2014 sees the introduction of a new motor racing series, dedicated to electrically powered cars, which will feature a series of city races across the world. With the headquarters being based in nearby Donington Park, I took a trip to Formula E Pre-Season Testing on 3rd July 2014. I had seen one of the cars on a previous trip to the circuit, so was interested to take the opportunity to see them on track.
I was surprised when I turned up because of two things; the car park was far from busy – although it was early – on this free look at a new motor racing series, and this free test provided me not only with a ticket, but with a guide to the new formula and this new type of racing.
There is no shortage of familiar names in Formula E, with a number of drivers already having had Formula One careers, like Bruno Senna, Sebastian Buemi, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld and Jaime Alguersuari, alongside names who are expected to progress to the top of motor racing, like Sam Bird, Antonio Felix da Costa and Nicolas Prost, and drivers with successful careers in the US series, like Katherine Legge.
When we arrived, Bruno Senna had been the first car on track. As you might expect, one of the first things you notice as a spectator – or rather, do not notice – is the sound. Imagine a turbo charged milk float. I mean that in a positive way; there is a futuristic hum as the car passes by, but other than that, almost no sound. In a year when the new, quieter Formula One cars are getting plenty of attention for being too quiet, it is interesting that these almost silent cars will make their debut. That said, the low hum generated an excitement, and the look of the cars – at first, a standard single seater monocoque, but on closer inspection, specific to Formula E – all give a look of what a sci-fi writer might tell me the racing car of the future would be like.
We saw what I think was the first of the cars to stop on track and need recovering, causing a red flag situation. The officials seemed as interested as us in working out what went wrong, and there was plenty of staring at the car before it was recovered.
Although the spectator count was relatively low, there was plenty of action, and plenty of people, as you might expect, in the pits. There were several camera crews to be seen, and no shortage of interest in what was going on.
I took a trip too to the Formula E headquarters at Donington Park, and saw a Formula E car close up.
Some of the details that came through are certainly interesting, and different from other series. The races will last around an hour, which is twice as long as the cars last at present, so will require a change of car mid way through. In this first season, the cars are standard, with team based modifications being introduced for future seasons. The almost silent operation of the car will be offset with music played at tracks, and there was talk of a “Formula E Anthem”.
There was good access to most of the site, and it appeared that the only part of the track that was not free to enter other than the track itself was the pits area, and there was a pit walk at lunchtime to give a good view of the cars.
There are more tests at Donington Park through until the 19th August 2014, all of which are free to attend, but do require registration, although you can register on the day. More details are on the Donington Park Website.
The lack of sound from the cars may have caused a few raised eyebrows, and there seems to be at least some cynicism about the future of an electric racing series, but I have to say, I was impressed by what I saw, I liked the look of the cars, and I found the sound to be intriguing, not a distraction. The cars were lapping quickly, and I suspect that racing will be exciting, not least given the talent that makes up the Formula E driver pool. Whatever twists and turns face Formula E, it does seem that electric cars are here to stay. I suspect my trip to Donington may have been a glimpse of the future.
Here are a few more photos from my trip.