How Formula E is showing up everyone else

No longer the odd-kid on the block, the all-electric Motorsport has been turning the heads of its older siblings.

When Formula E was announced, it was a bold venture toward a brave new world. The concept of electric cars has been kicking around ever since the first combustion engines rolled out from behind factory doors. And yet, it is only now that battery technology is approaching the point where consumer electric vehicles are just as viable as traditional engines. But what about racing?

From the moment Formula E made its announcement, the series was faced with torrents of comments deriding the very concept of an electric Motorsport. Yes, many wanted to see the fledgling sport fall on its face–but it has done anything but. Although the race lengths and speeds are highly limited by the current generation of batteries, the cars still manage to pack in a sizable dose of high-octane (high-watt?) excitement for those willing to look past the silly little whistle they make as they go ‘round.

With top speeds of 140 MPH over race lengths of 50 minutes, the sport has been doing well to attract the core Motorsport audience, but the true success lies in the way that Formula E engages the fan-base like no other Motorsport.

The advent of social media and on-demand content has proven to be a disruptive technology to even the most stable and sometimes entrenched series–such as Formula 1. One could argue that the entire impetus behind Liberty Media’s purchase of the sport was driven by the opportunity they found to utterly revamp the way that the sport engages, maintains, and grows its fanbase. The big-daddy of open-wheel racing has certainly done a better job as of late, but it and many others are being shown up by Formula E.

By stark contrast, Formula E thrives on the fact that its races are primarily conducted on temporary street circuits erected in many metropolitan cities. Not only do vast skylines and towering buildings provide the perfect backdrop that FE is striving to cultivate for itself, but any event that forces the centre of a city to shut down for a weekend will draw plenty of attention, and plenty of potential new fans as well.

This, in combination with the incredibly consistent and aggressive social media marketing policy that the sport is pushing, has given FE a headstart in many regards. By aligning themselves closely with major tech giants such as SONY and–more importantly–the video gaming wing of the company, Formula E is clearly staking its claim in the future. The focus isn’t just on now, it’s always about what’s next; what’s coming around the corner.

But, of course, we had to save the best for last. Many are aware of the KERS system employed by F1 cars. In short, the cars are able to store kinetic energy generated by the brake discs and convert it into a small and tactical boost of power to their engine–perfect for clutch overtaking moments. This is readily available to every F1 driver–and here’s where FE puts a whole different spin on it.

FE has a similar system known as “Fan Boost”. The “Fan Boost” works similarly as KERS when it is deployed–it gives the driver a once-a-race-chance to give their engine a small pip to its power in the hopes of catching an opponent or pulling away on a straight. But this isn’t just available to each driver. It’s available to a pool of three drivers put forth each race–of which only one gets the boost. In effect, the fans have a very real chance of influencing a driver’s chances of winning a fight out on track.
Now, that sort of design in regard to fan engagement? That’s just plain brilliant.

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