Electric Dreams: A Brief History of Formula E

The future may be electric, but what about the past? Formula E has just come to the end of its 7th season. How did it go from a casual conversation between Alejandro Agag and Jean Todt to an FIA accredited world championship? 

Written by Chloe Harper Daly

August 25, 2021

Formula E was co-founded by politician and businessman Alejandro Agag and FIA President Jean Todt. The first race took place in 2014, however, conversations began back in March 2011 when the two creators met in a restaurant in Paris. The first ideas for an all-electric single-seater championship were scribed on a napkin. 

 

Alejandro Agag’s entry into the world of motorsport began when he cut a deal with Flavio Briatore, taking ownership of the Spanish Formula One viewing rights and sponsorships. He then went on to own a GP2 team called Barwa Addax which won the GP2 championship in 2008 and was runner up in 2009. They had future F1 drivers such as Romain Grosjean and Lucas Di Grassi. He then went on to buy a team in GP3 in 2010, calling it Addax GP3 Team. In 2018, Agag also went on to found Extreme E, the first electric rallying championship. 

Clean up efforts at the Desert X-Prix (Photo from @ExtremeELive on Twitter)

FIA President Jean Todt is a significant figure in motorsports. Originally, Jean Todt was a rally driver. He came runner up in the world rallying championship in 1981 as Guy Frequelin’s co-driver. The same year he began working with the FIA. Jean went on to be director of Peugeot Talbot Sport before moving to Scuderia Ferrari to be general manager. He was then promoted to Ferrari’s CEO and special advisor helping them achieve eight constructors and six driver championships. He has worked with legends such as Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen. 

 

The very first Formula E race took place in September 2014 at the Olympic Park in Beijing. Ten teams and 20 drivers competed, but Lucas Di Grassi reigned supreme. The first seasons attracted drivers like Karun Chandok, Jean-Eric Vergne, Charles Pic and Nelson Piquet Jr, who was the inaugural champion. 

Photo via @VenturiFE on Twitter

The cars in the 2014-15 season were very different to what we see now. All teams were given a Spark-Renault SRT 01E built by Spark Racing Technology. The chassis was designed by the infamous Dallara. McLaren developed the electric motor, the same one which is used in the McLaren P1 supercar. It has 270 BHP and 140 Nm of torque. Williams Grand Prix made the battery system and the gearbox was a Hewland 5-speed. The car could go 0-100km/h in 3 seconds and its max speed was 225km/h. Each team had 4 cars (2 per driver) as the battery was unable to complete a full race so they would switch cars mid-race. They kept the SRT until 2018.

Formula E car design 2014-2015 (Photo via FIA Formula E)

For the second season, teams were allowed to develop their power trains. They were allowed to have an increased maximum power usage in a race, from 150 kW to 170 kW. In the third season, the battery which regenerates during a race had a 50% energy regeneration increase. In the fourth season, the maximum power usage went from 170kW to 180kW.

 

The 5th season brought a new car to Formula E. This ended the mid-race car swaps. The Gen 2 car is still driven in 2021. Once again, the car was built by Spark Racing Technology with Dallara and was named the Spark SRT05e. The battery was made by McLaren Applied Technology and it has a capacity of 54 kWh, 26 kWh more than Gen 1.  The life-saving halo was introduced to the chassis. This new model can go 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. It also had an increased power output to 250kW and top speeds averaging 280km/h.

Photo Via @MercedesEQFE on Twitter

Since the 2018-19 season, the Gen 2 car has seen upgrades to make the chassis tougher for rougher. Another chassis upgrade will come before the 2022-23 season when Gen 3 is introduced. Gen 2 also saw the game-changing attack mode where drivers can have two, two minute 25kW of an energy boost. 

 

The Gen 3 car is set to be better than ever. There is a new maximum power output of 350kW, a massive 100kW more than the previous car. However, we will have a lower battery capacity, it will drop 3 kWh to 51 kWh. This will change strategies and races as we know it. 

 

During the pitstops, the batteries will have to recharge in 30 seconds, an insane feat in EV technology. There will also be better regen, which is currently performed by the rear brakes. This will move to the front brakes.  The Gen 3 car has not been revealed yet, so more changes are yet to be announced.

 

Formula E is one of the most competitive categories of racing. In seven seasons, we have had six different champions. The list of drivers who were in contention for the 2020-21 season championship title was unbelievable. Ahead of the last race, 14 drivers could have won the Formula E title. In the end, Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck De Vries took the first FIA accredited Formula E World Championship. 

Nyck de Vries at the London E-Prix (Photo via @MercedesEQFE on Twitter)

Formula E has become the playground of ex-F1 drivers, with competitors like Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne. Other drivers have gone straight from their junior careers to Formula E, such as Andre Lotterer, Antonio Felix Da Costa and Sam Bird. 

 

Formula E also promotes an environmental cause. In 2020, Formula E became the first sporting event with a net-zero carbon footprint. In an interview with Sustain Europe, Agag states how “reducing the carbon emissions of the championship, producing the energy for the cars also in a clean way as we do with Aquafuel is very important, and then awareness through the different actions that we do to promote the vision of electric cars.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Chloe and I have a huge passion for motorsports. I want to work in media in the future and I love writing. My favourite drivers are Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo and my favourite team is McLaren. You can find me on Instagram @chloeharperdaly.

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