver must activate Attack Mode twice, but they have two options; drivers can either opt for a two-minute boost paired with a six-minute boost, or they can go for two four-minute boosts; this enables drivers and teams to introduce a little extra strategy, as there are no in-race pit stops.
Formula E’s Cars
Formula E is in its third era of vehicle technology, which the series refers to as Gen3. The machines debuted at the start of 2023 and represent the latest in high-speed motorsport technology.
With a top speed of 200 mph (322 km/h), McLaren driver Jake Hughes set a Guinness World Record for indoor speed by hitting 135.9 miles per hour inside London’s ExCeL Center.
The battery technology has also grown increasingly sophisticated throughout FE’s tenure. In the first seasons, batteries weren’t able to last the entire race, which meant drivers had to actually switch cars halfway through an event. With Gen3, the batteries not only last the duration of any event, but the tech also makes it the most efficient Formula car in history.
Over 40% of the energy used in a race is actually generated by braking, and the 350-kW electric motor boasts 95% efficiency (compared to around 40% for a combustion engine).
With a sharp wedge shape and angular body panels, the Gen3 cars look like they’re pulled right out of the future.
F1 fans may struggle most with the whine produced by the electric motor, but the relatively quiet Gen3 cars open up opportunities for fans to better hear the squeal of tires and the crunch of bodywork as drivers push these cars to their limits.
The Teams And Drivers in 2024
Formula E boasts 11 teams heading into the 2024 season, with each team fielding two drivers.
Most familiar to F1 fans will be the NEOM McLaren team, which will field Jake Hughes and Sam Bird in 2024.
This team is just one facet of McLaren’s recent overall growth into multiple motorsport disciplines, with CEO Zak Brown citing sustainability as the primary goal for the team.
Also familiar is Andretti; the American team brought driver Jake Dennis his first Formula E World Championship last season and has signed Norman Nato alongside him for 2024.
Team principal Roger Griffiths told PlanetF1.com last year that Andretti’s expansion into an FIA-sanctioned championship has helped give the organization legitimacy as it pursues an entrance to Formula 1.
As one would expect, FE has brought with it a slew of automakers looking to expand their racing horizons, including familiar names like Jaguar TCS Racing (fielding drivers Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy), Maserati (with Maximilian Günther and Jehan Daruvala), Nissan (featuring Oliver Rowland and Sacha Fenestraz), and Tag Heuer Porsche (with Pascal Wehrlein and Antonio Felix da Costa).
Other regional automakers compete in the sport, such as the Spanish Cupra (partnered with ABT and fielding Lucas di Grassi and Nico Müller), French manufacturer DS (which has teamed with America’s Penske to field Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne), and the Indian Mahindra team (fielding Edoardo Mortara and Nyck de Vries).
The final two teams are Envision, which takes its name from a wind turbine manufacturer and will field Robin Frijns and Sebastien Buemi, and ERT, with Dan Ticktum and Sergio Sette Câmara.
How To Watch A Formula E Race
Because Formula E is still a fairly new form of motorsport that’s still growing in popularity, live race coverage varies widely from one country to the next. The simplest way to find out how to watch a race is by consulting Formula E’s website.
In the United States, FE is available for streaming on Roku, while in the United Kingdom, viewers have a choice between watching on TNT Sports 4 or Discovery+.
Free practice sessions are streamed live on YouTube and via FE’s app.