With the first race in Saudi Arabia, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship started its fifth season on 15 December. Eleven teams are competing in 2018/2019, each with two vehicles, in this all electric-vehicle racing series. The championship will be decided in 13 races in twelve cities on five continents. Famous riders include Formula 1 veteran Felipe Massa, Nelson Piquet Jr, Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi and, of course, the winner of the 2017/2018 series Jean-Eric Vergne.

Unlike conventional racing series, the Formula E starts just before the end of the year, when Formula 1 has a break. And it concludes with two races on July 13th and 14th in New York.

No change of vehicles anymore

Compared to the past years, there are a number of changes and innovations in the new season. For starters the second generation vehicles (GEN2). have twice the storage capacity compared to their predecessors. This enables them to complete the entire race distance. A vehicle change in the middle of the race, as was previously the case because of the insufficient range, is therefore obsolete. 

The maximum power of the fast cars increased from 200 kW (GEN1) to 250 kW (GEN2), of which 200 kW are now available instead of 180 in racing. This allows acceleration from 0 to 100 km / h in just 2.8 seconds. The top speed is 280 km / h.

In addition, the GEN2 race cars are equipped with a so-called ‘brake-by-wire system’, which is used in Formula 1. It electronically distributes the braking power at the rear axle to the electric motor and the brake discs. That way the highest possible recuperation, i.e. energy recovery when braking with the electric motor, increases from 150 kW to 250 kW.

The capacity of the batteries, so far 33 kilowatt hours (kWh), is now 54 kWh. However, the batteries are also heavier. Their weight is now 280 instead of the previous 230 kilograms. The minimum weight of the racing cars was therefore raised from 880 to 900 kilograms.

Jean-Eric Vergne, reigning champion and DS TECHEETAH driver, says: “For someone who’s been with the series since pretty much the start, I’ve personally seen how Formula E has taken big strides – not only with the performance of the car, but by implementing new ideas.”

Also new is the fact that the races end after 45 minutes and one lap, not after a certain number of kilometers or laps. The organizers believe that this will provide more suspense. Also new is the so-called ‘Hyperboost’. In the process, drivers selected in advance by the fans can use additional 25 kW for overtaking. For that pupose they have to drive through a special activation zone, which can be seen on site or on television. Then for a few minutes they have 225 kW instead of 200 kW available. The power mode is signalled to the spectators via different colours on the helmet of the driver. Let’s hope that the fans understand that, too.

Alejandro Agag, Founder & CEO of Formula E, says: “Formula E broke the mould by being the first to go electric – so it’s clear we aren’t scared of trying new things.” Whether that’s introducing new on-track innovations or tweaking the format of the race, or creating new ways for fans to follow or interact with the sport.”

He adds: “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and this is the year where the ABB FIA Formula E Championship comes of age.”

The organisers and backers of Formula E expect the new season to bring the big breakthrough. This is supported by the fact that none other than FIA boss Jean Todt, whose organization is also responsible for the Formula 1, is supporting this race series in person. In addition, Formula E 2018/2019 has been able to gain new manufacturers as well as new sponsors.

The most important new manufacturer is BMW, currently technical partner of the team of Mario Andretti. In the future, BMW will be there with a complete manufacturer team alongside competitors such as Audi, DS, Jaguar, NIO, Nissan and Venturi in the racing series. Next year Porsche and Mercedes also want to get involved in Formula E racing. That could provide suspense, which one painfully missed in F1 the face of the dominance of Mercedes.

ARD and ZDF broadcast live

Particularly interesting for the German motorsport fans is the fact that the complete Formula E racing series is alternately transmitted by the two public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF. Ali Russell, Media & Business Development Director at Formula E, says: “Germany is a key market for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship and it’s imperative we remain free-to-air, to ensure our fans can keep up with the fastest-moving series in motorsport.”

It will be interesting to know what the fans think about the long breaks between races. After all, it’s roughly five months between the end of the season in New York and the start of the 2019/2020 series. And, after the first race in Riyadh, the series continues on to Marrakech one month later, on January 12, 2019. Both races can be seen on the ZDF live stream. The races in Monaco on May 11 and Berlin on May 25 will be broadcast by the ARD. The event in Rome on April 13th will be live on ZDF. How the two TV stations split the other races, is still open.

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