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What is Formula E and how does it work?

Formula E is the world's first all-electric international single-seater championship. Officially known as the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, it encourages the development of advanced electric mobility solutions. According to the Championship's organizer, "Formula E is more than just a racing series - it's a battle for the future. Our radical cars - all powered by electricity - pave the way for the road cars of tomorrow, with the series acting as a competitive platform to test and develop the latest in electric technology." The end goal is to promote sustainable mobility as part of efforts to combat urban air pollution and lessen the effects of climate change.

Since making its debut in the grounds of the Olympic Park in Beijing in 2014, Formula E has grown into a global entertainment brand, attracting a grid full of the best racing drivers and teams around. Now in its 9th season, Formula E features 22 drivers divided among 11 teams representing marques including Maserati, Jaguar and Porsche.

Starting from "humble" roots - the first generation of E-racers had a maximum power output of 200 kW (about 270 horsepower), enough for a top speed of 225 km/h - the latest generation racer, the Gen3, boasts a whopping 350 kW of power (approximately 470 horsepower) and a top speed of 322 km/h. Said another way, Gen3 racers are 75 percent more powerful than their Gen1 progenitors. That's a lot of progress for just 8 years, with more - accelerated - progress sure to come.

How do Formula E cars work?

Part of the beauty of electric mobility - in addition to its being environmentally far friendlier than the petrol-powered sort - is its simplicity. Essentially, Formula E cars work like any other electric vehicle, sharing the same fundamental components, which are:

  • Battery pack: provides power;
  • Inverter: takes the electricity created by the battery and converts it from a direct current (DC) to an alternating current (AC) charge;
  • Motor: uses this power to drive the transmission;
  • Transmission: transfers the energy generated by the engine to the wheels.


Aside from powering the transmission, the electric motor plays another key role in electric vehicles: it houses the regenerative braking mechanism, which – when pressure is taken off the accelerator and the brakes are applied – slows the vehicle down, converting its kinetic energy into electricity, which recharges the battery. The inverter also plays a role in regenerative braking: it reconverts the AC charge back to DC, which enables charging the battery pack.

Aside from being cleaner, electric engines offer an additional, important advantage over their petrol-powered cousins: having far fewer components than gas powertrains, electric ones enjoy significantly lower maintenance costs.

How fast are Formula E cars?

Starting from "humble" origins in 2014, with cars whose top speed maxed out at a mere 225 km/h, current Formula E racers are much more powerful and speedy machines. So, how fast do Formula E cars go today? The best performing current all-electric Formula E racers - so-called Gen3 - boast 350 kW of power (approximately 470 horsepower). That means that Formula E cars' top speed today is 322 km/h. The top speed of Formula E cars isn't their only mind-blowing stat; acceleration is impressive also: e racers hit 100 km/h from zero in 2.8 seconds - just shy of the performance of their petrol-powered F1 cousins (0-100 km/h in 2.6 seconds).

Being test-beds for future electric mobility solutions, Formula E top speed isn't really the most significant data point; in view of technology transfer to consumer cars, power regeneration is at least an equally important feature of these extreme electric machines and the Gen3 doesn't disappoint: its regeneration capability is 600 kWh - about six times more powerful than the original Gen1 Formula E racers of 2014.

Part of the challenge in Formula E racing - much like in the "real" world of consumer electric mobility - is keeping the cars' weight to a minimum. Battery packs are heavy and they literally weigh down all electric cars, Formula E racers included. Currently, a Formula E car weighs in at about 840 kg; this includes the battery, which weighs 284 kg - 101 kg less than in the previous Gen2 model, but still about one third the total weight of the car.

How long is a Formula E race?

Formula E has changed its template for the current 2023 E-Prix Championship season. Previously race length was 45 minutes, during which drivers would manage to complete between 33 and 46 laps per race. From 2023 onwards Formula E race length is determined by the amount of time it takes competitors to complete 33 laps. The reason for this, according to the championship’s organizers, is to make races “simpler to follow while allowing teams more control over their own strategies”. Formula E races are held on either street circuits or on racetracks; each circuit has a length of between two and four kilometers per lap. In the 2023 season, the Formula E championship will hit 16 locations around the world, including Mexico City (Mexico), Monaco (Monte Carlo), Cape Town (South Africa), Jakarta (Indonesia) and Rome (Italy). The 9th Formula E Championship season features 11 teams and 22 piloti driving e-racers from marques including Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar and Nissan.

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