Formula E

Top 5 Reasons To Watch Formula E (And 3 Reasons To Skip It)

Nissan just sent out a press release called Top Five Reasons Why You Should Watch Formula E. You know, Formula E, the all-electric, open wheel racing series with a ton of manufacturer support and sometimes touted as the future of racing. Nissan was the first Japanese manufacturer to race in Formula E, and The Nissan e.dams team finished second last season. With the sixth season of Formula E upon us, Nissan is asking a good question: why should we be interested in this?

What Is Formula E?

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship started in 2014 and is the world’s first Motorsport series that uses only electric vehicles. The series started literally on the back of a napkin, and has grown to include 24 drivers and 12 teams who compete in 14 races spread across five continents for the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy. Notable manufacturers involved with Formula E include Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Porsche.

Some Limitations To Formula E

The reasons why I don’t follow Formula E are fairly basic and straightforward. Look, I think it’s a good idea, overall. By now it’s plenty clear we’re poisoning ourselves to extinction and we have to change our ways. And I’m a firm believer the quickest way to better, safer, more efficient, and higher-performing road cars is through racing. But I think, currently, Formula E falls flat for a few major reasons.

I think its technologically-limited, or perhaps it’s better to say immature. Getting the cars to run for an appreciable distance seems to be hard at least right now. Another chink in the armor are the tracks Formula E races on. They’re all temporary street circuits, and those suck for a bunch of reasons: no run-offs, limited fan sight lines, and limited passing. However, they work for one big one: The festival atmosphere that attracts lots of people, lots of eyeballs, and lots of sponsorship dollars.

But the cars sound terrible.

Here are Nissan’s top five reasons why you should watch Formula E, along with a few reasons why you might want to pass.

Formula E Grid
SAUDIA Diriyah E-Prix grid. Photo: Courtesy of Formula E.

Top Five Reasons To Watch Formula E

Reason #1: The Future Is Electric

Okay, I can’t really argue with that. It was a major theme at SEMA this year and also at the Los Angeles Auto Show right now.

Reason #2: Racing Series For a New Generation

According to Nissan, Formula E is designed from the get-go with younger fans in mind. From the gamification of the races themselves to how you watch, Formula E is chocked full of stuff that “the youngs” like. Or, it’s more accurate to say it’s filled with stuff a bunch of 50-something ad and marketing execs in Paris think you want. Ultimately it will be up to the younger generations to decide what they want for themselves.

However, as other longstanding racing series face attendance concerns, perhaps Formula E is onto something.

Reason #3: Formula E Is Action-Packed

While Nissan claims this, Formula E is only action-packed insofar as any other street race is. And the reason street races are so action-packed is because it is very, very easy to make mistakes due to the lack of run-offs. Even the slightest mistake usually results in an accident (again, due to the lack of run-offs). In other words, Formula E is “action-packed” if you consider crashing synonymous with action. If you consider passing synonymous with action there’s never much of that on a street course, regardless of motive power or environmental credibility.

Formula E
Photo: Nissan North America.

Reason #4: Formula E Adapts As Technology Advances

Well duh! Show me a series that doesn’t advance right along with technology. Seriously. Give me one example of a worldwide Motorsport that is not more technologically-advanced today than it was 25 years ago. How Nissan is spinning this as a distinct advantage when it’s a characteristic across all of Motorsports is beyond me.

Reason #5: Formula E Is Up Close

This is my favorite non-dividend. To hear Nissan tell it as an advantage actually makes us cite it as a reason to skip Formula E altogether. Nissan says that because the races are free from the “deafening noise and exhaust emissions” usually associated with Motorsports, they can take place in the middle of the city. This makes them easier to attend for urban audiences and adds a more spectacular backdrop, according to Nissan.

Because Monaco isn’t extravagant enough.

Formula E NYC
New York City E-Prix. Photo: Courtesy of LAT/Formula E.

Top Three Reasons To Skip Formula E

Reason #1: No Deafening Noise

Despite what Nissan says, you’re not free from the deafening noise associated with Motorsports, you’re robbed of it. Being able to hear high-power engines completely uncorked, up close and personal, is one of the best things about going and seeing a race live. That’s not a benefit, that’s a mistake.

Reason #2: Racing Is Not a Popularity Contest

Formula E has all these “novel features” designed to appeal to the younger crowd. Stuff like Fanboost that lets fans influence the races by voting for their favorite drivers online. The five drivers receiving the most votes get an additional five-kilowatt power boost to use during the second half of the race. For example, you can vote for Nissan e.dams drivers by tweeting “#SebastienBuemi #FANBOOST” and “#OliverRowland #FANBOOST.”

To me, that ‘s one of the things I dislike most about Formula E. If they were to do away with that, I’d probably watch it and respect it more. Back in the Maverick Era of Formula 1, it was about driving as hard and as fast as you could, not about how many likes you had on social media.

One bonus here is the ability to watch full races and practice sessions on YouTube. Although, the streaming stuff is a gimme and all series should be doing this.

Reason #3: Short Is Not Always Sweet

Other new generational selling points include the races lasting only 45 minutes or so to keep the attention focused on the race. Nissan and other proponents say this makes every mistake or misstep that much more critical. Yet keeping the races short just seems like another way of condescending to young people by saying, “Ah, you children just can’t concentrate for very long, so we’ll keep things short.”

People don’t seem to lose interest at Indy or Daytona or, well, Le Mans, so I’m not buying that argument much.

Considerations For Formula E

I do appreciate Nissan’s effort and the series does show promise. If I were running Formula E, I would make them race on real tracks; places like the road course at Indianapolis, Spa, The ‘Ring, Suzuka, Interlagos and such. Make them run for real distances; 250 miles sounds about right. Make the races long enough so you have to recharge; and absolutely NO car swapping like they did in the past, that was a travesty. This way we get pit strategy and racing, which will provide a better proving ground for the technology that will make everyday EVs more efficient.

I say in May 2020 (the new) Formula E should show up at the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and be ready for a 100 lap, flat-out, green-to-checker, capital-R Race. C’mon Nissan (and Audi and Mercedes and Porsche and Jaguar and BMW et al) put your money where the ground is, and then I’ll pay attention.

Oh, and do something about that engine note, please?

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz