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Formula E: Racing For The Future

The first thing you notice about a Formula E race is the noise. Sure, it’s a far cry from the visceral scream of the Formula One V6 engine, but it’s there. As the cars accelerate, there’s an eerie, distinctly electric, futuristic whine, and when they whip round corners at close quarter—grappling for every inch of optimal racing line—the crescendo is surprising.  

When the launch of Formula E was announced in 2012, one of the most common complaints from skeptical fans was that the drama in motorsport is greatly enhanced by the sound, which would be seriously diminished in an electric race. But don’t be fooled. These are full-blooded racing cars. With 0-60 in less than three seconds and top speeds at 170mph, the Gen-2 cars are not your average electric hatchback. Their torque and agility around corners is extraordinary, and with such an impressive amount of power also comes a unique soundtrack adding that all important layer to the spectacle.

And yet, after only four years of service, the Gen-2 has recently been replaced by the Gen-3, which debuted in Mexico City last weekend to start off the ninth season of Formula E. With top speeds maxing out at 200mph, it is faster, greener and even more exciting than its beast of a predecessor. In other words, the technological advances brought about by this new racing series in less than a decade are nothing short of astonishing. From conception in a Paris restaurant in 2011, to the season eight climax in Seoul in August 2022, the FIA Formula E World Championship has come leaps and bounds, building up the overall experience on race days, and winning over more and more motorsport fans with each year. 

Photo Courtesy of Porsche

Key to Formula E’s successful start and quickening progress has been the unwavering support of some exceptionally high-profile partners, none of which have been more beneficial than TAG Heuer. The connection between motorsport and the watch manufacturer goes back a long way, with the brand being the first non-automotive logo to ever appear on a Formula One car, thanks to their sponsorship of Swiss driver Jo Siffert, and later partnership with Ferrari. The link between Heuer and speed was enhanced exponentially when Steve McQueen himself famously chose to don the TAG Heuer Monaco in his iconic 1971 film Le Mans – and the rest is motorsport (and watch-collector nerd) history.

2023 is looking strong with title sponsorships for existing teams from Maserati, McLaren, and Cupra stepping in after Mercedes, BMW, and Audi bowed out, and South Korea’s Hankook Tyres taking over for Michelin as technical sponsor. Other official partners include such notable names as Bosch, DHL, Heineken, Boss, and Moët & Chandon.

Now granted, the series’ ninth season might have appeared to come out of the gate with several hiccups, with teams scrambling amid lagging sports regulations and – every car lover’s favorite new drama – parts supply issues. All while rumors swirled that testing in Valencia was seeing various reliability and pacing issues from the new generation car, which proved to be nothing but that – rumors, as last week’s opening race in Mexico saw Porsche boasting both pace and efficiency, and the race itself was full of surprises.

The all-electric series launched its new era by shaking up the on-track action by introducing several changes: mandatory 30-second attack charge stops for drivers during a pre-determined period in the race, which unlocks two enhanced attack mode periods for later in the race, where the power output from the new Gen3 cars will increase from 300kW to 350kW. New regulations also include introducing a set number of laps as opposed to the previous seasons’ rule of running its races to a time limit. And, for consistency, any period spent under the safety car or full course yellows will see racing laps added as compensation.

Not to mention the race day experience has been carefully curated to bring maximum excitement to spectators, many of whom will be newcomers to the sport. The Allianz E-Village built at each venue allows fans to test their own racing skills on simulators, get up close and personal with the real cars, and even meet the drivers – something that hasn’t been possible in Formula One since the 1970s. Add to that new additions to the schedule – including races in Hyderabad, Sao Paolo, and Cape Town for the first time, while the Jakarta ePrix is now a double-header event – and the 2023 season is looking to be its biggest yet.

Photo Courtesy of Porsche

Any way you break it down, the rise of Formula E seems to be meteoric. Season seven saw 316 million people tune in, and Season eight was one of the most dramatic yet, including a biblical downpour in Brooklyn, which led to a pile-up at turn six, and a title challenge which went all the way down to the final weekend in Seoul, Korea. These cities are another key feature of Formula E’s appeal.

Some traditionalists will always bemoan the lack of engine roar and petrol fumes, but the truth is that Formula E is the future of racing. One of the main points of being in the top echelon of motorsport has always been to push technology forward, so that advances made in pursuit of that extra, legacy-defining one-hundredth of a second can eventually improve the road cars used by us mere mortals. Electric vehicles are being adopted around the world to help claw our climate back from the brink of disaster; the success of Formula E is making that transition quicker, easier, and more exciting. Nevertheless, we are all creatures of habit – minds can be difficult to change, support hard to win. Formula E still has a long way to go in its quest to becoming the most popular racing sport on the planet but, with the continued support of rising fans and hugely influential partners, there is no reason to think it won’t get there.