What Formula E gets right

What can an evolving Formula 1 in 2022 learn from Formula E in 2020?

Image by Chris Li via Unsplash

Unless you've been sleeping on it for the past 5 or so years, Formula E has steadily made waves and provided some of the most exciting racing of any motorsport series on the planet. The unique focus on electricity and an almost gamification of racing has thrown up some absolute delight as well as a second chance for those binned off by F1.

With the series set to have it's final six rounds at Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin's south side, we wanted to dive in and see what Formula E has got so very right in the past few years.

Unpredictability

I don't think there's a single ePrix you can predict the winner from the beginning. Strategy and usage of their powertrains plays such a huge part that drivers can even lose a race 150m from the line, such as Felipe Massa in Monaco.

The race management a driver and their team goes through in a single ePrix ultimately determines how far up they finish and it's quite exciting to try and keep up with what's happening at any specific moment!

One thing F1 can be accused of is being awfully too predictable at specific Grand Prix's, see Paul Ricard last season. One of the most boring Grand Prix of all time, you could predict the top 3 before the race even began. Despite a strong midfield in F1, not since Pastor Maldonado has it thrown up a complete surprise winner.

Ability to attract manufactures

F1's diversity of manufactures for the past decade or so has been limited to 4 at a time. While Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda are all great marques to have on the grid, fans are often left wondering why manufactures like Audi, Porsche or Ford get involved.

It's quite simple, the costs of producing a Formula E powertrain and purchasing a spec chassis is much cheaper. Perhaps the budget caps and the move toward more spec parts in 2022 may attract new manufactures to F1, but for the time being Formula E can boast Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, Mahindra, Citroen, Jaguar and Audi.

I've been wondering for some time if the series will one day merge with F1 or if it continues as it's own entity, will you get historical manufactures like Ferrari taking an interest? After all, they've considered IndyCar in the past, so have shown they're open to trying new series beyond F1 and GT racing. Whether that happens though, is another thing.

Experimental formats

Though various series try slightly different variations on things like qualifying, Formula E has tried to take an almost football approach to qualifying. The group stage format is something I'd personally not seen in other motorsports and makes for some exciting qualifying. Now for me, F1 gets qualifying spot on - unless the drivers pull a Monza - but there's still something to be learned here.

The willingness to try different things is something F1 could perhaps think a bit deeper about. Ross Brawn has shown a lot of thinking in this direction, we can only hope teams don't continually veto or oppose format changes. Already this season F1 will see it's first 2 day weekend, omitting the Friday practice sessions when they go to Imola. Let's see how this works, but Formula E's flexibility and changing over the years shows it can be done.

Talented drivers get another chance

You may watch a Formula E race and recognise a lot of drivers as either ex-F1 grid or test drivers. Beyond that the grid is also made up of drivers who contest various GT championships, Le Mans and even things like IndyCar. What Formula E really got right was the blend of drivers it started attracting.

Most people will probably feel drivers like Pascal Wehrlein or Jean Eric Vergne should have got more of a chance in Formula 1. A series like Formula E has given them a chance to re-invent their careers a little bit as they get to show their true talents in mostly even machinery. JEV winning 2 championships is testament to his skill.

You also end up having immensely talented drivers who were dropped by Red Bull such as Antonio Felix da Costa. He's shown a lot of pace and enough craft to suggest he'd be better than a few drivers on the current F1 grid.

Given that the costs are cheaper, this means you invariably end up having a few more teams than just the 10, which means more seats. I think where F1 suffers from its own imposed costs is that only 10 teams can afford to compete, which means limited seats. A side effect of this is a talented driver like George Russell finds himself in a car like the Williams just to be in F1. You also get drivers having to take a year out, like Ocon and Kyvat in recent years.

Learnings

So I think it's fair to say Formula 1 is trying to head in the right direction from 2022 onward. Whether it brings the field closer remains to be seen, but if F1 could pick up a little bit of the innovative elements and lower costs from Formula E, perhaps it could seal its future and ability to attract manufactures or new independent teams.

As it stands, seeing a historic private team like Williams suffer at the back with not a hope in hell of a new team becoming the 11th or 12 teams leaves a lot to be desired. Some may argue the more concise field in F1 makes it elite, but we all know the nature of motorsports is about sponsorships and sometimes pay drivers, thus it is not a true reflection of the elite of motorsport.

Formula E has posed some serious questions towards F1 and it's great to see that F1 has started considering some new approaches. Even if it is slowly, slowly.

a year ago by erd_y