Formula 1 Racing isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but electrification is changing the way people are looking at racing. The prime example is Formula E. For that matter, it seems that everything in the automotive world is heading toward electrification. Ford is even coming out with an electric F150 that can rival the V6 gas-powered models.
The Promise and Pitfalls of Electric Car Racing
Only seven years old, Formula E is strictly for electric race cars. You can bet that the motorsport has had a slow start. Its cars don’t yet match their gas-powered counterparts for horsepower and speed, but it’s more than that.
When the races started in 2014, battery life would shorten the race. A racecar driver had to stop about 30 or 40 minutes into the race. Rather than swap batteries, they’d just swap cars.
Still, that didn’t always work. Sometimes they would find their battery had gone out while they were away from the appointed pitstop.
More recently, in a spring 2021 race, 1 out of 2 drivers miscalculated their battery strength and didn’t finish the race. Their battery life is much better, but it can’t quite make the whole race apparently.
Batteries and chargers are evolving quickly. Soon it will be possible for a Formula E driver to stop to recharge during a pit stop. We’re talking 30 or 60 seconds off the track with the right charger and battery.
Racing served as a laboratory for gas-powered cars over the years, and Formula E is a laboratory for the application and development of electric vehicles. The race cars are gaining horsepower and high levels of torque, bringing them closer to their goal of matching Formula 1 pacing and excitement.
One big aspect of the sport is energy management. It is a logical area of research for car companies, given the way that electric cars started out. The first ones had very limited range. Now Ford is talking about an electric F150 with a range of 250 or 300 miles.
The new sport has attracted ten manufacturers. At this point in the game, the participating brands are looking for marketing as much as a win. They are also working on motor design and software improvements that may show up in their regular vehicles.
There’s plenty of pushback from Formula 1 enthusiasts, but it doesn’t stop the electric car races from catching the public’s attention. Seeing is believing, and the city-based racing is designed to create an audience for the sport.
There’s definitely a big difference between watching a gas or diesel powered car run a race and watching electric cars do the exact same thing. It’s the simple lack of sound. There’s no growling or roaring. It’s a quiet whirring, if you are close enough to hear anything.
This factor is one of the biggest in how people are viewing electric car racing. Some consider it a fad while others simply aren’t interested in a sport where the cars don’t have the muscular look or sound that you’d find at a NASCAR track.
The Coming Wave
What will benefit Formula E is the coming wave of electric vehicles. Already Lexus can claim 33 percent of their cars are electrified. That’s one out of three new Lexus with hybrid or pure electric powertrains. Many manufacturers have stated their intention to go electric or to have more electric cars by 2025 or 2030 at the latest.
High torque output is about to push a number of electric trucks into the marketplace. These show that electric vehicles can develop the capability to race.
Here’s a prime example.
Ford will be launching the F150 Lightning as a 2022 model. More than a tweaked F150, this is really a model in its own right. Completely electric, it never needs gas. It is strictly a plug-in truck. Furthermore, it generates 775 pound-feet of torque to give it a huge advantage when pulling a load.
This is Ford’s answer to newcomers like Tesla and Rivian. The manufacturer has overcome battery range limitations without sacrificing the truck’s capability and, therefore, its speed. In fact, journalists who have been lucky enough to ride along with an F150 Lightning driver have seen just how fast these trucks can go. The 563-horsepower battery allows this truck to make the highway sprint in just 4.5 seconds.
If a giant pickup truck, weighing over 7,000 pounds, can travel between cities without needing a charge, that’s a sign that soon Formula E race cars will be able to compete at the same level as Formula.
Of course, it won’t happen overnight. Nothing good ever does. But it is something to look forward to as the sport of automotive racing stretches its wings and finds another way to fly.