Electric cars have a bad reputation as ugly, expensive, slow cars with limited range. Cars like the Tesla Model S have gone a long way towards reversing public opinion, but what if there was a Formula 1 for electric cars? Come this September, there will be: it's called Formula E, and we've just seen the series' very first race car here at CES. It's called the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, and it has been made in conjunction with legendary motorsport companies like McLaren, Williams, and Dallara.
There's nothing slow about this electric car: it maxes out at roughly 140mph and accelerates from 0 - 62mph in just 3 seconds. But unlike its motorsport cousins powered by combustion engines, it sounds nothing like a race car. Former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi piloted the Spark-Renault around a small Las Vegas parking lot, and as he burned out and punched the accelerator the engine emitted a high-pitch buzzing sound. In truth, it sounds like a souped-up RC car, and compared to the deafening notes produced by traditional race cars, it's downright underwhelming. Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings, told The Verge that they're not considering adding artificial sounds to the vehicles during races — the only time cars will make fake sounds is while they're driving down pit row, for safety reasons.
Despite the sound, this race car is very real: di Grassi told reporters that "you can feel it's something completely different from everything else," adding that "the torque ... is much more precise, so you have to be very very precise on applying throttle." Even though racers won't have to contend with gear shifts while racing Formula E cars, di Grassi expects the extremely sensitive throttle response will pose a challenge. But battery life will likely be the primary concern: the 440-pound packs used by Formula E cars will last just about 20 minutes, and racers will have to pit and change cars when power is low. Like Formula 1, drivers will be able to use a boost to assist with passing, but there's also a new trick: fans who vote online during races will be able to directly speed up cars as well.
The Spark-Renault is the first and only Formula E car for now, but ten teams are onboard for the inaugural 2014 - 2015 season, and each will have their own cars. For the first season, each car will be the same, but the series is designed as an open competition, unlike Formula 1. That means manufacturers will be largely free to push the boundaries with new technologies. In the process they'll hopefully invent tech that will make it to future street-legal electric cars. We hope it works — everyone knows we could use more efficient batteries. In the meantime, the first Formula E grand prix is set for this September in Beijing. We'll be watching.
- This is the first Formula E car in the world. For the inaugural 2014 - 2015 season, all ten teams' cars will be based on this model, which is called the Spark-Renault SRT_01E.
- It is an all-electric vehicle and its engine can produce 200kW of power — roughly equivalent to 270 horsepower.
- Since it's an electric car, there are no gears to shift through. The steering wheel is immensely simplified from a Formula 1 wheel. One dial here controls the amount of brake regeneration.
- Legendary racing teams like Renault, McLaren, Williams, and Dallara helped build the car.
- Former Formula 1 driver Lucas di Grassi piloted the Formula E car around a Vegas parking lot.
- He promptly treated the crowd to a burnout and a few donuts.
- The race car is not silent — in addition to tire roar and the sound of wind blowing around the vehicle, the electric engine whirrs with a high-pitched note similar to a RC toy car.
- Formula E organizers have no intention of adding artificial sounds to the cars during racing, though they will add a sound for when cars drive down pit row — for safety reasons.