When the checkered flag falls in Seoul on Sunday, Formula E will have completed its 100th race. It’s a long way from the humble beginnings of the series: a shared idea of Formula E president Alejandro Agag and FIA president Jean Todt, noted on a napkin in 2011. In three years, a group launched the world’s first all-electric single-seater. championship. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“The people we knew laughed at the venture,” Alberto Longo, Formula E co-founder and chief championship officer, said during a media call last week. “And now look how far we’ve come.”
Longo’s assessment is correct. Indeed, Formula E has come a long way since season 1 and that first race at the Beijing Olympic Park. Most notably, the series has become a hotbed for innovation with a number of automakers drafting teams. Mahindra has been there from the start, with the likes of Audi, BMW, DS, Jaguar, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, Renault and others. Several teams – such as Mahindra, Venturi and Andretti – have also remained active in Formula E since that first season.
“Race 100 is a huge confirmation of the work people have done,” Longo said. “Everyone said we would fail.”
With all that in the past, there is only one driver ready to compete in all 100 E-Prix: Season 3 Champion Lucas di Grassi. He also won the first-ever race in 2014 and has since racked up 13 wins and 38 podium finishes. This weekend in Seoul, he’s about to eclipse 1,000 career points. So he knows a thing or two about how far the series has come.
“Since Season 1, there have been huge changes,” di Grassi said during a media roundtable. “It has matured and it has changed from something new and full of doubts to something that has delivered on its promises.” He explained that Formula E is now just like any other racing series when you look at teams that have come and gone, and those that may return.
The Gen2 car debuted in 2018/19 for Season 5 with double the energy storage capacity of Gen1, meaning teams no longer had to trade in cars during the race – if at all, for that matter. Sure the cars are faster, but one car per driver also meant that there was a lot more at stake during E-Prix weekends.
“When we went from Gen1 to Gen2, you could really see the technology starting to work,” Longo said. “We’ve moved from using two cars to just one car.”
Gen2 also debuted a more “Batmobile-esque” design, with more power and a top speed of 174 MPH. One of the unique elements of Formula E, Attack Mode, also came with Gen 2, giving drivers a timed power boost. The only downside is that they have to leave the main race line to activate it, which may mean sacrificing your position for the extra power.
“The technology is only getting better and the cars are getting faster and faster,” explains di Grassi. “Every month, battery technology, powertrain technology and so on is evolving. It’s still in its relative infancy and we’re still going to see great leaps forward.”
Like any sport in the world, Formula E in 2020 had to deal with the effects of a global pandemic. The series had only completed five races by the end of February when everyone everywhere went into lockdown due to COVID-19. The season was discontinued in mid-March. Formula E would appear in Berlin in August, with six E-Prix in nine days at Tempelhof airport.
“Looking back, those six races in Berlin were very important for us,” said Longo. “During COVID, we managed to mitigate the risk of travel and close the season.”