Formula E - Is it the 'MLS' of Motorsport?
You don't often get the two worlds crossing over, much less being compared, but is Formula E becoming the 'MLS' of the Motorsport world?
Much like the MLS has become synonymous for attracting ageing footballers looking for a big payslip to play out their twilight days, or who didn't make it in the more competitive European leagues, Formula E seems to be attracting the Motorsport equivalent.
Take a look down the grid and you recognise name after name. Not necessarily a bad thing, but when you consider those recognisable names are mostly ex-F1 drivers who lost their seats or got old, it starts to paint a rather tainted picture of the types of drivers Formula E is attracting;
Jean-Eric Vergne joined in 2015 having lost his seat to a 17-year-old rookie
Sébastien Buemi lost his seat to Daniel Ricciardo who, incidentally, was promoted to Torro Rosso along with JEV
Nick Heidfeld, signed up to the inaugural season in 2014 at the age of 36, having not raced in F1 since 2009
Felipe Massa similarly got a seat in Formula E for the 2019/20 season, after his F1 career was finished due to ageing, although it was he who decided to call it a day rather than getting shown the exit door
A Formula E car is less physically demanding than an F1 car, meaning older drivers will be attracted to it, so they can keep doing what the love, but the organisers need to put something in place that stops this becoming the norm. It also shouldn't be seen as an easy exit strategy for F1 drivers who lose their seat. This should naturally filter out as the series becomes more and more established and harder to get in to as a result.
Since F1 has gone over to paid TV, I've been filling the gap with other forms of Motorsport. I will always love F1, it holds a place close to my heart for being the first Motorsport I ever really followed, thanks in part to watching it with my Grandad when I was a kid and he still asks if I've heard this story, or watched that race. But, the last thing I want is a series that is trying to replicate Formula One, which, aside from the driver line-ups, is something I believe the think tank behind Formula E is afraid of doing too, and as a result, are perhaps a little too forcefully distancing themselves from their internal combustion counterpart.
Formula E is trying diverse ways to get away from the association with F1, they have implemented an 'Attack Mode' where a driver must driver over a certain part of the circuit to gain a speed boost, it works in differentiating the speeds of cars and spicing up the race but does feel a little gimmicky. Some fine-tuning is probably needed to make it feel less like a video game when watching on TV.
That's not the only thing that causes it to feel too video-game-like. It also uses completely different places in comparison to the F1 calendar, sharing solely the Mexican GP as a location, but the track layout is significantly different, call me old-school. When I've played racing games in the past, I've always favoured the purpose-built, real-life circuits over the fictional ones created by the game developers. This is reciprocated to the real world too it seems. A solution to this could be a half & half-season, like NASCAR now racing on road courses to compliment the ovals, they could race half the season on streets and the other half on purpose-built circuits. The predicament they have is, they aren't currently fast enough neither do they have the battery life to stage a race on the big circuits, but there are plenty of shorter circuits with the necessary grandstands to solve this issue whilst they develop the cars further until they are capable to.
There is one thing clear, it is heading in the right direction. Maybe they should let it happen a little more naturally than they have been doing, but most of it is good progress. The cars look completely different now from F1 than when the championship was first launched. They have managed to develop a battery that will last the distance of a race without the need to swap cars, which shouldn't be a problem since MotoGP does this very thing, but the reasoning behind it was always going to attract the people who would make fun of a car that can't even complete a race without the battery going flat, myself included.
Despite that initial attitude towards this series, I've now been bitten by the electric bug & I'm going to continue watching this series as it progresses and becomes a real heavyweight in the world of Motorsport. After all, this could be the eventual replacement of F1, with the importance of reducing our carbon footprint to try and resolve the global warming issue that is plastered on the news daily. Formula E has real intent to solve the easy-to-attack argument that Motorsport is "a pointless way of killing our planet", and become a sport that even Greenpeace can enjoy.
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