The appliance of… well what exactly?
Alejandro Agag is clearly a well connected sort of chap. It was he who had the bright spark of introducing electrically powered racing cars to the world with the advent of Formula E. Yes, there were teething problems as one could reasonably expect with something so technically unproven. The set up took time, Dallara were chosen for chassis, Williams sorting out the sparks, Hewland the cogs.
In that first season, Formula E needed two cars per driver; the battery simply could not last a race distance (about fifty minutes) which led to pit stops where spectators witnessed drivers literally hopping from a car with a withered battery to one fully charged and set up identically. However professional, regardless of Swiss watch-timed movements, slip ups occurred, gifting certain victories to rival teams.
Now onto season seven of Formula E, the battery situation has been largely resolved. Drivers have learnt to lift, coast and regenerate which opens up the world of strategy, quantifiable to minuscule charge remaining as the chequered flag flies. Again, this can upset a race’s rhythm; drivers suddenly plummeting down the order as charge drains away, directing high tension levels towards the category protagonists, who (composure not being a strongpoint) rarely deal well with them.
Formula E’s racing is unbearably close and dramatic: hostile overtakes, unyielding walls of concrete surrounding a tortuous track layout and their Michelin tyres have tread which heat up, move and cause many piston-aping arms and elbows moving at high speed. Your author is a fan; add in Dario Franchitti on the commentary microphone, a chap knowledgeable in racecraft, championship victories and career-ending shunts. Sadly his colleagues have as much charisma as a discharged battery.
Whilst Formula E can never replicate sounds of engined formulas; that whine is otherworldly. Which lends the grid the look of a phalanx of alien craft heading for their next mission at high speed, come the green light. The cars look strong yet lithe, the small human safely cocooned. The series may not have Formula One’s glossy sheen but has carved its own niche.
Does the weekend racing sell electric cars come the new working week? DS Automobiles, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes will no doubt reply to those asking, “but of course.” But in my highly-technical researches, one can find plenty of “merch” on their website but have yet to see anyone but team members wearing such. Can you buy your new EQC in team colours? One certainly hopes not.
Leaving Formula E to manufacturers pumping in the dollars, the series appears on the up. Mr Agag, however soon tired of track-based racing, turning his attention to off-road racing using the same motive power. His latest creation being Extreme E – a purpose built off reader with incredible ground clearance and grip, sitting on Continental Tyres made from latex derived from dandelions and, probably, the clincher – racing in troubled environments such as deserts and glaciers.
Eminently a fine upstanding basis in which to connect race fans with the planet’s problems. Again, the printed circuit boards segued with the chassis; a test car built within two months then required much testing to perfection. Agag then tempted champions past and present to either run or race a team. Former-sparring partners Nico Rosberg and Sir Lewis Hamilton run eponymous teams with Jenson Button wearing both caps. Next comes the twist.
To partner such luminaries as JB, Sebastian Loeb and Johan Kristoffersson (from WRC and World Rallycross worlds) are female drivers highly regarded in their own spheres. Jaime Chadwick, surely the woman to represent F1 in the modern age, along with a host of international names bearing pedigree but previously unknown to this armchair enthusiast. This part of the race plan being simple – each driver, one lap, swap over and finish. Whisper it but that’s about as long as this particular battery lasts – fifteen minutes, tops.
Parisian based Spark Racing Technology knocked up a niobium-reinforced steel alloy tubular frame, Williams Advanced Engineering provides batteries and wires. The Odyssey 21 generates 400KW (equivalent to 550bhp), weighs 1,650 Kgs. A 2.3 metre wide SUV that does 0-60 dash in 4.5 seconds, regardless of terrain.
A trip out on the 2020 Dakar rally accrued a decent blooding, driven by the perennially over-enthusiastic Ken Block – enough to seal the FIA’s approval. Thus remaining in Saudi Arabia, the series’ inauguration was held in the remote Alula valley.
Dramatic location and course: check.
Infrastructure fully operational: check.
Enthusiasm levels: high.
Forget racing content: er, check…
Hype notwithstanding, the competitors showed their stoic fortitude but as for actual racing? Like rain in the desert.
Whilst (still) not fully au fait with the rules and regulations, your author was hoping for a hybrid mixture of Rallycross in full size radio controlled-looking cars, all racing collectively. What transpired were three cars in three separate races floundering in the golden dust at the start line flowed by a kilometre dash through the first track gate – when, in the final, with a bold as brass overtake, Kristoffersson took the lead only to kick sand in his (and hers) fellow-competitor’s faces. The compulsory driver swap led to no drama, no problems and no interest.
Cynics scoff as most races are over by the first corner, and sadly, here, they’d be correct. The palpable emotions by those victorious and close second (some 24 seconds behind – third place over 90) was easily seen even covered by sponsored masks. They clearly enjoyed their little selves. My heart though was not fluttering – more akin to the dust kicked up by a knobbly, dandelion tyre – disturbed and bewildered.
No teams altered strategies – men first, women second. A couple of mechanical and tyre problems shortened fuses along with two significant crashes. A rollover for Claudia Hurtgen in qualifying along with a dust induced impact of frightening impact equalled race-ending damage. Danger in the dunes! Call in the Manitou to extricate them… hang on, that’s diesel powered.
Will these eyes tune in again for the late May instalment at Lac Rose, Senegal, an area whose coast is badly affected by oceanic plastics content? Hmmm. Only after using my sponsored Zenith timepiece (range from approximately a grand to £17k) has timed how long my toast takes – observing scorched bread may be more engrossing.