Piquet Jr clinches first Formula E drivers' title

Nelson Piquet Jr won the inaugural Formula E Championship driving for the Chinese team, Nextev, by just a single point. On Saturday, Piqu...

Nelson Piquet Jr won the inaugural Formula E Championship driving for the Chinese team, Nextev, by just a single point. On Saturday, Piquet Jr had his lead reduced to five points after e.dams’ Sebastian Buemi won. If Buemi had come in fourth on the final race on Sunday, instead of Bruno Senna, then the title for the first ever champion of Formula E would have gone to the Swiss instead.

Virgin’s Sam Bird won the Sunday race after pole-sitter, Stephane Sarrazin, who dominated the entire race and crossed the finish line first, was penalised for exceeding the power limit. Sarrazin had pushed his car in the final laps, defending his lead against Bird, and ended the race with an empty battery – a huge error that incurred a detrimental 49-second penalty, and drove Sarrazin all the way down to 15th place.

Now that all 11 races have been raced and the inaugural season over, organisers and race enthusiasts are mulling on whether there is a future for Formula E. As F1 is working on louder, more exciting engines for 2016, the Formula E cars makes as much sound as a kitchen blender. You hardly realise it is approaching as it comes out of a bend, and all you hear is a high-pitched sound that whizzes past. But perhaps the quieter Formula E does not appeal to the same F1 fans or simply not in the same manner; the organisers had after all hoped that it would attract new audience to the sport.

The electric racing series is intended to showcase the future of car technology. If so, it was not so evident this season, as the car could not even last the entire race and the drivers had to jump out and into another car with fresh batteries halfway. But in the 2016/17 season, teams will be allowed to meddle with the batteries and possibly create a more efficient power management system; and as battery technology improves, who knows, maybe the car will last the entire race some seasons from now.

The quieter, zero-emission race cars also mean that the series can be held on city streets. In an interview with BBC Radio 5, CEO of FIA Formula E, Alejandro Agag (below), said that being able to race in the city was paramount to the success of Formula E. For the last two races held in Battersea Park, London, an impressive 60,000 tickets were sold, but let’s also not overlook the fact that the early bird ticket was only £15 compared to next weekend’s F1 British Grand Prix, which cheapest race day tickets are £99. The cheaper tickets also meant that racing fans turned it into a family outing, evident from the many families amidst the crowd over the weekend, and fulfilling one of Formula E’s intention to attract younger audience to the more ‘environmentally-conscious’ race.

There is also the encouraging TV ratings. Saturday’s race in London attracted about 460,000 viewers, the highest since the opening race in Beijing. The Miami and Long Beach ePrix also achieved good enough ratings for Fox Sports US to extend its contract until 2020. And the rumour is that two American media groups had bought a large stake in the series. So, overall, finances will probably not be an issue.

Publicity-wise, the race had plenty of star power, including Leonardo Dicaprio, who founded team Venturi, and Hollywood A-list spectators, namely Lindsay Lohan, Cuba Gooding Jr, Adrien Brody, Antonio Banderas, singer Will.I.Am and model Irina Shayk. And then there is of course the prominent British entrepreneur, Richard Branson, who backs the Virgin Racing team and declared that “There's still going to be room for Formula One for a few more years but I would say there will come a time when Formula E will overtake it.”

But it is Senna, nephew of the late great F1 driver, Ayrton, who provides the realistic reason as to why Formula E might attract a wider audience in the future; in an interview with BBC Sport, he said, "F1 technology is not usable in road cars because it's too expensive. Formula E is trying to develop things that are relevant for the next generations and their quality of life. Hopefully, this is the beginning of it.” Accessibility, is the key.


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