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Nigel Chiu: Why I love Formula E

Credit FIA Formula E

Four and a half seasons into the FIA Formula E Championship and it deserves a lot praise. It could so easily have died out after a season or so but no, it’s getting bigger and it’s getting better. There was a lot of negativity about Formula E and there still is. I really don’t know why because it’s a motorsport that provides excitement and entertainment which any other championship in the world would be proud of. To the opposers of Formula E, I have a few things to say because you’re wrong if you say it’s boring or to dismiss it completely, but you’re right if you do see why Formula E is amazing.

The main reason I love motorsport is because of the racing. I adore the V8 Supercars Championship in Australia, Indycar and BTCC simply because the racing is stellar. Formula E is no different and it joins my list of the best racing in the world on four wheels. There are lead changes in every single race, nose to tail racing all the way through the field, aggressive moves when attacking and defending from the car in front or the car behind which is what I love to see; the entertainment levels are sky-high. I have seen very few dull races.

To those who say Formula E is boring, then I really don’t know what you’re watching. The last race in Rome wasn’t an absolute classic; yet it was a rather typical Formula E race which is miles more exciting than most races we see in an F1 season. There were lead changes, high-intensity battles and an exciting fight for the lead and the podium. At one point, we had a 3 car train for the lead. It is pure entertainment and pure racing 99.9% of the time. The 0.1% is when fanboost is used to help an overtake.

I know that a lot of the cynics of Formula E use fanboost as a reason to why they don’t want to watch the championship. Well, very, very rarely does fanboost give you an easy overtake. To me, it’s no worse than DRS in F1 because you don’t get an easy overtake, you usually just close up or get to set yourself up for an overtake at the next corner. Isn’t it good that fans can take part in the motorsport just a tiny bit? If this is the worst thing that people can think of about Formula E, then surely that is a good thing because it’s a good negative (apologies for the oxymoron!)

At first, I also wasn’t too optimistic about Formula E. I wasn’t really into it and if it wasn’t for the incredible last lap, last corner crash between Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost at the inaugural race in Beijing, maybe I wouldn’t be watching Formula E now. It went quite viral in the motorsport world and I was staggered. But still, it wasn’t enough to draw me into Formula E. I didn’t see the second race in Malaysia because I couldn’t be bothered to get up in the morning or catch up on it like I would for an Asian F1 race. Why? I guess I didn’t respect or admire the championship enough even though the first ever race was so dramatic and probably couldn’t get any better for an inaugural race of a brand new motorsport series

Luckily, the next race was in Uruguay at Punta del Este on ITV4 (in the UK) during the evening so I decided to watch it. It was mega. I remember that there were lots of lead changes and stunning battles as well as the odd clash with the wall or other cars. That really grabbed my attention and I just though to myself, “This Formula E thing is quite good.” Twice I tuned in to watch, twice Formula E delivered in abundance and I haven’t missed a race since.

The Santiago ePrix was the sixteenth different venue in 5 years, with more cities desperate to get on the FIA Formula E calendar. (Credit: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E)

Like I said, we’re now into season 4 and 40 ePrix into the life of Formula E. Three different champions have been crowned at the finale of each season in incredible circumstances. Season One saw a 3 way battle from 3 very different drivers and 3 different teams. It went down the very last lap of the season and it was Nelson Piquet who emerged as champion.

Season Two saw Lucas di Grassi do everything to try and steal the championship from his rival Sebastien Buemi. I still remember Jack Nicholls screaming as Di Grassi hit the back of Buemi’s car in an attempt to repeat what Senna did to Prost in 1990 at Suzuka. They battled it out for the points you get for the fastest lap and Buemi came out on top.

Di Grassi stole the championship from Buemi in Season Three as Buemi had a disastrous weekend and scored no points to give his title away. Having missed 2 races due to Toyota WEC commitments, Buemi should have romped away with the championship, but he lost it himself by losing his head, whilst Di Grassi proved why he’s one of the best drivers in the field by being super consistent and sneaking ahead at the final event in Montreal.

