The all-electric Formula E championship is into its fourth season and though it has its problems, it continues to grow. Fan opinion is divided - for some, the tight street circuits aren’t really conducive to good racing, there’s too much in the way of post-race penalties, and the lack of engine sound is an insurmountable obstacle.
Manufacturers, on the other hand, are tripping over each other to be a part of it. Jaguar, Renault, Audi, and Citroen are already involved, with BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche all scheduled to enter in over the next couple of years. Given that road car technology is heading for an electric future, it’s hardly surprising that manufacturers want a platform to showcase that technology.
Formula E also has an appealing multi-year plan to steadily improve the technology whilst also keeping costs down. Contrast this to the current state of Formula 1, where disagreements over the future running of the sport - of which the engine rules are a big part - threaten to fracture the status quo.
It’s for reasons like these that Sir Richard Branson (who owns Formula E team DS Virgin Racing) thinks that Formula E will be bigger than F1 within a decade.
“It’s growing very rapidly, every season they’re bringing in new initiatives. I’m willing to forecast that 10 years from now, if Formula 1 continue in their current way, I think Formula E will overtake it.
“And so it should, because the world should be powered by clean cars. We’ve all got to wean ourselves off dirty cars, and Formula E can lead the way in that.”
Optimistic? Perhaps. After all, Formula 1 is one of those things that we all love to complain about but can’t bring ourselves to stop watching.
Founder and CEO of Formula E, Alejandro Agag, also thinks that Branson is stretching it a bit, but told ESPN that he does believe it could become the only realistic motorsport option at some point in the future.
“We never like to put ourselves in competition with F1. We love F1, we think F1 is great. But I never disagree with Richard Branson, he’s a very clever man and he gets it right most of the time.”
“I think Formula E is going to get really, really big. I believe that in 20, 30, 40 years, we will be the only motorsport out there. There may be others but we will be probably the main motorsport because the world will be electric. If the world is not electric in 20 or 30 years, we are in trouble. So, even if that happens, then Formula E will be the championship of the cars.”
It’s a bold assumption. Given the way some other championships are going at the moment it might seem plausible, but it also assumes that those same championships won’t adapt and overcome their issues at some point in the next 20 or so years.
Electric power may well be the future of motoring, but it doesn’t mean that the internal combustion engine is just going to go away. Demand for ‘traditional’ motorsport is likely to stick around for longer than some might expect - until all those people old enough to have experienced the joy of smelling racing fuel and been deafened by a wailing V12 are gone, perhaps!