Formula 1 vs Formula E

Car racing has been around since the invention of motorised vehicles and has always been a way for car manufacturers to test new concepts and prove the durability of their cars. A win on Sunday means sales on Monday. Over the last 70 years, Formula 1 (F1) has been the most advanced and prestigious class of racing cars. However, as the desire for more sustainable means of transportation has grown in recent years, manufacturers founded Formula E (FE) as a means to test and showcase their electrically powered vehicles. While Formula one racing is still relevant, could the sport eventually decline in favour of more ecological alternatives?

What is Formula 1 Racing?

F1 racing began in Europe during the 1920s and ’30s. By 1946, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) finalised the rules for teams and their cars, allowing for the first Formula One World Drivers’ Championship to be held four years later.

Over the following decades, the regulations of the sport have varied, but the objective remained the same: to race a predetermined number of laps around a circuit and finish ahead of your competitors. However, to ensure fair and safe competition as well as reduce the costs of an extremely expensive sport, every year the FIA publishes rules on how the cars can be built and driven.

F1 teams choose two drivers to compete at every race while dozens or hundreds of mechanics, engineers, and other support staff work tirelessly behind the scenes to maximise car performance. Today, this allows the cars to reach speeds of over 300km/h and accelerate to 100km/h in less than a second. What makes the cars truly phenomenal, however, is their grip in corners and braking ability (from 100 to 0km/h in just 15 meters).

What is Formula E Racing?

FE racing launched in 2014 to develop and display the capabilities of electric-powered engines and has been marketed as the future of motor racing.

FE and F1 cars are somewhat similar as they are both purpose-built single-seater racing machines with open wheels and open cockpit. Additionally, both racing categories follow relatively similar rules dictated by the FIA.

How Are They Different?

The main structural difference is that FE engines are electrically powered whereas F1 cars have hybrid turbocharged engines. As a result, FE cars depend on efficient energy usage and regeneration during the race, whereas in Formula 1 maximum power output is key. FE cars are thus known for the high pitch whine of the electric motor, a characteristic easily distinguishable from the deafening roar of its petrol burning counterpart.

Another major structural difference is that FE is a ‘specification’ series, meaning that each team has to use a large number of standardised parts. Teams are only allowed to add their gearbox, power-control-systems, electric motors, and adjust the suspension systems. This emphasises driver ability and drastically reduces the cost of competing.

The rules of FE are also adjusted to provide more excitement and account for the limitations and characteristics of the vehicles. For example, the events are held on small street circuits to lower costs and compensate for the cars’ still limited performance compared to F1.

Will Formula E replace Formula 1?

F1 has a long history, but could that history come to end as fans and manufacturers begin to turn towards more sustainable alternatives? Indeed, the development of E-racing might seem like the next logical step in a world in which sustainability plays an increasingly large role. However, it is very unrealistic for F1 to be replaced by E-racing any time soon. F1’s prestige and popularity rest on several factors, including the incomparable speed of the cars and the skill it takes to drive them. Moreover, the impressive sound of the engines, undeniable risks taken by the drivers, and the sport’s rich history all contribute to the entertainment value. FE is simply unlikely to match F1 in any of these regards. Finally, F1 itself aims to be carbon neutral in the near future, thus also undermining the ecological appeal of FE.