Formula Toast

The appliance of… well what exactly?

Image: Motorbox

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.

Image: Metropolitan Magazine

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. 

Image: Sportspro

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. 

Image: BBC

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. 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

12 thoughts on “Formula Toast”

  1. Good morning Andrew and thanks for sharing your take on Formula E and Extreme E. I’m afraid I know next to nothing about either, but did read of a very embarassing incident at the recent Formula E race in Valencia where half the field ran out of power in the closing laps! This was most unfortunate, highlighting the major point of resistance to a switchover to EVs. Autocar reported the story here:

    1. Have you ever seen a California wonder car moving faster than the ‘racers’ on their last lap?
      This is not a debacle but typical.

  2. I’ve never seen either of them, I’m afraid. I went off formula one many years ago and the electric version didn’t seem to offer anything better. Additionally, my viewing habits are such that I’m unlikely to come across it accidentally.

    Apparently, amongst all its other problems as mentioned by Andrew, Formula E is leading drivers to attain unhealthily low weights, as they try to obtain better weight distribution in the cars, by shifting ballast (a lighter driver means one has more choice about where one puts the ballast – the cars have to weigh at least 900kg). I find that quite disturbing.

  3. I’ve never liked ‘one-make’ racing, which is what Formula E seems to be. I like to decide which is my favourite chassis/engine/driver combination. If Mercedes do Formula E, but do not make the electric motor then what’s the point ?
    Similarly the one-make (?) off-road series operates in places where there are no charging stations ! Do they really use diesel generators to re-charge their batteries ?

    1. I can relate to that – engineers and the likely minded despise the idea of one-make racing because it steals the fun for them, while racing-drivers with no interest in technological-details prefer it to level the playing field. However as in the past 2 decades almost every major GT, prototype and even some formula series introduced various BoP (Balance of Performance) rules everyone driving the same type of car around started becoming more and more acceptable to me. Which is worse – if there’s no competition between manufacturers or if Aston Martin wins in Le Mans only because they were allowed to use higher turbo pressure? Sandbagging in early-season races and qualifying became a major concern.
      P.S.: They use fuel cell chargers (which is powered by hydrogen made from natural gas), and since the venue was in the middle of the desert they towed the cars there using Toyota pickups. So yeah, not too clean in the end.

    2. Let’s not kid ourselves, anything that takes place in the middle of the desert is not ecological – unless it involves camels. And every gram of carbon or steel cannot outweigh by the presence of a camel.

      And yes, BoP was the death of racing. Today’s zeitgeist likes BoP. Because today’s zeitgeist prefers pc and arbitrariness. I probably won’t understand the reasons in this lifetime.

  4. Great article Andrew. Not managed to watch Formula E yet but have watched Extreme E. As you say, the races don’t last long but I think the vehicles are amazing. Like a full size radio controlled car 🤣

  5. Another interesting article Andrew so thank you. Really don’t see the point of the “Off Road” events and the damage they appear to be doing to the local environment concerns me too. Formula E doesn’t really do much for me either, although the range they achieve is improving. Quick change of the rules didn’t take too long!

  6. That Formula E racing is close, even ‘unbearably’ so, is certainly good news. But why street circuits? I don’t think they’re cheaper to book or easier to marshal than actual racetracks, let alone all the other downsides.

    As to Extreme E, I can’t help seeing the irony of calling “Odyssey” a car built for sprint races. The only Odyssean thing about it seems to be the tonnage matching that of Ulysses’s ship.

    1. I thought something like DTM (what a farce) couldn’t be topped, but Formula E proved me wrong.
      Let’s not fool ourselves. Formula E is not racing. It’s a real world 3D video game. A family-friendly spectacle designed by PR experts. Street courses because everything with batteries is eco and woke as we know. That´s why these events are allowed to take place in the middle of the city.
      In distant places, banished behind fences, only the evil polluters are up to their mischief (still, but not for much longer).
      We live in a world where satire can no longer be distinguished from reality.
      Extreme E. Proof that not everything that can be done should be done.
      Save satire, don’t make everything reality. Please.

  7. I have biased opinion about Formula E – while it’s great that it’s full of top-tier drivers capable of providing a good show, I can’t help but see the business concept as a greenwashing-ticket. As a manufacturer you live out of making heavy luxurious cars for the wealthy? Here you can buy indulgence for your sins, if anyone may object that your road cars destroy the planet you can always show them you participated in the recent Formula E championship. I’m surprised oil companies haven’t showed up yet to pour in zillions of dollars (although Saudi Arabia shown up as a supporter). As the article pointed out there ain’t much fans interested and the organizing cities seem to have similar motives (eco-prestiege) as the teams, so…is it the most interesting racing series today that nobody watches or cares about? The part of the plan that was about approaching environmentally conscious consumers through the world of motorsport surely failed.
    Extreme E seems to follow a different path, with the sponsorship focus is on teams rather than manufacturers (reminds me of the Superleague Formula which infamously flopped in a few years), but I must say the base idea was rather impressive – a 400 kW machine cutting through the desert? I’m all ears! They seem to have good tempo, I think the cars themselves have potential, so I like the engineering job and the result, the only issue seems to be that the weight makes jumps a bit unpredictable, but nothing too unbalanced, I’m sure they will improve the car’s behaviour. However the racing is just not there or seems to be secondary, will see how it develops.
    I follow both series to a certain degree (don’t watch full races, only results/highligts), but was actually impressed how António Félix da Costa’s last year championship title came together, I thought electric racing was going to be a lot worse, but it’s actually pretty OK.

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