Sitting on the sofa after the Sunday night dog walk, flicking through the TV channels to pass a few minutes before some antiques programme got started (saddos r us), I chanced across the highlights from the Formula E racing at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has put an estimated $260 million into a ten-year deal to host the Formula E season opener: part of developing an improved cultural infrastructure and staking out a green future as it diversifies from oil. Watching the event, I can’t say that I was struck by the wedge. A quick search revealed that, despite investments of almost $150 million last year, the series reported a $29 million loss for its fourth season, bringing Formula E’s total losses up to circa $160 million. Wow.
Andre Lotterer on the podium for Porsche
Two races were held in Riyadh at the weekend. Porsche driver, Andre Lotterer, came second in the first race, but was penalised in the second race for overtaking a damaged car just as the race went to safety car. He was classified fourteenth overall in race two, with team mate, Neel Jani, finishing just in front of him.
Royadh (or Diriyah) circuit was a bit better than some of the Formula E tracks I’ve seen. The surface was dusty and the layout was tight in places, but that made for some interesting moves. I’ve not found Formula E particularly entertaining to watch in the past but, as I’m keen to see how Porsche measures up, I’ll follow the series for a few races more and see how my views develop.
Watching any sort of racing always gets the blood up a bit and Formula E is a roll call of star drivers, but the more obvious names don’t always finish up front. Watching drivers that I’ve never seen before taking on names I know well from other series is interesting, even if the combination of unfamiliar liveries and squirty tracks with choppy TV edits makes some of the action a bit tricky to follow. That should get easier.
Former McLaren F1 driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, had a good weekend in Saudi, finishing on the podium for Mercedes in both races after taking a surprise lead. “This is the most competitive series I have ever raced in,” Stoffel said. “One can enjoy pure racing here, as opposed to Grand Prix racing, which is a bit of a fake world in which everyone gets along well but above all has their own interests to defend.”
I hear what Stoffel is saying but Formula E looks plenty fake to me in places: fountains of money tend to have that effect. A friend has just moved from endurance racing into Formula E and she is not enjoying the culture that much. “I work between two silent accountants and a group of engineers, all of whom spend their time creating ways to spend truckloads of money. It’s bollocks.”
Sebastian Vettel has also spoken about being nonplussed by the series and claims many Formula E drivers are just in it for the money. “To me, this is not the future,” the four-time F1 world champion told a Swiss newspaper, as reported by WTF1.
“E-mobility is currently very popular in the world, but anyone who is honest and identifies with motor racing does not think much of Formula E. The cars are not very fast and many drivers who drive there tell me that the driving is not very exciting.”
I thought the racing in Riyadh was a bit more exciting than previously, but maybe I was talking myself into that because Porsche had entered a team. My mind is not made up as yet; I need to watch more of it.
I will either get over the soundtrack or it will put me off forever. Whirring motors and cars ramping over temporary kerbs sounds like an indoor electric kart track, but without the funs of watching karts in full drift around every corner. If the racing is actually good, then I guess it works out, but I’m still not sure it’s my cup of tea. That does not surprise me too much, as the series is still pretty new and everyone knows about new things for fifty year-olds. You probably know Douglas Adams’ rules on our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Formula E winds me up a bit on many levels: the money that manufacturers are throwing at the series instead of designing better road cars (Jaguar has thrown something like $40 million at it to date), the short races, the lack of outright speed and the small city tracks and convoluted add-ons. Extrapolating that bandwagon to the industry as a whole, the marketing surrounding electric mobility seems to vastly outweigh the amount of affordable technology: where are the electric superminis that do a week on a charge and cost £10k to buy? I’m ready to buy one of those right now – I’m sure most of us are.
As for the racing: well, my kind of racing pits head-to-head speed and reliability over races taking anything from two hundred miles to twenty-four hours and I don’t know that Formula E will ever match either of those things.
Maybe that is good for the planet, and I am all for that, but we are allowed to lament the slide that manufacturer defection will inevitably weigh on what older generations will come to call “proper” motorsport. People say that shorter races make the racing harder, so maybe I just need a shorter attention span. Maybe if this is all there will eventually be, we should either get used to it, stop watching racing or get into some kind of ball game.
I am fully aware that this may come across as some some old bloke moaning, but I did enjoy some of it: it’s just nothing like as good as what I usually watch! We will see how the season pans out.
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