The FIA’s newest baby, Formula E has taken a step further in it’s development with the official unveiling of the first ten team cars and their brand new swanky headquarters based at Donington Park.
Little more than two years ago, Formula E was merely a dream. It is therefore quite incredible that today we see a fully formed race series, complete with Formula One developed electric race cars worldwide teams, interest from worldwide media, fans and drivers alike, all despite the championship not having had one single race.
Arriving at the Donington Park race track you could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing new. The main entrance is as traditional as it always has been and there’s little hint of what’s hidden further around the track. Approaching ‘gate 21’, glimpses of large grey buildings appear behind some mature trees. An entirely new complex made of steel and glass has been carefully landscaped into the corner of Donington’s otherwise quite featureless surroundings.
The scale of the place is hard to convey but the statistics say it all. The complex was built in little more than 15 weeks and provides a home for both Formula E and each one of the ten teams – each given dedicated buildings for the development, testing and organisation involved throughout the season. The buildings form an area in the middle of them best described as a parking lot full of muddy divides until the grass grows on the carefully landscaped banks.
Coming through the official Formula E reception where two fully painted cars are on permanent display, the ten brand new cars are sat in the middle of the parking area. ‘Shiny’ is a term often awarded to new items but this would be a huge disservice to the new cars. They are sinister in their all dull black/grey cocoon of carbon fibre, which as you would expect, comprises the majority of materials used in the build of the car.
A nearby journalist remarks just how exceptionally neat they are, when compared to Formula One. For sure, the huge collaboration of companies involved in creating the Spark-Renault have done an excellent job in crafting a very attractive looking machine.
The press conference gets underway in a large adjoining hangar which forms part of the main Formula E building. Introductions are made by the recently announced Nicki Shields who quickly makes way for Alejandro Agag, Kevin Wheatcroft (owner of Donington Park) and lastly representatives of the teams. Of particular interest to all those in attendance is what the cars are like to drive which, when asked to both newly announced Virgin Racing drivers Sam Bird and Jaime Alguersuari the amusing response was that they didn’t know since they’d not driven them yet.
Perhaps surprisingly, even Audi’s own driver Lucas di Grassi hasn’t driven one of the new Spark-Renault SRT_01E’s at full power despite having been in the employ of Formula E since it’s inception and performed testing at the early stages of the official car. However, this all relates back to the initial comment that all of this has happened so fast. A busy driver like di Grassi probably hasn’t had time to do further testing due to his commitments with the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the forthcoming Le Mans 24 hour race. Similarly, the two other drivers are unlikely to have much of a try in the cars until they’ve at least been given their team colours.
Alain Prost was on hand to answer most questions which seemed to be directed towards him alone and his insight into what the sport might bring was that he felt the drivers were the main element that will determine the winners and losers rather than the cars. Perhaps this is a relatively obvious statement given that each of the cars for the inaugural season will be the same, but the point was that the series will be a drivers championship rather than one of pitt stops and strategy. Alex Tai, Virgin Racing’s team leader was also on hand to back up these thoughts whilst reaffirming on stage that he felt their driver choice was best, naturally.
Lucas di Grassi did offer a little more insight into the championship and described it in a way that makes the entire championship all the more incredible that it has been formed in just a couple or years. He added:
“Monaco is considered as one of the toughest races in the world and what Formula E have done is to create ten [sic] Monacos. None of the drivers know any of these tracks and so they will all be new to us and the fans.”
Of course, with Monaco being one of the ten races in the Formula E season, 9 new city tracks have been arranged and coordinated with major global cities. Heading up the first race will be the honour of China with the event taking place around the Beijing Olympic Park on September 13th, 2014.
Several Formula E representatives mentioned of their excitement at seeing the ten livery-less naked cars for the first time and jokingly stating how they hoped one team might keep the cars with the dark carbon fibre still showing in all it’s glory.
In all, the event marked an occasion rather than providing any particular insights that haven’t already been announced but it does show how serious the FIA and those involved are taking the series. The hope is that the series is a success. The potential is that it will overtake Formula One – and it has a viable possibility to do so. Many have been unimpressed by the new 2014 Formula One Championship and many more have always found the circuits repetitive and boring areas of round tarmac. If nothing else, Formula E will go down in history as being the first to bring a racing series to the centres of ten cities around the world and creating a new era of motorsport.