Anyway, this article isn’t here to talk about what happened. It’s purpose is to say why Formula E deserves a lot of praise. But the fact that all three seasons so far have gone down to the wire compounds the competitiveness and the excitement of the championship. In the last 10 years, F1 has seen the championship go down to the final race every other year whereas Formula E looks like it will continue its streak of putting its fans on the edge of their seats right until the very end. It is so unpredictable and when it looks like a boring race, something happens and chaos erupts.

Most of you will know that a typical Formula E event will consist of 2 practice sessions, a qualifying session (plus the superpole) and the race all in one day. It means that the streets of a city like New York, Rome, Hong Kong, wherever you want, can be closed just for one day and the fans at the circuit can see lots of on track action in one day as well. No need to book an overnight hotel or set up a camp, it’ll just be like having a family day out.

If people think that sound is a problem and that the noise of the cars is what turns them off, then I have to question if you’re a true racing fan.

More and more manufacturers are joining Formula E because they recognise that it is working and the innovation of the next generation technology on the road cars is being used in today’s Formula E cars. Season 5 will see Nissan and BMW coming into the series with Porsche and Mercedes following suit a year later. Lets not forget the privateers who are important to the integrity of the sport. At the moment, a privateer team can ask any of the manufacturers to sell them their powertrain to them and they have to oblige. This is great.

It does mean that raising the capacity of the grid to 30 would be a good idea. Privateers like the Techeetah team make the races exciting because they can get the setup right and challenge for wins and championships. They aren’t just a team sitting at the back, they’re one of the big teams, yet they’re a privateer. This is good and the great thing about Formula E at the moment is that lots of teams can win the race.

Sebastian Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne and Lucas di Grassi struggled to make an impact in F1, though thanks to FE have become some the worlds most respected talents. (Credit: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E)

Think about it. Only one car will be needed per driver in season five so currently (with 2 cars) 40 cars are being shipped around so shipping just 30 cars will be no problem. You may be thinking that congestion might be a problem, well I’m sure the drivers can get around this and it won’t be too hard to change some of the circuits to make less of those 180 degree hairpins and more flowing curves. The only problem might be the width of the track on some circuits but I’m sure Formula E will do the right thing and work with the city organisers to make the circuits more race friendly. Changing the points system slightly, but not drastically could be another change that may need to be made if there are 30 or more entries. Formula E have made lots of good decisions so far and they will continue to if they don’t rush or overcomplicated their solutions.

Enough with the future (that’s for another day) and onto the present. Another reason why I love Formula E is the stellar driver line-up. F1 drivers who were kicked out far too early in their careers are now competing at their peak in a series which is on the up. They’re also probably having a lot of fun driving the cars that they’re driving because they can race hard and follow each other closely on the streets of a big city. Jean Eric Vergne , Lucas Di Grassi, Sebastien Buemi, Andre Lotterer and Sam Bird are just some of the drivers who are very good and highly skilled racers who like to race hard with passion and emotion. It’s those characteristics that I want to see as a motorsport fan. The duel between Vergne and Di Grassi in Punta Del Este last month was probably one of the greatest battles I have ever seen in motorsport. I was yelling with excitement at the TV and just loved every single second of it. There was no overtake but there was literally millimetres between them at times and words can’t describe the intensity and the excitement from that fight for the lead. It was just as epic as Michael Schumacher vs. Fernando Alonso in 2006 at Imola.

My final point is to the people who say “they’re just saving their battery power, this isn’t racing”. Well, as I’ve mentioned above, the racing is sensational and we see lots of battles that are right on the limit. The drivers are very aggressive in defence and attack which adds to the drama and whilst they may be saving their battery life by lifting and coasting into corners, they’re absolutely on the limit in the corner itself to maximise their lap time. The drivers have to take as much speed as they can into every corner by almost touching the wall and it can easily go wrong. This is an important skill that you need as a racing driver and you can’t really teach it. If you go over the limit then you will find yourself in the wall, you get punished for any errors you make which is great compared to the grade one circuits that F1 or WEC go to. Formula E has shown that street circuits are great if you can overtake on them as the drivers are always on the limit and just centimetres away from the fans at the venue.

That’s my story of my relationship with Formula E. I don’t see many (if any) problems with it and Alejandro Agag deserves a lot of praise to get the series where it is today as it could easily have gone wrong. Well done Formula E!

Alessandro Agag has been in charge of the series since its inception in 2014. (Credit: LAT/FIA Formula E)

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