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Hooniverse Goes to Formula E

Jim Yu April 8, 2015 Hooniverse Goes To... 4 Comments

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1 series. 10 teams. 20 drivers. 40 cars. Say what? Because the electric racers don’t have enough juice to run the entire hour-long race, Formula E drivers have to switch cars midway through. And you know what? That’s not the most absurd thing about this series. Make the jump to find out why I think the series is a novelty with a three-year expiration date, tops.

Let’s start at the beginning. I am a huge Nick Heidfeld fan. Huge. When I found out the ex-F1 driver was going to be in this new electric racing series, I knew I had to check it out. And when the FIA announced that the Long Beach race offered free admission, I booked my flight immediately.

After I landed at John Wayne, I headed to the rental car counter to pick up my mid-sized reservation (probably a Ford Fusion). But next to the counter were three Miatas with a huge banner overhead that read “SPLURGE A LITTLE”. Being a sucker for not-so-subliminal advertising, I paid an extra $20 a day and got this folding hardtop. My only other experience driving an MX-5 was in 1997, when I was test driving an NA. Well, just like in 1997, this NC gave me a huge grin the entire time I was driving it. And it was an automatic to boot.

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As I approached the street circuit, I looked for parking. Despite the free admission, the closest parking lot was charging $50 a space. No thanks. As I buzzed around, lost, I ended up parallel to the actual circuit.

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After finding a much more reasonably priced parking spot, I saw this Polo with Mexico City plates. These must be some die hard fans.

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I came to see Heidfeld and all the other ex-F1 drivers*, so I paid $50 for a paddock pass. I didn’t even bother asking the FIA for a press pass because a) FIA passes are almost impossible to get and b) the FIA probably didn’t appreciate my TTAC post about boycotting every F1 race on the calendar.

* Piquet, Jr.; Vergne, di Grassi, Buemi, Bruno Senna, d’Ambrosio, Alguersuari, Chandhok, Liuzzi, Pic, Trulli, Speed.

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Electric was the theme. The safety car was an i8. The course car was an i3. The Croatian Rimac Concept One was the race director’s car.

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Up close, the cars themselves appear to be smaller and flimsier looking than F1 cars. They are made in collaboration with Renault (oversaw operation), Williams (battery), McLaren (electronics), and Dallara (chassis).

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The cars usually have 200 horsepower. In a gimmicky move, there is Fanboost. Before each race, fans online vote on which top three drivers get Fanboost. The winners get 5 seconds of boost (of 40 additional hp) for each of their two cars. I know. Lame.

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Jean-Eric Vergne damaged his car during practice and the crew was quickly repairing it.

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Here’s my buddy waiting patiently to take a photo with Dario Franchitti. Other celebrities in attendance included Leonardo DiCaprio (who owns Heidfeld’s Venturi team) and (fellow Phaeton owner) Adrien Brody.

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Nelson Piquet, Jr. was also very gracious with the crowd. This boy’s father was clueless and asked Nelsinho if he ever drove F1. D’oh!

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Dry ice being used to cool the car.

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Karun Chandhok checking Tinder.

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Lone Jean-Eric Vergne fan.

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Heidfeld qualifying.

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Rimac in motion.

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So let me tell you my major gripe. The cars obviously do not have the sound of an internal combustion engine. However, they do emit an 80 decibel, futuristic whine, akin to Cylon fighters in space. Plus, the drivetrain makes loud clicking sounds and tires squeal around corners. So how did the promoters respond? By playing techno music through the loudspeakers through the entire race. Ugh squared.

Because the admission was free, the turnout was impressive. I would hazard to guess that if the price of admission was just $20, the attendance would drop by half. I understand the motivation to have an electric car series. But in the execution, it became gimmicky and lame. Once the novelty wears off in a year or two, the series will die. I have no doubt that there will be more electric car racing in the future, and this will mark the start of the epoch, but Formula E will not last.

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Given recent journalistic scandals (see Alex Roy’s cross-country record and Rolling Stones’ UVA story), I decided to double check with my companion that they actually played music the entire time.

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Images source: Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Jim Yu

  • Krautwursten

    Finally a racing series that can convey its entire appeal in photos.

  • The Rusty Hub

    The racing has been entertaining, close, and surprisingly full of endurance-racing style tactics (Managing fuel/energy vs. outright pace while also racing cars). But I’m not surprised to hear you suggest it will be gone in a couple years. There’s just…something…missing. It’s not the (lack of) noise or the quality of competition; I think it’s rooted more deeply in how the FIA is going about the whole series like it’s a gimmick. You’re right that there will be more electric racing to come, bit I think Formula E’s biggest contribution, looking back, will be that it was a departure point for racing outside the norm.

    FWIW, my understanding of FIA press passes depends heavily on the series and promoters. It’s basically impossible to get an F1 pass because of Bernard Charles Ecclestone. The World Endurance Championship is apparently more forgiving and if the promoters are really trying to grow Formula E in earnest, then you probably could have gotten a pass. Ah, well, hindsight.

  • “The [Fanboost] winners get 5 seconds of boost (of 40 additional hp) for each of their two cars. I know. Lame.”

    I would have gone with “unforgivably stupid but sadly of a piece with the thinking behind a full-length soundtrack for the event.”

    Despite my lax standards, I can’t bring myself to call it a race.

  • CraigSu

    I tried watching Formula E when it was broadcast on NBC earlier in the year, I lasted all of 5 minutes before I changed the channel. I simply couldn’t stand all the whining. And that was just the motor noise.