How Formula E Works (& Why It Will Change the World)

Recently, NYC hosted the first ever internationally recognized car race in the city. Which is kinda crazy to think about on it’s own. But it was historic for another reason, too: it was also the first ever all electric car race to happen in NYC, as well.

Qualcomm, the technology sponsor of the event, was kind enough to invite me to the race being held in Brooklyn to get a behind the scenes look at this relatively new motorsport. It was actually really fascinating, and, of course, I brought a camera, and when I asked you guys here on YouTube, if you wanted a video on the event, I got an overwhelming yes, so here goes.

What is Formula E?

First up, real quick, let’s talk about the series as a whole.

This year the series consisted of 12 races in 9 cities around the world. There are 10 teams in the series each with two drivers.

There’s one race, or ePrix, per day and during that race, points are given to the top 10 drivers using this scoring system:

Chart of Point System

In addition to these points, there are an extra 3 points is given to the person who won the pole position during the qualifying super pole shootout that happens before each race (a quick run on the track to set the fastest flying lap which also determines starting positions) and one point is given to the person who does the fastest lap during the actual race. At the end of the series, the championship is made up of each driver’s total score and the team score is comprised of each driver’s score on that team added together. And that’s pretty much the gist of the entire thing. Simple, easy to follow–I can handle that.

Which brings us to the cars and race itself.

Cockpit View from Car

The cars can go from 0-60mph in about 2.9 seconds with a top speed of about 140mph and get there, a lot quieter than their Formula 1 brethren. They have instant torque thanks to that electric motor and that is also what accounts for them making a lot less sound. Unlike Formula 1, you can actually be right next to the track without a need for earplugs. In fact, you can even have a conversation without having to raise your voice too much.

Now, that’s not to say they don’t make any sound, which I feel like would be super awkward actually. The sound they do make is like a high-pitched whine. It actually reminds me a little of those electric track cars from back in the day you used to race with a trigger remote. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. To me it resembles the best example of what electricity itself would sound like if it were audible, if that makes any sense. And it definitely still solicits excitement as the cars zoom past.

A little more about how the event goes down. Before the race, drivers are given two practice sessions on the track (one for 45 mins and then another one for 30 mins) then we have the actual ePrix race for the day.

Why We Practice

During the race, drivers have to be mindful of their battery levels (think like Formula 1 has to do with their gas–same thing). They can use more power and be more agressive on the track and have to pit earlier or they can conserve it and pit later. Either way there is one mandatory pit stop about halfway through the race to swap cars due to batteries simply running out.

Car Entering the Pit

Now, you might be wondering why they don’t just charge the cars or swap in some fresh batteries, right? Well, it turns out that charging would take too long and the choice to not swap batteries, I’m told is for safety reasons. Which makes sense, it’s just a lot safer to move the driver to a new car with fully charged batteries than trying to disconnect these super high powered batteries and swap them in a hurry, I imagine.

Once they swap cars, they head back out for the second half of the race. Over the two halves, the race I attended was a little under an hour and a half long in total.

By the way, when they do charge the batteries of these cars, it’s kinda interesting how they do it. Instead of using normal generators they use specially built glycerine powered ones. Glycerine, which is a by-product from producing bio-diesel, burns a lot cleaner than a gas generator and illustrates some of the lengths these guys are going to try and make for a much cleaner sport.


Why It’s Important

Besides the glycerin generators and the fact it’s a pretty fun sport to attend and watch, there’s a lot more going on with this new motorsport that I think is important.

In the same way that car manufacturers develop technology or Formula 1 racing and then end up utilizing that tech in their actual production cars, Formula E can do the same thing for the much more fledgling (and much more needing) electric car industry.

Working on Formula E Car

From the glycerin generators, that are a huge push towards ending the frankly, not entirely inaccurate criticisms of the carbon costs to generate the power for electric vehicles being too high and negating what is saved by them being electric.

To how the race organization even plans their race schedules with DHL to ensure they are piggy backing on transport that would already be heading to that location to minimize the event’s carbon footprint.

Qualcomm Charging Pads

To things like the fact that Qualcomm has already managed, during the sport’s short existence, to double the capacity of their Halo wireless car charging tech (from 3.6kW to 7.4kW) while also reducing the size of the pad that attaches to the car.

And, of course, that’s not even including all of the tech that each manufacturer has come up with in the actual cars being used to push the electric motors to not only be more powerful but to also be more efficient.

Listening to the panel the night before the race, it was mentioned that they even have the tech right now to essentially wirelessly charge the cars while on the track. Now they can’t yet do it at full speed, but at a decent one they said. And the crazier part was they mentioned they can actually keep them at the same level of charge indefinitely during that, in theory. Which, sort of blows my mind.

Add to that, that during that same panel discussion, they also mentioned that they have had a few cities even considering they’d allow the organization to tear up roads and put wireless charging in the asphalt for the race, but then leave it for the city afterwards to use for their own public transit systems–something that the city wouldn’t have been able to afford on its own.

The more you look at this new sport, the more you see its possibility for not just entertaining, but maybe, just maybe, it’ll actually cause some real, positive change.

Follow me on social and let me know what you think of Formula E or this post, and thanks for reading!

And here’s some more photos from the race if you want to check them out:

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