Can Formula E ever compete with Formula One?

It has been a rather massive week for the newest world motorsport competition. After Mercedes and Porsche  declaring their entry into the sport, and Di Grassi coming back against the odds going into the final 4 races to take an unlikely championship, Formula E as a sport has made its intentions to become a massive world sensation. They have the big team backing, with Audi, Mercedes, Renault, BMW, Citroen, Jaguar and Porsche all either in the sport now or confirmed to join in the future. Formula E also has a captivating rivalry at the top of the sport between the ultra aggressive and naturally talented Red Bull protégée in Switzerland’s Sebastian Buemi, and the more charismatic and more complete – although less spectacular driver in Brazil’s Lucas Di Grassi – two drivers who actually despise each other.  Seemingly, Formula E also has the technology for the future which more car manufacturers are getting behind than say, the diesel hybrid of the World Endurance Series or the turbo hybrid Formula One cars.

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Lucas Di Grassi clinched his first Formula E crown on Sunday (Image: Autosport)

However, albeit only three years old, Formula E does appear to be looked down on by the vast majority of Formula One fans. Why is this? and can the attitude change to the lengths that Formula E starts challenging Formula One for popularity?

One reason why Formula E is currently looked down on  by many F1 fans is the speed of the cars. The current top speed of a Formula E car is 140MPH, that is slower than Touring Cars. This lack of speed does grate a bit, especially when compared to a Formula 1 car which can go over 80MPH quicker. The second issue is towards a lot of the circuits. Although the Mexico City layout, and the Quebec layout for example, work very well, there are too many circuits which are simply too tight that it makes it impossible for racing without there being a crash. Although this makes Formula E arguably more unforgiving than F1, it also restricts overtaking and excitement. This is something Formula E must solve in the future.

Thirdly there is the issue which the quality of the drivers versus Formula One. The three current champions; Nelson Piquet Jr, Sebastien Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi; although the latter wasn’t arguably given a fair crack of the whip; are all seen as formal F1 rejects with 1 podium between them, and that podium was fortunate at best. Away from the champions, the rest of the grid is made up of what can really be described as F1 rejects (Jerome D’Ambrosio, Jean Eric Vergne), those in last chance saloon before retirement (Nick Heidfeld, Stéphane Sarrazin), and those who weren’t quite good enough to make it to F1 (Sam Bird, Mitch Evans, Robin Frijns). This type of quality can make some F1 fans see Formula E as another poor attempt to create a less viable Formula One like A1GP and Superleague Formula before it. The other issue is that gimmicky ideas such as ‘fanboost’, can make Formula E seem more like Mario Kart than a serious rival to Formula One. This, along with the noise –  or lack of noise, explains its lowly thought among some F1 fans.

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Nelson Piquet Jr, Formula E’s first champion, is not remembered well in Formula One circles

However, as an F1 fan, who although skeptical at first, has grown to enjoy Formula E, I can see its popularity rising year by year. Firstly, the cars are getting quicker year by year, as the tracks are getting better to match it. Secondly, the improvement of technology within the first three years of the sport has made Formula E the most futuristic and pioneering form of Motorsport for the future of the Automotive industry, and this has started a ‘race for arms’ which will only work in the sports benefit. Formula E has attracted Porsche and Audi so much that they have  pulled out of the World Endurance Championship and the DTM respectively, lowering two premier racing class pedigree in return to bolstering Formula E.

Thirdly, as said before, although the drivers are clearly not as good as Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel,  they do still create excitement. In the very first race, the race ended in a spectacular collision between Nico Prost and Nick Heidfeld while fighting over the win. To add to this, the race at Mexico City this season is the best race I have seen all year, the 1st race last weekend in Quebec had all the tension of a classic end of season battle while last year’s finale in London created a level of rivalry and controversy which Formula One needed Vettel to deliberately crash into Hamilton to match. In short, the lack of superstars do not limit excitement. The issue of superstars may start be solved soon however, especially if the rumour that Nico Rosberg is planning to front Mercedes entry in 2019 turn out to be true. As mentioned before, a lot of stuff with Formula E is gimmicky, but it engages fans in a lot better way than F1 has been managed.

So can Formula E challenge F1? I would say if Bernie Ecclestone was still in charge of the sport – yes. However Liberty Medias running of the sport is a lot more fan friendly and looks to have the aim of splitting the races between the heartlands of motorsport and new markets more to the sensible level that is currently in Formula E than Ecclestone’s attitude of selling races to the highest bidder. Most of all, although Formula E will become more popular, I get the feeling that driving for a Formula E team will be like playing for a mid-table Premier League team, while any seat in Formula One will always be the Champions League. Since Buemi has impressed in Formula E, Renault have, instead of building a brand behind him in Formula E, have instead simply discussed the idea of bringing him back to Formula One, showing which one manufacturers still value more. Finally, there will be a point where Formula E will become a victim of its own success, and at that point Formula One will incorporate the technology and knock the uniqueness out of this new Formula of racing.

The simple message is, enjoy two forms of premier racing while you can, as one will probably eradicate the other 20 years down the line.

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