For decades, Formula 1 has reigned supreme as the pinnacle of motorsport, captivating audiences worldwide with its high-speed races, cutting-edge technology and iconic teams and drivers. With its further rise in popularity thanks to the Netflix series Drive To Survive, the sport has seen a rejuvenation as a new generation of fans have flocked to the sport, with social media strengthening that connection and a whole host of new race locations added year on year. Despite an exponentially growing audience, Formula 1 is continuously faced with the issue of its impact on the environment, and whilst the cars themselves don’t emit a lot of emissions, it’s the transportation of cars and team personnel to each race that’s the major player in Formula 1’s carbon footprint.
With growing environmental pressures, Formula E has arguably come in at the right time to introduce its approach to greener racing. Although Formula E has the same issue as Formula 1 when it comes to its carbon footprint between races, both parties are trying to reduce their overall emissions in other areas such as banning the sale of single-use plastics in the venues, for example. Although there isn’t a Netflix-style show for Formula E (yet), it’s become especially popular with the younger generation, a key demographic for all branches of motorsport.
To understand the progress of Formula E, we have to go all the way back to where it started for the series. With its first season in 2014, Formula E has transformed the motorsport scene, introducing wheel-to-wheel racing in locations that are easy to reach. Racing predominantly on street tracks, Formula E makes sure that there are sufficient ways to get to its locations without emitting any unnecessary emissions. For example, London ExCeL, the venue for the London E-Prix, is well connected to a number of public transport links, thus reducing the need to drive to the event in a car.
With most major cities hosting the Formula E races as well, the series not only promotes clean energy but also provides a platform for urban development, further enhancing its appeal in an environmentally conscious world. When you compare this to some of the Formula 1 venues, most of which a historically well-known, with legendary circuits such as Monza, Silverstone, and Zandvoort to name a few, these are much larger and serve as full-time racetracks as opposed to 100 per cent of Formula E’s venues, which are all temporary fixtures, further reducing its impact on the environment.
While Formula E may not yet match the speeds of Formula 1 cars, it offers its unique brand of competitive racing. The tight street circuits and relatively short races create intense and unpredictable action, making it exciting for fans. With Formula E hosting the majority of its races in developing cities like Hyderabad, India or in major cities such as Berlin, Germany, the atmosphere also clearly caters to a younger audience as the series positions to be as popular, if not more, than Formula 1. Additionally, Formula E has attracted a diverse grid of talented drivers, including former Formula 1 racers, which adds to the series’ appeal.
That being said, Formula 1 has always been one of the most popular sports in the world, so it’s no surprise that its viewership is considerably bigger than Formula E’s, with the all-electric racing series only achieving around 216 million live viewers for its 2021/2022 season. In contrast, Formula 1’s cumulative TV audience for 2021 was a whopping 1.5 billion – that’s nearly seven times greater than Formula E’s viewership in the same timeframe.
Despite the large number of viewers, Formula 1 has a huge flaw, all too common in recent decades. The domination of teams such as Mercedes-AMG Petronas (Mercedes) and now Oracle Red Bull Racing (Red Bull) has resulted in a lack of variety when it comes to race winners and podium finishers. This now seems to be a major issue as the last decade in Formula 1 has only seen four world champions being crowned: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, and Max Verstappen. It’s even more poignant with the 2023 season, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claiming 13 wins from 17 races, building his foundation as one of the most successful drivers of all time.
It’s domination like this that we don’t really see in Formula E as all cars share the same basic chassis, with very minor adjustments to the aerodynamics permitted. Where the teams can really shine is the powertrain, with teams often implementing this technology into their road cars, such as Jaguar with the I-Pace, for example. With the 2022/2023 season concluding in London, the fight for both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship was won on that weekend, and compared to Formula E, Formula 1 has only had two instances in the last decade where the Championship was won in the final round of a season.
When you compare the technical side of both series, there’s no doubt Formula 1’s technology is many years ahead of any other racing series, but Formula E should be celebrated, too. Formula 1 teams spend years and years to make cars just a few hundredths of a second quicker, altering everything from the wing mirrors to the suspension. Formula E teams really focus on the powertrain, as that’s the main component of driving the car they can change, ensuring it’s as efficient with its charge as possible. There’s no doubt that Formula 1 has the faster car, with a top speed of 230 mph, compared to Formula E’s 200 mph – it’s still no slouch!
One thing to look out for is the upcoming Formula E film titled Breakneck, which will be produced by Ted Field, the producer behind Jumanji: The Next Level. It features a story about a female driver who tries to balance life between getaway driving and Formula E racing. With this film set to be Formula E’s chance at capturing worldwide media attention, all eyes are on this project, which currently doesn’t have a release date.
While Formula E may not have reached the same level of popularity as Formula 1 yet, it is steadily gaining ground due to its commitment to sustainability, technological innovation, competitive racing, fan engagement, and significant investment. As the world transitions to a more sustainable future and electric vehicles become increasingly prevalent, Formula E‘s relevance and popularity are likely to grow. While it may never fully replace Formula 1, it has the potential to carve out its own significant niche in the world of motorsport, appealing to a new generation of fans who are passionate about sustainability and innovation. Only time will tell whether Formula E will ultimately become as popular as Formula 1, but its trajectory is certainly promising.
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