For the third year in a row, the ABB FIA Formula-E Championship took over the cruise terminal in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York for the final two rounds of the 2018-2109 season. The open-wheeled electric racing series started out with a large dose of skepticism from the motorsports world and beyond with the mid-race car switch to accommodate battery depletion. However, this is the first season racing in the Gen2 cars that have enough battery charge to last to the end of the race, thus allowing a shift towards a more traditional pit lane and track layout. Gen2 cars have a top speed of 280km/h (~173 mph), with 0-60 acceleration at about 2.5 seconds. Remaining battery power is tracked on the driver standings during the race, showing most of the competitors with between 1-3% juice remaining at the checkered flag.
The series continues to advance their unique brand melding green power, Silicon Valley tech, and going fast with the new ATTACK MODE feature for the Gen-2 cars. ATTACK MODE is in the same spirit of, for example, IndyCar’s push-to-pass, in that it gives the driver an extra 25 kW of power to drive faster and harder for several laps. In order to get that extra bit of power, the driver has to pilot through the Activation Zone while racing – and teams only get the details an hour before the race start. The caveat is that they have to drive off the racing line in order to activate so it does cost the driver seconds, and if the zone is missed – as happened earlier in the season – those seconds are hard to make up without the extra power. Making everything feel a bit more like TRON, the protective Halo lights up with blue when the car is in ATTACK MODE, and magenta when they are using the FANBOOST.
The addition of the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY Championship as a support series has fleshed out race days, giving spectators more sportscar racing and less lukewarm filler of previous years. The Formula-E paddocks are still not accessible for most – with limited viewing even to those with VIP tickets, but the I-PACE paddocks were connected to the E-Village and accessible to all with a ticket regardless of price point. I-PACE paddocks also aren’t like those of other series – missing are the revving engines, exhaust fumes, and clinking of metal as team engineers deftly adjust combustion engines. The quiet, air-conditioned paddocks host dormant sports cars with blinking headlights – more like charging Cybermen than sleeping beasts. Drivers for the first season came from various global series including former Formula E drivers, NASCAR Toyota, LMP2, and perhaps most famously Katherine Legge from IndyCar and the now-defunct Nissan Delta Wing program. The electric race-spec I-PACE shares the 90kWh lithium-ion battery with the production model and can reach a top speed of 121 mph. Up to 20 drivers race for 25 minutes plus one lap.
Formula-E is not without growing pains, though. Following the FIA’s decision in June to ban Nissan’s twin motor powertrains for the 2019-2020 season, NISSAN E.DAMS driver and NYC Race 1 winner Sébastien Buemi said in the post-race press conference, “It’s been a tough season, lots of discussion about our power train… it’s been really political in a bad way from my point of view…. Clearly, you know to finish second in the championship is a good reward for the team, but on the other hand I’m sad that what we used this year will be banned next year. It just disappoints me massively because Formula E is about innovation in power trains and electric mobility.” He explained further, “I just hope in the future, you know, we keep the strengths of Formula E which is to, first of all, look for the sport, you know, and not for your own interests… I’m disappointed in the calling because it’s working very well now and we will not be able to use it. Again, you know, I have to accept it, it’s a decision taken by the FIA… we’ll live with it, it’s motorsport, sometimes it happens, but yeah, it’s a bit disappointing.”
That said, the rules and regulations are otherwise working well, keeping the series competitive (sending some side-eye to you, Formula 1). While Jean-Éric Vergne (DS Techeetah) was ahead in points going into the first race, three other drivers still had the chance to take the championship – Luca di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler), Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans, and Buemi. Unlike last year in NYC when Vergne clinched the championship on day one, Buemi won the Saturday race leaving the championship to be decided by the final race. Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans was second on podium, and António Félix da Costa/ BMW i Andretti Motorsport was third.
Ultimately, Vergne did win the championship on Sunday for the second year in a row after an exciting race that ended with Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns taking the checkered flag. Alexander Sims – BMW i Andretti Motorsport in second, and Sébastien Buemi rounding out the podium in third.
ABB FIA Formula-E Championship will return to New York City for the 2019-2020 season, but only for one day – the season-ending double header will now go to London. Why, Formula E? New Yorkers finally “got” racing and showed up in droves, and now you leave us? Is it our accents? IS THE RENT JUST TOO DAMN HIGH? London doesn’t have air condition in the subway like we do, I’ve been there, I know this! Well, I’ll still be here in New York next year, taking photos as the series continues to carve out its own niche in the world of Formula racing.