After a build-up of nearly two years since the announcement, the FIA Formula E series is finally about to kick off. When series promoter, Alejandro Agag, announced the series for single-seater, fully electric-powered cars with 10 teams, it sounded brave. When he announced that all the races would run on city streets and not on race tracks, it sounded brave. But lo and behold, here we are on our way to China for the opening round.
I feel proud to be the only Indian driver on the grid and driving for an Indian team, Mahindra Racing. Readers of this paper would recall questions being raised about the Indian-ness of racing teams in other championships, but make no mistake, this isn’t a ‘naam-ke-vaste’ Indian-owned team.
Genuine engineering programme
Mahindra’s involvement is not just a branding exercise but a genuine engineering programme. Their experience of running an electric car company in Mahindra Reva has been very useful to our testing programme. While we have been testing in the UK, we have had a great deal of interaction with the engineers, with data constantly flowing back and forth and engineering personnel also making regular trips from the R&D centre in Bangalore.
Alejandro and the promoters are very clear that they are not trying to compete with F1 or GP2 or any other form of racing. They are trying to promote an entirely new way of going motor racing in an eco-friendly way.
The series has attracted drivers of a high standard, with 16 of the 20 being either race or test drivers in Formula 1! Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Takuma Sato, Jaime Alguesuari, Nelson Piquet Jr, Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi are all guys I shared a track with during my time in Formula 1 and so the competition is going to be tough.
Car swap would add to the spectacle
The cars have batteries supplied by Williams F1 and at racing speeds will last around half an hour. To make the races an hour long, each driver actually has two cars so we do a mid-race car swap which will add to the spectacle on television. The technology in the cars is impressive because not only do they charge up when you plug it into the chargers but also when driving around. In the cockpit, we have a lot of options to work on energy recovery and you can actually use the energy from braking or when you lift your foot off the accelerator to recharge the batteries.
What’s it like to drive an electric race car? Well, the first 30 seconds are eerie to be honest. The lack of car sound and just the wind noise makes it a bit strange — sort of driving a simulator on mute! You’re getting all the visual cues and references but it’s amazing what a difference it makes to the driving experience when you don’t have the sound. The torque from the motor in the qualifying mode is impressive and the car accelerates quickly. We reckon that the 0-100kmh will be under four seconds, which if you consider the weight being nearly 800 kg, it’s pretty good.
There will also be a system called Fan Boost where the public can go online and vote for their favourite three drivers in every race to get a bit more power for five seconds in the race. This way the fans get involved with their teams and drivers and can directly contribute to the result of the race.
It’s been fun to work together with Bruno again. We’ve been friends for a long time and teammates in the past as well. We’ve built up a level of trust and understanding, so we’re able to push the team forward together. Our team principal, Dilbagh Gill, has set our goal to finish in the top-three of the team championship this year. In a first year for any series, you have to factor in reliability issues and so it’s hard to predict how we’ll end up as individuals, but I think that’s a fair goal to have as a team.
The writer is the only Indian to drive the Formula E car