Written by Sofia Costantino, Edited by Umut Yelbaşı
Welcome to your trusty 101 guide to understand the motorsport world even better! Today, given that the championship has just concluded and we are now on the road for the next season, we will give you all the basics of what you need to know to enjoy your first season of Formula E - no more, no less. You will almost be an expert by the end of this article. Let 's get into it!
The first question that comes to mind when we think of Formula E is what in the world is it? Is it different from Formula One? How does it work? Is it as entertaining and exciting as F1?
To answer these questions in the simplest terms, Formula E is an international car racing championship that uses electric cars instead of traditional petrol-powered ones. There are 12 teams, all of which have two cars and two drivers. This past season consisted of 14 races in 12 countries. Drivers and teams score points according to where they finish in each race, and the aim is to finish the season with the highest points. The last season started in December 2022 and finished only recently!
Unlike David Croft's ‘It's lights out and away we go!' for Formula 1, Formula E races begin with the words ‘And we go green!', words that are central to the premise of the sport. In 2020, Formula E became the world's first sport to achieve a certified net zero carbon footprint, coming a bit closer to its initial goal of combating climate change, a goal dating back to the series' inception in 2014.
How does a Formula E race format work?
First, practice! Every race has two free practice sessions: An opening 30-minute session on a Friday, followed by a further 30-minute session on Saturday. This is reduced to one 30-minute session on the second day of a double-header.
This is the first instance in a weekend when the teams and drivers take to the track under timed conditions as they get a feel for the track and adapt to the car set-up. Although the timer is on, it doesn't count towards the result. After all, it's just a practice session.
Teams must field at least two rookie drivers in Free Practice 1 over the course of the season, to give up-and-coming talent a taste of top tier electric motorsport. This, in our perspective, seems like a great way to start training these rookies to help their development.
Just like Formula One, Qualifying determines the grid for the race. The first round of qualifying is the Group Stage where drivers are divided into two groups – drivers with odd rankings (1st, 3rd, 5th and so on) in the championship standings are put in Group A and those with even rankings (2nd, 4th, 6th and so on) in Group B. Drivers have access to 300kW of power for this section of qualifying.
The fastest four drivers from each group progress to the Duels round, where power increases to 350kW. Drivers from the groups are further divided into pairs – Group A is divided into A1 and A2, and Group B is divided into B1 and B2. The pairs battle it out and the fastest from each move on to the Semi Finals, where the fastest from each group will make it to the Finals.
The two remaining drivers (one from Group A and one from Group B) go head-to-head and the one who sets the fastest lap earns pole position, which means he starts the race as the leading car on the grid.
The runner-up will be second, and the eliminated semi-finalists will be third and fourth based on their individual times. The remaining duels competitors fill positions five to eight, again based on their individual lap times. Drivers who competed in the polesitter’s group but didn’t make it to duels will fill the remaining odd positions on the grid. Corresponding drivers from the other group will fill the remaining even spots on the grid.
E-Prix races last forty-five minutes, with no pit stops. The race time is shorter than traditional motor racing because of the energy capabilities of the cars. The shorter race time and the lack of pit stops mean strategy differs from Formula One, as preserving energy becomes at least as crucial as speed.
When 45 minutes has elapsed, the drivers on the leading lap (those who haven't been lapped) must complete one final lap. Drivers and teams constantly need to monitor and manage their batteries so that they’re left with enough power to complete the race. The levels of remaining battery charge are shown to television viewers throughout the race, so the audience can see who will need to slow down and who has charge in reserve.
Instead of DRS (Drag Reduction System, a temporary overtaking aid introduced in Formula One in 2011), Formula E has the wonderfully named ‘Attack Mode', which is used to deliver an extra 25kw for three minutes, allowing for more action and overtakes.
Attack Mode is a power boost system introduced for the first time last season (2018/19). In simple terms, it gives drivers a temporary power boost of an extra 35kW to help them power past the cars ahead. To activate Attack Mode, drivers need to arm their car by driving through an Activation Zone marked on the track, forcing the driver to sacrifice some time in exchange for the three minutes of extra power by going through a fairly disadvantaged line. When in attack mode, visually striking blue LEDs light up on the drivers' halos.
The races take place in the heart of cities (Monaco, Seoul, Rome, New York, and London, to name a few), meaning drivers race wheel to wheel in tight street circuit conditions, surrounded by the recognisable scenery of urban metropolises. 2021 saw Formula E's first night race at the Diriyah showground in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Formula E cars use all-weather tires so races can take place in all conditions. The maximum power of Formula E cars is 250kw, which is used primarily in qualifying mode. Race mode is usually lower, at around 200kw, as conserving energy is a major part of team strategy. All the cars have identical chassis, batteries, and tyres – the components teams are allowed to develop are the electric motors, inverters, gearboxes, and cooling systems.
So how do the drivers gain points, how do they climb up in the championship?
The first 10 finishers score points. Three additional points are handed out for pole position, while the driver who sets the fastest lap in the race gets one extra point. Formula E follows a standard points system, just as F1, also used in other FIA-sanctioned series — awarding points to the top-10 finishers.
