Formula E isn’t new at all. I knew that it had been around for years, and I’ve seen a short clip of it here and there. Initially, Formula One fans and other racing fans panned it, saying that it looked like the racing they loved, but didn’t have the noise and excitement of “real” racing. When I first checked it out, I noticed that it wasn’t a bunch of quiet cars racing, and that the electric motors actually made some cool spaceship-like noises (like my Nisan LEAF if I remove the battery access door, but cooler). I still never sat down and watch a race on TV or attended one in person, though.
After seeing that there was a big race in Monaco this weekend, I decided to give it a try and see if it was fun to watch, and quickly got lost. Fan Boost, Attack Mode, a points system of some kind, and other terms were being thrown around by the announcers and I had little to no idea what they were talking about, so I knew I had to click out of the video to learn more. Fortunately, Formula E had me covered with a series of short videos on YouTube explaining how the race works:
Be sure to let the video play and go onto the next video. It’s a playlist with nine short videos in total.
“Attack mode” is a special spot a racer can go through on the outside of a turn. This loses them time, but unlocks the car’s extra power so they can pass others. In some ways, it’s like an invisible version of the power boost zones on the Mario Kart games.
Fan Boost is more like the mushroom speed boost in Mario Kart. Instead of only being available in a special spot, it’s something the fans can give a driver and the driver chooses when to use it. Only the driver with the most votes from fans gets the boost, though.
Points are based on placing well in the qualifying races and in the actual races. The top ten drivers get points, with the winner getting the most and the #10 driver only getting a point. Points add up for awards at the end of the season.
It also looks like it would be fun to go see one of these races in person. There is a special area for fans to check out the race, to do VR racing themselves, and if you’re really good you’ll get invited back to VR race against the drivers.
On race day, there are practice sessions so drivers can get used to the track. Later, drivers run the course to see who get the best lap time (qualifier). Get the best lap time, and you get to start the race in first place. Get the worst, and you get to start in the back. The actual race is 45 minutes, plus one final lap to see who can finish 1st-10th places.
With all of that information in mind, it’s a lot easier to understand the actual races!
This Weekend’s Formula E Races
I won’t go through the whole description of the race, as Formula E has a page with all of that information. Suffice it to say, it’s a fun race at a famous historic racetrack in the smallest country on the planet (other than The Vatican). Even films as silly as the Herbie series have been to the track!
The easiest thing I could find to follow was the free practice session. This gave drivers an opportunity to get used to the track while not under pressure to win so much.
They start with an easy to understand introduction, a quick tour of the track, and some information about who is doing good this season. Then, you can get a feel for what the drivers are up against, and what the race is going to be like, but at a slower pace that’s easier to follow than the actual race or race highlights.
Another great thing about the session is that the announcers are actually very good at explaining things, introducing you to the drivers a bit, and putting what you’re seeing in some perspectives. Once again, the slower pace of the practice runs gives a lot more opportunity for that kind of educational talk that helps you get into it and understand the sport better.
If you start looking at the actual “for keeps” race, it’s obvious just how much more chaotic and exciting it is. Everyone goes faster, there are crashes, wild overtakes, and a much harder event to follow. But, after learning the basics and watching them practice, it’s a lot easier to follow. Here’s a highlight reel:
Watching the race itself in full is a little more tricky. Different broadcasters get rights to air the race in different countries, and sometimes you can’t get a race at all in a country. Unless you use a VPN and have a subscription, you can’t do much with it in that case. For the US that’s what happened today, so I’m stuck with only the highlights.
You can, however, find some full races from past seasons on YouTube, so if you’re still dipping your toes into the water, that’s a good way to learn more about the sport.
Why Formula E Matters
I know not everyone is a race fan. I like racing, but I’m usually not able to spend time watching races. Even worse, many racing events are pretty boring, with drivers going around the same oval, doing little more than turn left over and over and over (Yes, I’m looking at you much of the time, NASCAR). That tends to not only dampen enthusiasm for racing in general, but even makes racing the butt of comedians’ jokes.
On top of that, environmentally-minded people often don’t like racing because it pollutes, and I’ve even seen some of that criticism leveled at Formula E. Yes, it’s electric, but a lot of carbon goes into making the race happen and they’re not doing anything utilitarian with the energy they’re using.
What many people don’t know is that racing often serves as a proving ground for technologies that lead to safer and cleaner road cars. As cleantech enthusiasts, it’s really a good thing to support.
Featured image provided by BMW.