Bob McMurray: Formula E is not right now
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I have tried but just can’t do it.
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 I will explain later.
Of course, it goes without saying that Kiwi driver Mitch Evans will have my full interest and support in whichever series or form of racing 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 is now giving him a vehicle to match his talent.
However, I say again, I just cannot get into the whole Formula E racing thing. The scenario of getting out of one vehicle, that looks like a bumper car driving on truck tyres, 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.
What sort of advertisement or promotion is it for road-going electric cars if people see these cutting-edged, battery-powered electrical marvels are 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 do away with the car-to-car dash.
It could be that the real future of all electric road cars is as purely inner city, short journey people-carriers. In that case, the series is in the right place, performing on tiny inner-city streets.
Another “innovation” from the organisers is to canvas the public to vote for a favourite driver. The three most popular drivers get an extra energy boost.
Called a “FanBoost” it is a gimmick and something that belongs in the realm of computer “E” games, not on a race track.
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.
Why not invent a sound that at least is pleasant to hear in racing terms?
Despite the stars and the hype, it is more like video gaming than motorsport.
It seems the car manufacturers are rushing to enter the sport as a way of banging their chests and 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. 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 Hong Kong event was reminiscent of the A1GP series of some years ago.
That series was over-populated by A1GP personnel looking important and travelling the world on expenses, while achieving little but doing, apparently, something. 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 some time ago.
Hence “Formula Exit”.
I see few drivers like Mitch Evans, still only 23 years of age, who are young and probing for that “open door” so, clearly, Formula E is not seen as a stepping stone to other things.
I have no doubt that all-electric cars have a future and also no doubt that the battery technology will go forward in leaps and bounds. But I also have no doubt that a hybrid car is the way to go.
We, the public, are probably witnessing innovation and technological development, live testing, as a sport.
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 with the associated pollution, so I am told.
Is Formula E the way of the future?
Only the future can answer that.