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What Is Formula E?

A Formula E electric racing car.

Take a look at the race car pictured here. Is it formula One? Nope — Formula E.

What you see is an electric racing car, and there’s an entire racing series devoted to cars like these.

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Formula E is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, or at least the anniversary of its conception. There wasn’t a championship until 2014, but It’s FIA sanctioned, just like Formula One.

How Fast Are The Cars?Formula E racing car on track

The answer to this question is still evolving. We’ll see the third generation of racers debut in 2022-2023, and in the seven years since the first championship, the top speed has increased from 140 miles per hour to 174 as batteries and electrical hardware have improved. The Gen 3 cars haven’t been timed yet, but the batteries will carry an extra 50 to 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) of charge, so a significant increase in top speed is expected.

How Long Before They Run Out Of Charge?

Races are limited to 45 minutes plus one lap. In the first four years of Formula E, drivers had a mandatory pit stop to change cars (not charge — change). When the Gen 2 cars arrived, this went away because the new battery packs could last the entire race. The Gen 3 tech will allow cars to recover up to 800 kW of power in just 30 seconds, which is sixteen times faster than the DC fast charging station at your local shopping center.

Will You Miss the Sound of Traditional Engines?

Part of the appeal of motorsports is the visceral thrill of hearing those tuned engines roar by as they run the circuit. If this is something you’re after, you might not be out of luck. Because Formula E cars aren’t exactly the grocery-getters you see on the road, they do make loud noises — just not the ones you’re used to from gasoline-powered race cars. Two dozen electric racers make a jet engine-like scream as they fly by. It’s a bit different, but the sounds are almost like something out of sci-fi, and they definitely give you a sense of the power these cars put out.

What Are The Rules?

FIA uses the same point system for Formula E that it uses for other races, a declining scale for the top ten drivers, with the first-place driver scoring 25 and the tenth-place driver getting a single point. Setting the fastest lap earns you an extra point, no matter how you finished, and whoever qualifies for pole position gets three extra points.

As charging technology improves, new elements are also being added to the races. In season five, Attack Mode debuted, where drivers go across a part of the circuit that’s not on the racing line and their cars get a small amount of extra power (25 kWh in season five, boosted to 35 kWh in season six).

There’s also Fanboost, where fans can vote online for drivers in the six days leading up to the race, right up until 15 minutes before the race starts. The five drivers with the greatest number of votes get an extra power boost that they can use for five seconds in the last half of the race.

Formula E is a growing sport with worldwide TV coverage and major automaker support. It may not have all the same sounds and smells of fuel-burning racing, but it’s here to stay — and, as with any racing, isn’t it really all about the skill of the driver?

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Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Mike Hagerty View All

Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.

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