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It’s the Drivers, Not the Cars: The Formula E Championship Series

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While many blogs have featured topics revolving around self-driving cars, automobile companies, and the industry’s “capital”, Detroit, another interesting aspect of the auto industry is that of automobile racing. Whether it’s Nascar, Formula 1, or the newly created Formula E series, one question that is frequently been asked about automobile racing’s from its avid fans is whether or not victories (either in Nascar, Formula 1, or Formula E) are attributed to the technology of the car or to the actual skill of the driver. Give of take, it’s a little bit of both, but specifically, if someone were to look at Formula E, a championship series that began just last year comprised of only electric cars, it’s apparent that the difference between first and second is its drivers and their team’s teamwork. This is due to the fact that all the electric cars within the series have equivalent technology and batteries, which makes it easy to compare between the driver as the victory or technology within automobiles as the credited victor. Lucas di Grassi, a driver at the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team commented on this one of a kind equivalency stating, “When the development of a car is free- like in World Endurance Championships and Formula One- you can develop the car forever, so the car makes more difference than the driver. Here, everybody has the same car, same aerodynamics, same brakes, same everything”. Di Grassi continued by describing a new addition to this season Formula E’s cars: “What changes is the drivetrain. The drivetrains are better or worse, but they are within maybe two or three tenths of a second. And two or three tenths on tracks like these, the driver makes more difference than the drivetrain.” In essence, Formula E has much less dependency on telemetry and other computerized aids used in the tires and brakes than those cars in Formula 1 and WEC. Therefore, because of these unknown circumstances with tires and breaks, Formula E drivers constantly have to be aware of their car’s movements, which makes the job much more difficult difficult since it requires so much attention to detail and knowledge. As a result, Formula E teams seek only the best, most-experienced drivers. For example, Mark Preston, team principal of Team Aguri, referred to his driver Antonio Felix da Costa’s skillset by stating, “The skill level, the experience that Antonio brought from running on the simulator in Red Bull, and being very good at energy management in Formula One, helped us a lot, it made him more of a natural at it”. Preston also noted that in Formula E “the workload in it is pretty high,” and so, he added, “the capability, that’s the difference.” Additionally, not only are the Formula E cars all the same, but they also have a certain limit on their amount of engine power. In most other series, the cars have a limit on engine size, but within that the teams try to produce as much power as possible. But in Formula E, the amount of battery power per car is limited to 170 kilowatts during the race and 200 kilowatts during qualifying. Another factor in this equation that results in a more equal ratio between the importance of the driver and his machine is that the races take place on street circuits that create little grip and control for the drivers. So unlike Formula 1 or the WEC, Formula E’s tracks require a level of precise driving that is rarely needed on permanent race tracks. Therefore, if someone where to look at Formula E, a strong case can be made that it’s the drivers that matter and not the cars, which can provide more competition among drivers and hopefully can become one of the premier auto racing series in this eco-friendly future.




  1. adamsm19

    This article raises a pertinent issue about how the innovations in automobile technology will impact racing. For racing, be it NASCAR or Formula 1, to be appealing to spectators, it will have to hinge on the skill of the driver behind the wheel and not the technology of the car, assuming that all the cars have similar technology. This desire to exhibit drivers’ skill is in direct conflict with autonomous vehicles.

    May 19, 2016
  2. platte16

    I do not think autonomous cars will make NASCAR unappealing to the current spectators. In my opinion, drivers will still need to be present either in the car or to fix repairs on the technology. Currently, drivers want the best technology to create the most power and best car on the track. Autonomous technology would just be a continuation of this process. The people directly involved, though, may shift towards those trained in computer technology and mechanics rather than driving abilities.

    May 20, 2016
  3. cranea18

    I agree with both Liz and Michael here. Even with the inevitable introduction of autonomous vehicles in the future, people will value the presence of a human driving a car. The excitement and entertainment of competition lies in the fact that the outcome is not predetermined. The unpredictability of humans competing, in my opinion, will never die off, no matter how many autonomous cars fill the streets.

    May 20, 2016
  4. helgansg18

    If anything I believe that autonomous cars will make driving sports more entertaining and its popularity may rise. If autonomous cars flood the market and become the main source of automobile transportation, I think watching actual humans drive around a track or a course would be exciting and somewhat nostalgic. Agreeing with Austin, I believe that a mix of fierce competition as well as the skill to drive would make these sports fun to watch. Additionally, once autonomous cars are around for awhile and the common person doesn’t possess the ability to drive a car, the skills needed to compete in these competitions would become that much more of a spectacle. I think a new sport will arise from autonomous vehicles much like Formula E which Will talked about in his blog, that only involves autonomous cars. This sport, like Liz brought up, would be more of a competition of computer technology. But, I think Formula 1 and NASCAR will always be around and increase in popularity as the skills needed to drive a car die off.

    May 20, 2016
  5. cranea18

    I’m with you on that Graham–if anything, the introduction of autonomous cars will create more of a crowd for humans racing against each other. However, one race I think that would draw much attention is a human racing the first autonomous racing car. It would test the abilities of the machine-powered car versus the knowledge and skills of a professional racecar driver. That would undoubtedly draw quite a large audience.

    May 20, 2016
  6. Barrett Snyder
    Barrett Snyder

    Professional racing will never be replaced by autonomous racing. There is the potential for a new brand of racing etc. but at the heart of it, racing is pitting one man’s ability against another. Everyone is pushing their machines to the limit and often times skill and strategy in a lesser vehicle can still win.

    May 20, 2016
  7. Sam Wilson
    Sam Wilson

    This is really interesting. From what it sounds like, if computers were to ever make an entrance into the car racing industry it would most likely be on the gas engine side. I say this because as the driver explained, all of the Formula E cars have more or less the same materials (batteries, brakes, etc.) so what becomes most important to the race is which car has the best driver. This would potentially become really boring for the viewers if these became automated because then it would either become more or less rigged or it would be a battle of the programmers to see who can build a better automated driving program. I think that if the self driving cars come into play they will do so on the side of gasoline engines since the major difference in winner and loser is more based on the car and not the driver. Thus, it will be about which crew can build the best car with the optimal torque, handling, speed, and capability and less so about the programming. That being said I think if these come into play I think we will see a new league “Formula A” where the “A” stands for automated just as the “E” stood for electric.

    May 22, 2016

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