FE car rear

Rise of the Machines : Formula E – Gen 2


Formula E Gen 2 - explained

Formula E turns five this year. Forget the party hats and balloons: the series has got itself a stupendous new racing car instead.

Formula E’s fifth season will get off the line in December in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The sport has come a long way in the past four years – mocked by many in the motorsport world at first before grudgingly respected for surviving and delivering some pretty tasty wheel-to-wheel racing. Now, the category is widely seen as the place to be by top car manufacturers and, increasingly, by racing drivers themselves.


Just look at the names now associated with the series. Heineken and Bosch recently signed up as sponsors, joining series title sponsor ABB, Swiss bank Julius Baer and a raft of names more familiar from racing (such as Michelin, TAG Heuer, DHL and BMW).

Three defectors from F1 have joined the driver field for season five: Vandoorne, Wehrlein and Massa. Susie Wolff, former DTM racer and F1 test driver (and married to Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff) has been installed as team principal at Monaco-based Venturi while multiple WEC champion Allan McNish continues to direct operations at Audi.

Racing locations have already included London, New York, Montreal, Paris, Monaco, Hong Kong, Beijing, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Zurich, Rome and Mexico City.

And the manufacturers keep rolling in: Nissan, BMW and Mercedes-linked HWA join OEM works entries from Audi, Jaguar, DS Automobiles, Nio and Mahindra, with Mercedes and Porsche signed up for next year. Plus, McLaren is now in charge of making the race batteries which all teams must use, taking over from Williams.

The 2018-19 season is The Big One. It’s the one where Formula E drops its much-derided car swaps (yes, the original car could only go to half-distance before running out of battery; drivers will need just one car now to complete a full race) and so an entirely new car seems appropriate.

So. Here it is, the car that all teams will use from season five onwards in Formula E. It’s called the Gen2 and it’s designed and built by Spark in conjunction with Dallara (similar to the first gen Formula E car). It’s all-electric, rear-wheel-drive and it looks thoroughly naughty.

Just look at those split rear wings, that cavernous rear diffuser, the exposed rear wheels and the sinuous F35-style lines around the cockpit. Even the mandatory halo safety ring around the cockpit has been spiced up with the addition of fancy coloured LEDs which do marvellous flashing things. The Gen2 is really a cartoon car brought to life. It looks incredible and it’s the sort of thing that F1 has been hankering after doing for years.

All teams will use identical chassis (including a monstrous 385kg race battery which reportedly has something near double the energy capacity of the previous edition) but from the battery back is each manufacturer’s domain. That means motor, transmission and the rear suspension. Wheels are free choice (within specified parameters) but the tyres are all supplied by Michelin. They’re a bit more race-like than the rubber rings used in previous years (which were virtually standard 18” road tyres) but they are still treaded and designed to be used in both wet and dry conditions.

The Gen2 car is reckoned to be capable of more than 174mph, although top speed is not really something Formula E worries too much about given the tight, twisty nature of the street courses it inhabits. Zero-to-sixty is expected to be in the range of 2.6 seconds. Slow it is not.

Reliability thus far seems to be pretty good but there are a few issues. For one, that front end section is huge: the nose and front wheel fairings are all one piece. It has quick-release mechanisms so it can all be swapped in one go in case of damage but that is not going to be a cheap repair and spare parts will take up a lot of space.

(There is a LOT of bodywork in general, actually. The mechanics and engineers say the car is actually pretty easy to work on – once all the bodywork is stripped away. Again, how this will play out when parts need changing under time-pressured race-day conditions remains to be seen.)

FE car rear

At the other end of the car, the rear diffuser adds so much more downforce than the front wing balancing the aero is going to be tricky. That’s not ideal for anything that relies on front downforce. Like steering, for instance.

The drivers love the new machine, however. Not only does it handle better than the first-gen machine, it looks truly unique. It’s sexy. It’s faster. It’s far more advanced in many areas, including a new brake-by-wire system which takes a lot of the guesswork out of adjusting brake bias on the fly, which needs to be done from lap to lap as regen levels and battery charge status change. Before now, drivers have had to manage this manually on the go; changing this system will allow the drivers to focus far more on the task at hand – overtaking the car in front.

No one is quite sure how the grid will form up in Riyadh in just a few short weeks. The BMW cars look pretty quick and there seem to be some worried rumbles surrounding the Audi drivetrain. Really, though, it will all come down to that first race day.

What else have you got to look forward to in December?