Formula E Season Five: What’s new and do we like it?
Formula E, despite still being in its relative infancy, has proven pretty controversial. That said, the organisers are nothing if not fan centred so for the reboot Season Five, they have taken most of the things people said were letting the series down, and changed them to give a futuristic hive of overtaking and excitement. But, with the first race of the season complete, did any of it work?
Gen 2 Car
This is the most visible of the changes and if you’ve seen a better looking single seat car race in any series in the last five years, I’m keen to see it as I’m convinced it doesn’t exist!
Nicknamed the Bat Mobile, for obvious reasons, it has been designed to optimise aero performance on the twisty city circuits Formula E visits, whilst maintaining overtaking capacity. The simple front wing is built to cope with the turbulent air from cars in front which, in itself, has been minimised by cleaning up the air towards the rear end and enclosing the wheels.
The majority of the downforce comes from the floor of the car and the enormous diffuser which has been a real talking point since the cars were unveiled. Even the FIA’s mandatory safety device, the Halo, has been given a makeover with a light array that changes colour to indicate the mode that each of the cars are in. Here is a look at the differences between the Gen 1 and Gen 2 cars and, for the best shots you'll see of the new cars, check out Phaceless Photographer's testing compilation.
The aesthetics are only half of the story with the Gen 2 car as the performance has undergone a complete overhaul too. With double the capacity and efficiency of the Gen 1, gone are the midrace car swaps, full race distance is more than achievable in these cars.
Power output has shot up to 250kW in the highest setting allowing a theoretical top speed of 174mph and, with a 0-60 time of 2.8 seconds, they are properly quick. Each team develops their own motor to deliver the power and getting the power onto the track is where time can really be made or lost. All new brakes and suspension mean it's an entirely new beast.
If they went out of their way to ensure the cars were like nothing you’ve ever seen before, you’d have to say they’ve followed a similar ethos with the race format. The race is now timed, 45 minutes +1 lap but without the need for a mid race car swap, there was a real risk that Season Five would be a series of sprint races with no strategic options at all.
Their solution – Attack Mode.
Attack mode gives drivers an extra 25kW of power for a period of the race to allow them to gain an advantage on those around them. The price of this? They need to drive significantly off line through an activation zone on the track in order to make use of it. This puts them at a short term disadvantage, losing time and potentially places, but gives them four minutes of boost to make up for it.
To keep it interesting, all drivers must use it twice in every race. There’s no running off into the distance without the offline jeopardy of Attack Mode, its mandatory and in case you miss them coming through the activation mode, the driver’s Halo array turns blue for the entire time it’s active.
The activation zone will change at every circuit and only be made known a short time before the race to keep an element of unknown heading into the event.
We know it and love it. Ok, not everyone loves it, but its here to stay! One week before each ePrix, you can cast a daily vote for your favourite driver. Voting closes 15 minutes into the race and the top five drivers (previously three) receive a 15 second 50kW boost in power to use in the second half of the race for either attack of defence.
Call it a gimmick if you like but for a series who are determined to get the fans engaged and involved, it’s a brilliant idea and hugely important, not to mention successful! If it wasn’t clear from the massive increase in pace, you’ll know they are using it when the Halo turns pink.
Did it work?
In a word, yes!
Any fears that the strategic element of the car swap may be missed were instantly dispelled when the Nio guys activated attack mode and managed to make some passes stick. It was a nice additional feature for those struggling to keep up but, in fairness, the racing was pretty active without it. The timing of it’s use was interesting, many opting to negate the initial disadvantage (thought to be around 1.2 seconds on this occasion) and activate it under the safety car so they could either get it out the way if it wasn’t needed or gamble on having it for when the safety car came in. It also meant that there was a flurry of activation in the closing stages to ensure it was fully used, so the racing in the final laps was massively tense.
Then there was Pechito who, despite his best efforts, missed the activation zone entirely on two separate occasions before retiring with suspension that may have given up of its own accord to avoid the shame! A peril i'm sure nobody thought of, realised in Race 1!
The cars looked just as fierce on track as they do up close, with the added addition of the Halo arrays which was stunning in action. For a device that has been branded ugly and hailed a disaster in other series, Formula E has done a brilliant job of integrating it with the design of the chassis and really making it something beautiful.
The cars were visibly quicker too. If you've watched any of the Gen 1 racing, you cant fail to notice how much nippier these cars are and how much of the race they were able to push for. Yes, there was a full course yellow which will have banked them some energy but with most finishing with over 10% left in the battery, you have to think they’d have been pushing for the bulk of the time anyway.
No energy saving, no tyre saving, just exactly what fans have been asking for – 45 minutes of flat out racing. Glorious.
Let us know what you thought of the new features and of the Ad Diriyah ePrix
The next race is in Marrakesh on January 12th 🇲🇦