1st - 25pts
2nd - 18pts
3rd - 15pts
4th - 12pts
5th - 10pts
6th - 8pts
7th - 6pts
8th - 4pts
9th - 2pts
10th - 1pt
The driver starting at the front, from the Julius Baer Pole Position, picks-up an extra three points.
During the race, the driver who completes the fastest lap also receives one additional point. However, the driver must finish in the top-10 places to get awarded the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap. If not, then the driver in the top-10 with the next fastest lap takes the point and the Fastest Lap title.
Julius Baer Pole Position: 3 points
TAG Heuer Fastest Lap in race: 1 point (if in a top-10 finishing position).
To keep teams on their toes, the race organizers only reveal how many times the mode will be activated, how long the mode will last for, and the minimum number of times drivers must use it only 60 minutes before the race.
Another unusual feature of all Formula E races is Fanboost, which gives fans the opportunity to vote for their favorite driver and award them an extra boost of power during the race. Fans vote for the driver they like the most by using twitter hashtags or the Formula E website.
The five drivers with the most Fanboost votes are awarded a significant boost of power, which they can deploy for a five second window during the second half of the race. The Fanboost idea was in place until Season Eight of Formula E, before this measure was shelved ahead of Season Nine of Formula E in 2023
Is Formula E a zero-emission championship?
Not quite. Despite being an electric car racing series that promotes the adoption of EVs, Formula E as a championship still has a weighty carbon footprint.
Last season, for example, the entire championship had a carbon footprint of 45,000 tCO2-eq*. According to Formula E’s official figures, 72 percent of this total came from freighting teams and race infrastructure around the world. Staff travel accounted for 14 per cent, while spectator travel (six percent), event food and beverages (four percent), event operations (three percent) and car production (one percent) accounted for the rest. In the coming years, the series is looking to move freight to lower carbon methods including boats and trains. Even catering is being changed to provide teams and spectators with food with lower carbon footprints.
With the knowledge of how the racing takes place, let’s talk about the artists: the drivers and teams:
On the back of the recent departures of BMW, Audi and Mercedes, Formula E pushed for the Gen3 cars to be more relevant to brands when it comes to technology transfer to road cars. The new battery, for example, is far smaller and lighter than any road-going equivalent.
This strategy has paid off, with several new teams joining the fray. McLaren has taken over the Mercedes-EQ Formula E outfit, while Maserati has returned to single-seater racing after over 60 years. German squad ABT Sportsline has teamed up with Spanish carmaker CUPRA to make its Formula E return. They are competing as Mahindra Racing’s customer team.
French brand DS has, meanwhile, joined hands with Penske. Jaguar, Mahindra Racing, Nissan, Porsche, Andretti, Envision and NIO 333 remain part of the grid.
As for the drivers, plenty of former F1 racers, like Stoffel Vandoorne, Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne, Pascal Wehrlein and Lucas di Grassi, are part of the grid.
How does a Formula E car differ from a Formula One car?
At first glance, Formula E cars look pretty much like Formula One cars: long and pointy and covered with sponsors. Look closer, though, and you will see some pretty major differences.
Formula E cars are built from the ground up as fully electric vehicles. Where an F1 car has an engine, fuel tank and a hybrid system under its bodywork, a Formula E car has a battery pack, transmission and electric motor.
Unlike Formula One, where teams are required (at colossal expense) to develop their own chassis (the basic structure of the car), engines and transmissions, all Formula E cars use a standard chassis and battery pack. Formula E teams can design their own powertrain, which includes the motor, transmission, inverter (a device that converts DC power to AC power) and rear suspension.
In terms of performance, Formula E cars are considerably less powerful than their Formula One counterparts. A front-running Formula One car generates more than 700kW of power and weighs 740kg, while a current Formula E car generates 250kW and weighs 900kg. So don’t expect a head-to-head FE vs F1 showdown any time soon.
Tyres are another area where the two cars differ. Where Formula One uses slick tyres, Formula E cars use Michelin Pilot Sport all-weather tyres with treads like you would find on a road car. By using these tyres, Michelin doesn’t need to freight hundreds of extra tyres to each event as the same tyres are used whether the track is wet or dry.
Commitment to carbon neutrality goes beyond the cars to include event sustainability. The Diriyah night race was lit with fully sustainable lighting, using LED light clusters powered via renewable sources. Formula E has been hailed as the future of motor racing, while traditional motor race drivers such as four-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel raise questions about the environmental impacts of their sports.
The appeal of Formula E's electric racing is more than environmental. Over time, fans have watched the battery technology of cars develop, evolve and improve the sport. Early Formula E races were criticized as battery capacity was limited to 28kWh, meaning drivers were only able to complete 12 to 17 laps (roughly half a race) and were forced to make a pit stop and complete the race's second half in a second car. Formula E, like the world of regular electric cars, is not a completed project, but a unique laboratory of ongoing innovation.
Technological advancements and environmental considerations aside, the street circuit wheel-to-wheel conditions and the greater reliance upon driver skill and strategy rather than speed and best car (mostly thanks to the attack mode function) makes for exciting racing, with less team-based dominance compared to traditional Formula racing.
And with that, you officially know all the basics of Formula E to follow the upcoming season! If you want to find more about this fascinating sport, make sure to check out our past and future articles and analyses on the topic, and you will be a Formula E expert In no time!