Formula E Racing Comes to Tokyo
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The “Electric F1”
Formula E is one of the four major championships accredited by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) along with Formula One (F1), the World Rally Championship, and the World Endurance Championship. As with F1, the cars are “formula cars” specifically designed for racing that are “open-wheel, single-seater, open-cockpit cars.” Formula E cars are powered by an electric motor rather than an internal combustion engine, and for this reason they are known as “electric F1 cars.”
As the entire world faces the issue of how to achieve carbon neutrality as part of efforts to combat global warming, the motor sports world has also come under pressure to find radical strategies to reduce its carbon footprint. Although efforts were made to reduce CO2 emissions by, for example, introducing hybrid F1 cars with both an engine and an electric motor, Formula E racing provided a novel approach to the problem. The “e-Prix” series, with participation by automobile manufacturers from around the world including Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Jaguar, and Maserati, started in 2014.
Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko has described Formula E as “a symbol of zero-emission initiatives.”
Tokyo is working toward the practical elimination of all CO2 emissions by 2050. Two ways the metropolitan government is attempting to achieve this goal are, first of all, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% (compared to the base year of 2000) by 2030, as well as ensuring that 100% of the new vehicles (passenger cars) sold in Tokyo are EVs or alternative fuel vehicles (including hybrids, fuel-cell vehicles, and other vehicle types that do not run on 100% gasoline) by the same year. The Formula E Tokyo Race provides a chance to widely publicize these initiatives both in Japan and overseas.
Governor Koike stated: “We hope that holding the Formula E race in the waterfront area, while simultaneously developing Tokyo into a sustainable next-generation city, will further promote the widespread use of zero-emission vehicles. At the same time, it provides us with a perfect opportunity to show the world what Tokyo has to offer and thereby increase its global presence.”
The metropolitan government also decided to hold the Tokyo ZEV Action campaign when the Formula E Tokyo Race was decided. On July 2, the cars that are to compete in the race were put on display along Gyōkō-dōri, a street in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo, as part of a family-friendly kickoff event for the race.
Although the details of the urban race course in the Tokyo waterfront area have yet to be revealed, it is likely to be a 3-kilometer course that passes near Tokyo Big Sight, an international exhibition venue that housed the press center for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
What Makes Formula E Racing Unique?
Although it is called “electric F1 racing,” fans should not expect the kind of intensity normally experienced at an F1 race. Race-goers are not treated to the roaring sound of F1 engines, considered by many to be a motor sports highlight. Instead, there is only the electric whine of the motors and the sound of tires on pavement. For this reason, some have likened it to “a large-scale version of a radio-controlled car race.”
The budget set aside for Formula E racing is considerably less than that required of F1 races. According the official website of Red Bull Racing, one of the top F1 teams, the average annual budget set aside for one Formula E team is €13 million—less than one-tenth the €145 million annual budget of a major F1 team.
The very concept of Formula E racing is completely different from that of F1 racing, which benefits from generous amounts of money and technical expertise in its quest to create the fastest cars on earth.
The fact that Formula E cars produce less noise than F1 cars is a hidden benefit, though, as it means that races can be held in urban areas rather than suburban circuits and that they can be held at night. In fact, Formula E races are held in major metropolitan areas such as Rome, New York, London, and Paris. FIA has intentionally designed these differences into the two types of racing in order to ensure that both can coexist and flourish.
In another effort to place emphasis on the ecological benefit of the sport, Formula E cars are transported by ship rather than jumbo jet.
Formula E Pit Stops: Complete Car Exchanges
F1 races take place over a minimum distance of 305 kilometers (with the exception of the 260 kilometer Monaco race) and last anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes. In contrast, Formula E races follow a “45 minutes plus one lap” plan. The maximum power output of a Formula E car is 200 kilowatts (270 horsepower, in contrast to over 800 horsepower in the case of F1). However, racers can increase their power output for limited periods of time during races using functions known as “attack mode,” which provides an additional 25 kilowatts, and “fanboost,” which provides an additional 50 kilowatts. These additional functions get incorporated into each team’s racing strategy. The maximum speed of an F1 car is over 380 kilometers per hour, while Formula E cars max out at around 280 kilometers per hour.
Differences in what goes on during pit stops are also notable. In F1 racing, pit crews chose from a total of seven types of tires—ranging from hard, medium, and soft to those designed for use in rainy weather. In contrast, Formula E cars use only one type of tire in order to keep costs down. However, since a single charge is not enough for a car to complete an entire race (battery capacity covers only about 25 minutes worth of racing time), racers exchange cars during a pit stop halfway through the race.
Points to look out for at the Tokyo Race are what parts of the waterfront area—a busy metropolitan logistics center—will be closed, as well as the technical layout of the course, including what main streets, chicanes, and hairpin curves will be utilized.
The Tokyo Race will present operational difficulties like the placement of “escape zones” at the sides of the roads and other safety measures, as well as the locations of spectator seating. In spite of these mundane challenges, the sight of racing cars roaring through the waterfront streets as speeds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour promises to be an experience few will soon forget. Fans of motor sports will also enjoy easy access to the area by public transportation (22 minutes from Shinbashi Station via the Yurikamome Line and 14 minutes from Ōsaki Station via the Rinkai Line).
Provisional Formula E Calendar for the 2024 Season
January 13: Mexico City, Mexico
January 26, 27: Diriyah, Saudi Arabia
February 10: To be announced
February 24: To be announced
March 16: São Paulo, Brazil
March 30: Tokyo, Japan
April 13, 14: Rome, Italy
April 27: Monaco
May 11, 12: Berlin, Germany
May 25: To be announced
June 8: Jakarta, Indonesia
June 29: Portland, Oregon, USA
July 20, 21: London, Britain
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Formula E cars racing near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. © Reuters.)