10/03/2016 10:55 GMT | Updated 10/03/2017 05:12 GMT

City Centres and Fan Boosts : Why Formula E Will Overtake Formula 1

Formula 1 season starts March 20th. There's a new broadcaster in the form of Channel 4 who take over from the BBC. There's new presenters, including former Red Bull driver Mark Webber. They'll be the usual round of intensely close races, debates over technology and discussions on the relevance of grid positions.

It won't be enough. Formula 1 was great. Starting from Mexico City this weekend however, Formula E will be better. Here's a simple guide to why.

What Is Formula E?


Picture Credit: DS Virgin Racing

Formula E is electric car racing. No, seriously.

So it's Formula 1 with USB charging?

It's completely different. It's called Formula E because it represents the pinnacle of electric racing as F1 represents the pinnacle of conventional motor racing.

Is it a big deal?

13 ex F1 drivers have now moved over to Formula E. Renault, Audi & Virgin (or DS Virgin Racing) are among the ten teams that compete. As is Team Venturi - co-founded by Leonardo Di Caprio.

In terms of wider industry backing perhaps the most significant verification that 'electric racing is the future' is the fact that Gulf Oil are sponsors behind Team Aguri.


Picture Credit: Team Aguri

Are There Different Rules To F1?

It's a shorter race: 45 minutes. There are ten teams to F1's eleven, with two drivers per team. Each driver has two cars, and swaps part way through the race.

So...What Makes The Racing Better Than F1?


Picture Credit: FIA Media

The Tracks

F1 has a couple of famous city-centre tracks. In Formula E, by virtue of the sport producing no pollution, every single track is city centre: including in 2016 around Red Square in Moscow, central Paris, Beijing, Mexico City, Putrajaya Malaysia and even central London.

The Fanboost The first sport on earth ever to do this: Fans can go online and vote for their favourite driver - who then receives a time boost based on votes. Cue drivers vying for style and aggression, not just surgical cornering. This also adds an extra level of complexity when it comes to betting.

The Competitiveness Formula 1 advanced the petrol motor. That, after all, was a key point of its inception. Formula E is no different - the ultimate goal is for car companies to produce better electric cars. However, this is a very new industry. As of 2016, each car will be using often entirely different motors, drivetrains and gearbox layouts - which will make races wildly unpredictable in terms of favourites. Add to that the fact that the sport has imposed strict rules on engine modification in-season (to stop teams copy-catting on innovation) and the racing is expected to be as much about fans backing the ambitious underdog or the outsider with the weird new gearing system than it is about a supercar manufacturer chucking yet another 8 million into the car to keep a quarter second lead.

What Happens Next?


Pic Credit: FIA Media

Formula E's city centre locations will be what builds the sport. There's no lengthy trek out to a course in the middle of nowhere. The tracks are full of tight corners, hairpins and built around buildings and monuments. Last year Formula E was largely unknown but on the UK leg 60,000 people still descended on London's Battersea out of sheer interest. This year, endorsed by major TV coverage and big-name backing, should see Formula E pull ahead in a big way.

Long term, Formula E is advancing electric motoring at the rate Formula 1 once did for the petrol engine. The cars will get faster and faster year on year, and as mainstream car companies start to increase their own electric engined lines whilst governments and cities grow ever harder on pollution charge, Formula E will be neatly shunted toward the front. That's been the plan with the FIA all along, but that doesn't make it cynical. The races are unpredictable, the fans genuinely help make or break a race, the drivers are all still at the early stages of their career and the whole sport is that bit more accessible than the bloated empire of F1. So, hold tight, and don't touch that charger....

How Do I Watch It?

The season kicks off approximately in line with Formula 1: from the 12th of March in Mexico City. From then there are ten dates, most notably London from the 2-3rd July. All races including next weekend can be watched on BT Sport.

Find out more at the Formula E home page here. The author thanks Sylvain Filippi, CTO of DS Virgin Racing for the insight and information.