Over the Vesak Day weekend when residents in Singapore enjoyed the respite provided by a three-day weekend, motorsport fans turned up the temperature in Jakarta when the city hosted its second annual race in the Formula E motorsport championship for full electric cars.
The event in Jakarta – officially called the 2023 Gulavit Jakarta E-Prix – was held from 2 to 4 June 2023. It saw two back-to-back races, one on 3 June and another on 4 June. They are the 10th and 11th races in the current Formula E season, out of 16 races on the calendar.
The race on Saturday was won by German driver Pascal Wehrlein from TAG Heuer Porsche. With the win, he closed in on championship leader Nick Cassidy from Envision Racing. The victory also propelled TAG Heuer Porsche back to the top of the team standings.
On Sunday, Wehrlein overtook Cassidy to become the championship leader despite only coming in sixth, as the latter finished 18th. Sunday’s race was won by Maximilian Günther from Maserati MSG Racing. It was his maiden win of the season.
WHAT IS FORMULA E?
Launched in 2014, Formula E is officially called the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.
In 2020, Formula E officially become a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) world championship event, joining the top-tier of international motorsport events including the famed Formula One and World Rally championships. FIA is the global governing body for motorsport.
The current season is the ninth. It features eleven teams with two drivers each. Among the teams are big-name automotive manufacturers such as Porsche, Nissan, Jaguar, McLaren and Maserati, as well as less-familiar ones like Nio and Cupra.
The race calendar this season sees the teams compete in 16 races in 11 cities, with some cities hosting back-to-back races over a weekend. The season kicked off in Mexico City on 14 January 2023. London is scheduled to host the penultimate race on 29 July 2023 and the final race 30 July 2023.
Points are award to the top 10 drivers in each race. The Formula E championship comprises both the drivers’ and teams’ championship. The driver with the most points at the end of the season wins the drivers’ championship.
The winning team is the one with the most points after adding up both its drivers’ scores throughout the season.
What is little known is that the inaugural Formula E race in 2014 took place in Asia. It was held in China’s capital Beijing on 13 September 2014. After Beijing, the race came to Southeast Asia for the first time on 22 November 2014 when it was held in Putrajaya, Malaysia.
JAKARTA JOINS RACE CALENDAR
The Indonesian capital was to have held its maiden race on 6 June 2020 but it was cancelled amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Indonesia’s capital Jakarta hosted its first Formula E race on 4 June 2022.
This year, Jakarta held back-to-back races on 3 and 4 June at the Ancol beach resort area in north Jakarta, close to Jakarta Bay. The Gulavit Jakarta E-Prix circuit, which resembles a permanent racetrack, is 2.37 km in length and features 18 turns.
The races on Saturday and Sunday were held in hot and humid weather, with the temperature hovering at a sweltering 34 degrees Celsius.
THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND FORMULA E CARS
While Formula E cars have the same aerodynamic profile as Formula 1 cars, they do not have the hybrid engines in Formula 1 cars. Rather, they are fully powered by batteries and electric powertrains.
Formula E projects itself is a testbed for the future of electric mobility, allowing car manufacturers a competitive platform to test and develop the latest in electric technology to help pave the way for road-going electric cars in the future.
Since 2014, the Formula E cars have spanned three generations. The first-generation car that debuted in 2014 produced a modest 200kW (268bhp), had a top speed of 225km/h and recuperated 100kWh of power.
In 2018, the second-generation racecars were capable of 250kW (335bhp), topped out at 280kmh and regenerated 250kW of power.
In the current 2023 season, the third-generation racecars have raised the bar with 350kW (469bhp), a 320km/h top speed and could regenerate a massive 600kWh of energy. At the same time, the cars’ weights progressively dropped from 920kg in 2014 to 840kg for the current third-generation cars.
The improvements in the battery capacity and outputs in Formula E cars mirror real life advances of electric cars over the same period, with production electric cars seeing gains in output and range.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which Formula E technologies will find their way to production cars, but suffice to say, lessons learnt in efficiency and engine management in high-performance racing are invaluable to producing electric vehicles.
In the current ninth season, there are four Porsche 99X electric race cars on the grid – two fielded by the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team and the other two by Avalanche Andretti.
The partnership between Porsche and the team founded by the American racing driver Michael Andretti was announced in 2022. Under the collaboration, Avalanche Andretti receives two ready-to-race Porsche 99X electric cars as well as technical support, including software updates.
Besides the four Porsche 99X racers, the German carmaker has another indelible presence on the track – it supplies the safety car for the race.
TAYCAN SAFETY CAR
The Taycan is Porsche’s first all-electric production sports car which was launched in 2019. A modified version of the flagship Taycan Turbo S was unveiled as the Formula E safety car in 2022.
“With the Taycan Turbo S as the official safety car, we’re making an important contribution to track safety and also underlining the importance of Formula E for Porsche Motorsport,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President of Porsche Motorsport in a media statement was when the safety car was announced in 2022.
The Taycan Turbo S has an output of up to 560kW (751bhp). Using launch control, the Taycan Turbo S accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.8 seconds, and hits a top speed of 260km/h.
The modifications to prepare the Taycan Turbo S for safety car duties included the installation of a roll cage, racing bucket seats with six-point seatbelts and flashing lights.
In Singapore, the Taycan Turbo S retails at $945,958 without COE.
FUTURE OF FORMULA E
In 2021, German titans BMW, Audi and Mercedes announced that they were leaving Formula E after the end of the season. The high-profile exits raised eyebrows on the sustainability of the championship.
Mercedes reportedly left the championship because of low TV viewership numbers, while Audi, one of the founding Formula E teams in 2014, decided to focus on the Dakar Rally to develop electric mobility under extreme conditions, as well as endurance racing with a return to Le Mans.
On its departure, BMW said in a pointed statement: “When it comes to the development of e-drivetrains, BMW Group has essentially exhausted the opportunities for this form of technology transfer in the competitive environment of Formula E.”
Closer to home, the possibility of Formula E coming to Singapore was tossed up in 2016 and 2018, but nothing concrete materialised. For now, local motorsport fans must head to Jakarta – which is less than two hours away by flight – for the annual race.
Despite the road bumps, some factors suggest that Formula E can continue to grow.
One, even without big manufacturers such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi, Formula E was still able to attract new teams, such as Cupra, which teamed up with ABT, and Maserati in 2023. This allows the race series to renew and stay fresh.
Two, the sale of electric vehicles is growing globally. As more drivers and drivers switch to driving cars with zero tailpipe emissions, interest in this fully electric motorsport can grow in tandem.
Three, Formula E cars produce no tailpipe emissions and make less noise, which allows the races to take place on street circuits in cities. This makes the event more accessible and gives it the potential to have more cities join the calendar.
Four, Formula E stands out for its commitment to zero-emission. With the worries over the impact of climate change, the championship is in sync with the global interest to reduce carbon emissions. Formula E can help raise global awareness and garner public support to reduce the carbon footprint from vehicular emissions.
For these reasons, the championship is unlikely to be heading towards the end of the road soon.
This story was first published in Sgcarmart.