Formula E’s fifth season came to a close with a big double-header weekend at the New York City E-Prix. We were there in a hot and steamy NYC to watch BMW i Andretti Motorsport battle it out to a strong finish in what turned out to be a street fight with BMW taking 3rd and 4th place Saturday.
Then on Sunday’s race, #27 Alexander Sims grabbed the pole for BMW and the team capped Sunday off with a 2nd and 9th place in the 13th and final race of the season. The weekend had two complete races with separate rounds of qualifying. The NYC E Prix was a high-speed track with speeds topping out at 140 mph on the streets of Brooklyn, July 13th and 14th.
This was the first full year with the partnership of BMWi as a factory manufactures team and Team Andretti. Over their season together, the combo was good for one win, two pole positions, and five podium finishes in the 13 races. The NYC E Prix was one of the best weekends for BMW i Andretti Motorsport with one pole position, and two podiums. The Season 5 overall standings ended with #28 Antonio Felix da Costa in sixth and #27, Alexander Sims 13th place out of 22 drivers.
We met with BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt who told BMWBLOG that he expected the BMW team would be in a good position to do well as the weather was forecast hot and humid. In these conditions, he said, thermal management was very important and that BMW’s team had an incredibly efficient powertrain based on their years of producing electric powertrains for passenger cars. In Formula E, the chassis, tires, and batteries are all the same, it’s the powertrains that the teams develop on their own and BMW’s has proven robust and efficient in the heat. Jens also felt the fast-flowing circuit favored passing and felt this would make for some great racing. He was right on all the accounts.
BMW Factory racing driver Bruno Spengler gave tours of BMW’s pits and, described some of the challenges race car drivers face in these Formula E cars. First and foremost is managing the grip. These cars make a ton of power for the amount compared to the grip that they have. The teams each get just two sets of tires per race and that they are provided by Michelin. Bruno said the tires were very similar in performance to say a Michelin PS4 as opposed to pure racing slicks you will see in Formula 1.
The other challenge Bruno said was that 12 out of 13 of the tracks are street courses, no pure race tracks so there is no practicing on them until right before the race for a quick shakedown. Formula E can subtly change the street courses from year to year and the drivers do not get the course map until Monday before the race when they can start getting simulation time on the circuit.
As the Formula E races are all 45 minute races, plus one lap, managing energy factors into the strategy, as if you run out you DNF (DID NOT FINISH). Bruno said it only takes one hour to fully charge the race cars from dead to full. Formula E cars all have the same a 54 kWh battery and their electric motor is good for 200 kW (270 hp), but can be boosted up to 250 kW (335 HP) with FanBoost and Attack Mode. In this the 5th season of Formula E, technology has finally advance enough that the race car drivers can drive a single car the entire race.
Spengler pointed out the cars have very little downforce and are missing the big wings of Formula 1 and other series, and this is another factor in the lower grip of the Formula E cars. All teams though have to cope with this and makes for some exciting close wheel to wheel racing.
What the race is like? Well, as this was my first Formula E race I was really wondering what noise they would make as this was most frequent criticism I heard from my car buds before I headed out to the race. Let me tell you I loved the sound! At Full Chat, these things make an awesome futuristic Star Trek like whoosh! This was especially true when Formula E cars going into hairpin after a long straight and the regen was at a max. It literally sound like something out of a science fiction movie, I could not get enough of this noise.
The other cool thing you could hear were the tires at the limits of their adhesion and the bumping the race cars were doing to each other. That’s right, they were bashing into each other and I could not believe how robust these cars were. I expected minimal bumping, but apparently the “rubbing is racing rule” applies to Formula E too. It may have explained why there were so many nose pieces in the car pits and why they are so easy and fast to change them.
When they pull out of their pits though, they are virtually silent. There are safety stewards lined up in the pits that blow whistles as the Formula E cars work their way down the pits to the track so that people don’t step in front of them. Pit access is tightly regulated and I felt fortunate to go there. Given how silent the race cars are in the pits, I can see why access is so limited. If you get the chance to go for a Formula E Pitts tour though, take it. They don’t come often.
The venue of the race was like being at an electric car world’s fair. There was always something electric booking around the track. Be it an i8 Safety Car with a full racing cage, racing seats and harnesses, or i8 Roadster in a pack giving VIP rides with pro-drivers. There even was an entire other racing series of Jaguar iPace electric race cars with the worlds loudest squealing brakes finishing out their season. I even saw Harley Davidson’s new electric motorcycle giving predrives, as well as MINI Cooper SE all-electric, as well as a pre-production Porsche Tacan flying around the track.
Allianz E-Village had perhaps the coolest stuff to look at between races and qualifying sessions. BMW had a huge display that included the iNext an all-electric sport-ute concept, a MINI all-electric Cooper SE, several i8s a Formula E BMW i race car you could get up close to. As well as the BMW i Vision walk that had debuted in Europe. Alexander Sims, BMW i Race Car Driver narrates a great presentation of BMW’s view of driving in the future.
The Formula E NYC race track was laid out in the streets of Brooklyn right along the river with the gorgeous Manhattan skyline to the right and the Statue of Liberty on the right. A large TV display of the entire race when the race ars were not right by you. Want a more VIP Experience? Then check out the Skyline Village, where you might bump into a Top Gear presenter, or the HUGO BOSS Emotion Club, if you want go even more upscale. I had a great time tooling around all of it and you don’t need a VIP ticket to have a blast at a Formula E race.
In next year’s Formula E, both Mercedes and Porsche will join as factory teams demonstrating Formula E’s importance as a testbed for technology and innovation.
FIA President Jean Todt said: “Formula E is the perfect showcase of new electric vehicle technologies and attracts more and more interest in the mass adoption of clean mobility solutions in urban settings around the world.”
Given more manufacturers are jumping in, the competition and racing should only get better and better. I was amazed that these Formula E drivers were not afraid to trade paint. Bumps pushes and nudges were all part of the street fight. Formula E brings the racing to the people. If you ever get a chance to go see a Formula E race, don’t hesitate, go.