The biggest racing series in the world that exclusively uses electric racecars is about to undergo a massive redesign, even though it’s hardly more than three years old. When the fifth season of Formula E starts later this year, the series (and its teams) will have an entirely new car that’s faster, lasts longer, and looks radically different from pretty much anything else out there. After getting the full reveal treatment at the Geneva Motor Show today, we finally know just how much different the car will be. It’s also our first time seeing it on a track.
First off, the new Formula E car features a big maximum power upgrade, from 200kW to 250kW (about 335 horsepower). This pushes the top speed to about 174 miles per hour, which is more than enough considering Formula E almost exclusively competes on tiny, twisty street circuits. That extra power will help the new cars shave the 0–60 mph time down to 2.7 seconds, too (which should make the start of each race even more exciting than they already tend to be).
Of course, the new car is as much about changing the entire look of the series as it is about lifting the performance. After all, the series is going to spend the next three seasons in this car. Formula E’s racecars have always more or less resembled the ones in other single-seater, open-wheel motorsports series, and that’s something the organizers have been itching to change since the beginning. The desire to change it to something more radical, especially considering there are now a number of other racing series that are adopting electric technology, has been strong.
The original proposal that the sport’s governing body, the FIA, released when it started this redesign process cited wild concepts like the McLaren’s MP4-X as inspiration. That’s how we wound up with this unique new design that was unveiled in person for the first time today. (Concept renderings were first shown off in January.) As Craig Scarborough, a well-known technical writer in the motorsports world, put it recently in a great breakdown of the second-generation racecar: it’s clear that the new version is not just “form equals function.” In other words, manufacturer Spark clearly took the freedom that the FIA and Formula E allowed to include some flourish, which is why the car looks so funky.
But there is definitely function in this design. For one thing, it has the FIA’s new mandatory head protection device, referred to as the “halo,” which loops above the cockpit. While it was theorized by many who saw the concept renderings, we now know for sure that there is also a strip of LED lighting on the top of the halo, which the series will use to display things like the car’s remaining battery level, or what power mode it’s in, and probably during safety or emergency situations as well.
We also know that this new car is finally supposed to last a full race on a single charge, which is a huge deal when it comes to legitimizing electric technology in a serious racing setting. Until now, the cars only lasted about half of each race, which usually takes around 45 minutes to an hour.
This was a choice made by the series, which has been working with a relatively small 28kWh battery. In order to get the kind of performance out of Formula E cars necessary to make the races worth watching, the series decided to let the teams quickly pull lots of energy out of the battery to help make the racecars fast. The trade-off, then, was that the drivers had to switch cars halfway through each race.
The new car has a battery made by McLaren with about double the capacity — though Formula E suspiciously left the exact spec out of today’s news — which is going to allow the cars to last the full race. That means no more clumsy car swaps.
Making the cars go faster, look bolder, and turning the series into a better representation for electric technology should help Formula E continue its rise up the ranks of the world’s top motorsports series. That it still exists after three years is a surprise to many; it’s hard enough to start a new global racing series without pushing new and unproven technology.
But Formula E has found a balance in the early going that seems to be attracting a modest fanbase, while also bringing in some of the biggest names in the auto industry. Major carmakers like Audi, BMW, Renault, and Citroën’s DS have been duking it out in the series’s early goings, while others like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Nissan are on the way. And if there’s any sign of how committed these companies are to pushing the success of Formula E, it’s that Audi, Nissan, and DS were up bright and early alongside the series this morning, revealing their own spin on what they plan to make the radical second-generation car look like when it hits the track this coming winter.