Formula E: Sustainability meets speed as New York hosts race challenging perceptions and performance

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 (Jaguar Racing via Getty Images)
(Jaguar Racing via Getty Images)

Across the final weeks of July, one of the FIA’s flagship championships visits two high-profile locations, aiming to capture yet more of the world’s imagination - both for the sport and for the future.

This weekend, it’s not Formula One which takes centre stage - Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Co enjoy an increasingly rare weekend off - but Formula E, the all-electric championship which this time out heads to New York City.

The no-emissions competition has come a long way since its inception in the early 2010s and first race season in 2014/15, with the current iteration featuring a second generation of cars and now approaching the end of its eighth campaign overall. With the championship still up for grabs, the ever-increasing number of fans throughout motor racing and the unstoppable necessity of all-electric vehicles worldwide, it’s a huge opportunity for the sport and the individuals within to gain new admirers, but also to underline Formula E’s original reasons for being.

Four races across two prestigious locations - back-to-back race days in Brooklyn, followed by another pair in London at the end of the month - will play a massive and decisive part in each one of those areas.

In the wider world of motorsport there is, of course, no doubt as to the king: the most popular by a distance and once more hugely growing its captive audience is F1. But in terms of technological progression, championship expansion and - according to the leading minds involved in one way or another - having a huge runway for future improvements, Formula E is not far behind.

From an idea in 2011 to a concept vehicle a year later, FE finally achieved lights out for the first time in September 2014 and has been racing towards improved efficiency, sustainability and awareness ever since.

Naturally, the founding cornerstone was not only competition, but to show exactly what all-electric vehicles could be capable of. From a time when EVs were regarded with scepticism, Formula E has grown just as the wider market has. More EVs are now sold each week than in the whole year of 2012. Where once Tesla was the only real household name in the industry, they have been usurped by BYD in global sales. Volkswagen further expect to catch, and surpass, Tesla in the next few years. And, in the meantime, Formula E continues to display in a spectacular manner just what the coming generation of EVs are to be capable of - not just in terms of performance.

Next year, Maserati will join the competition as the Gen3 cars come into force - more efficient and powerful electrical motors, front and rear powertrains, lighter overall vehicles - and a new record total of 18 races across 13 cities will be on the calendar as the competition expands and improves once again. India and Brazil are brand new territories for the championship, with the likes of Seoul, Monaco, Jakarta and London again hosting race weekends.

But it has always needed to be more than just about the races for Formula E, which from 2023 when the latest technological advancements which will be implemented, earns the right to tag itself “the world’s first net zero carbon race car in the world’s first net zero carbon sport”.

The supply chain conforms to sustainability checks, the end-of-life plan for more components of the vehicles than ever are accounted and planned for and, yes, better agility and speed on street circuits are expected.

But that’s all in the slightly longer-term future.

More immediate is this weekend’s trip to Brooklyn and while it brings one of the most iconic street races around, it could be the last trip there for some time. New York does not feature on next year’s calendar and, at present, there’s no guarantee of when it might return.

The unpredictability in the drivers’ championship is another key drawing point for FE.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Last year, Nyck de Vries was the winner, driving for Mercedes-EQ. This time around he’s down in seventh, with Swiss racer Edoardo Mortara leading the pack heading into the last six races, 11 points clear ahead of New York. He’s aiming to add his name to the history books with a fifth consecutive podium, with only two others having done so in FE, but ahead of the Brooklyn races he highlighted just how tough it is to compete in a variable sport still in its relative infancy.

“It [Formula E] is the most challenging championship I’ve ever done. But this year, what is pretty incredible is that the four of us in front in the championship have got a pretty good points scoring average. If you think about the rules that we have in Formula E, it shows that we’re really doing a very good job,” he said.

New York was not kind to him 12 months ago as he qualified last after car issues, but he points out the circuit offers lots of chance for moving up the grid.

“I think that it’s a fantastic event. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Formula E to come to race in New York. It’s a very prestigious city and to have the chance to race there, it is truly amazing.

“I think that in general the races there are always quite fun to watch. Because of the track characteristics you get really long straights, so it tends to give good race shows because it’s quite easy actually to overtake.”

Whether that track characteristic works in his favour this time around could prove decisive in terms of the championship, but regardless of who triumphs, Formula E’s impact on motor racing in general and inclination to push technological boundaries show no signs of abating any time soon.

The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship’s most extensive calendar to date continues in New York City this Saturday 16 July & Sunday 17 July live on Eurosport 1 with coverage from 18:00 BST.

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