Formula E: The formula of the future | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 23.05.2019
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Formula E: The formula of the future

Now in its fifth season, Formula E is more exciting, more successful and more popular than ever. Former F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg is a supporter of the electric motorsport series which comes to Berlin this weekend.

Nico Rosberg has swapped his Formula One overalls for a smart suit as he speaks to the gathered media in Berlin. Dark blue thread and a neatly-ironed white shirt. Just two-and-a-half years ago, Rosberg won the F1 world championship. Now, he's a businessman with new markets to conquer.

At a festival for sustainability in the German capital, Rosberg is presenting a range of green technologies and futuristic products to a large audience: from air taxis to the fastest electric car in the world, the technologies of tomorrow are tangibly close at the Green Tech Festival and Formula E Weekend at Tempelhof, an old airfield in the south of the city.

For Rosberg, Formula E stands for "technological innovation, for the future, for family-friendliness — a racing circus coming to people in cities around the world." The German is a shareholder in Formula E and the races are the perfect stage for his start-up.

Cities, car manufacturers and investors

Rosberg is not the only one for whom the electric motorsport series has grown in importance. Already into its fifth season, Formula E has established itself as an attractive proposition. Just look at some of the names involved.

ABB FIA Formula E Championship 2019 - Monaco E-Prix (Getty Images)

Formula E investor Nico Rosberg and Prince Albert II in Monaco in May

On the economic side, technology giants ABB have secured the main sponsorship rights for an estimated €12.5m ($13.9m), while global brands such as Bosch and Heineken are also on board. The figures remain significantly lower than those in Formula One, but they are rising.

Cities across the world are queuing up to host the series. From Munich to Vienna, Shanghai to Marrakech, major centers on every continent are prepared to pay big money to bring the electric cars to their home circuits. One major reason for this is that ticket sales are through the roof.

Even people who previously had little interest in motorsport are flooding into city centers to witness races which aren't drowned out by roaring engines but soundtracked instead by a pleasant humming, as the cars launch impressive overtaking maneuvers on the specially-designed tracks. 

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Niki Lauda, a life in the fast lane

Finally, for the teams themselves, participation in Formula E is not only an undertaking in futuristic "green" marketing, it's also a chance to innovate with modern forms of propulsion.

Limited scope for development keeps costs down

"For the manufacturers, Formula E is a laboratory in which to shape the future of electric-powered vehicles," says Alejandro Agag, the founder and boss of the new series. And Formula E really is making technological progress, as developments this season demonstrate.

After four years in which drivers had to switch cars halfway through a race due to low battery life, an increase in battery capacity from 28 to 52 kilowatt hours means that an entire 45-minute race can now be completed in a single "second generation" car. These can reach tops speeds of 280 km/h (174 mph) with their 250 kilowatt motors. For Agag, this is "visible evidence of the progress being made in electrical technology."

Progress which has not escaped the attention of Germany's leading car manufacturers. Audi and Volkswagen are already represented in Formula E, the former winning last season's team competition, while Mercedes and Porsche will join this year. All four major German manufacturers competing against one another in the same motorsport series, which is unprecedented.

And according to Rosberg, his former employer Mercedes will be looking to make an immediate impression. "They know how motor-racing works," says the 33-year-old. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them competing for the title straight away."

Alejandro Agag Formel E (Getty Images/C. Alvarez)

Formula E boss Alejandro Agag is a Spanish former Member of the European Parliament

Unlike in F1, Formula E teams must adhere to much stricter technological rules. Cars all start with the same chassis and the same battery. The cost: €1m. Only when it comes to the power train, aerodynamics, car setup and software are the engineers free to work their magic (within spending limits), which keeps costs down and by extension keeps competition closer.

By comparison, Mercedes' annual F1 budget is around €400m, with which the team are tasked with pushing the technological boundaries as far as possible. And after just five races, Mercedes have amassed a huge 96-point lead in the F1 championship. 

Close races, different winners

It's no wonder that Agag sees Germany as the country which is "key" to the rise of Formula E. This weekend, the Berlin E-Prix returns for the fifth time — no other city has hosted the Formula E championship in consecutive years from the very start.

Local fans will have particularly fond memories of last year's race when German driver Daniel Abt, of Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, was first over the line. Not only that, the 26-year-old also became the first ever Formula E driver to secure the Grand Slam of pole position, fastest lap and overall victory — in his home race! "It was the best day of my racing career," says Abt, now aiming to repeat the trick.

Berlin E-Prix - Formel E (Getty Images)

Back to Berlin: Tempelhof is a regular fixture on the Fomula E calendar

But that's easier said than done in Formula E's most exciting season yet. Nine races have so far produced eight different winners, while the driver who started on pole position has only gone on to win on two occasions. Unlike Formula One, where only Mercedes, Ferrari and perhaps Red Bull have realistic chances of winning, races in Formula E are much less predictable.

Given the more uniform technical setups, there is a much greater onus on the drivers and team strategies to make the difference out on the track. Abt also highlights the fact that drivers only have one lap in qualifying, "meaning that it can very quickly go well or badly on any given day."

The only driver to have won more than one race this season is the Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne of Team Techeetah. That's put the reigning champion in the lead in this year's championship too, narrowly ahead of his teammate Andre Lotterer, who is looking to celebrate his first ever win in Berlin.

Nico Rosberg still insists that Formula One is the "ultimate gladiatorial motorsport" but argues that Formula E is the "formula of the future." The F1 champion knows that. Now an investor, he'll be watching the action on Saturday from the stands and on the televisions in his dark blue suit and white shirt.

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