With ‘fan boosts’ and city centre circuits, race organisers are breaking taboos in the hope of making electric cars cool
The noise is part spaceship, part jet engine and part Tron bike, according to Alex Tai, the head of Virgin’s Formula E racing team. The high-powered, all-electric cars zooming around the Donington Park race track are certainly far quieter than the chest-rumbling, ear-splitting noise that hits Formula One fans.
But the new Formula E championship is breaking a host of racing taboos: special music to trumpet crashes, female drivers, city centre circuits and, most controversially, a fan vote to give the most popular drivers power boosts to blast them past opponents during races. Nonetheless, racing royalty from Alain Prost to Sir Frank Williams are backing the new series, with Emerson Fittipaldi declaring it a “new era for motor racing”. It has now been approved by world motor sport’s governing body, the FIA, and is funded by stars including Leonardo DiCaprio and major carmakers including Audi, Renault and Indian giant Mahindra.
“There is a need for motor sport to be relevant,” says Formula E chief executive, Alejandro Agag, at the Donington trackside during the first public testing sessions last week. He claims lofty ambitions for the zero-emission race series: to make electric cars sexy, accelerate improvements in the technology and tackle city-choking air pollution and, ultimately, climate change. Agag, like most of those involved, have roots in Formula One and are reluctant to criticise the brash, gas-guzzling F1 circus seen by some as an eco-horror show.