Formula E: the Ultimate Fighter of the Future?


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Formula E: the Ultimate Fighter of the Future?

Assuming the world is still in one piece, where will Formula E find itself in 10 years' time?

This article is part of the e-Generation series, produced in partnership with Renault

It's the year 2025 and – by some unlikely stroke of dumb luck – the world still exists in its current form. I know it sounds far fetched, but just imagine that we've avoided vapourising each other or wiping out the last of our natural resources – what will life be like?

While camp 1970s sci-fi shows painted a future of space exploration and diligent robots helping out around the house, the reality of 21st century life doesn't bear quite such a resemblance to an episode of The Jetsons. Real change happens at a more gradual pace: computers become more powerful, cars get faster, and cities grow increasingly complex. Put simply, our future won't belong to the robots.


Sport tends to follow a similar pattern. For example, how much has football really changed in the past decade or so? Okay, player wages now dwarf the gross domestic product of several EU nations, while cameraphones have launched their bedroom quirks into the public domain, but the game itself is largely the same. You'll reach similar conclusions for rugby, tennis and golf (seriously, nothing ever changes in golf).

But what about a sport that's built for rapid evolution? Consider Formula E, the all-electric racing category that's looking to show Formula One that old-fashioned power sources belong in the history books. It's also got some pretty progressive ideas about fan engagement, like showing them a good time and getting them up close and personal with the action.

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And, in a sport where change is so intrinsic, there's plenty of scope for big development over the next decade. So where is Formula E headed for by the time 2025 rolls around?

The Formula E manifesto gives fan experience high priority. The most striking example was at last year's London season finale, where fans were able to stand so close to the podium that many were drenched in champagne (something you would usually have to attend a very specific kind of party to experience). It's in stark contrast to F1, where fans are often left squinting to even see the podium.


The 'doing things differently' motto extends throughout the series. FanBoost – an online vote that gives three drivers an extra power surge during each race – has taken viewer participation to a whole new level. Some purists think it devalues the sport; its advocates reckon that the tech-savy modern audience demands this level of interaction. As ever, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

For the future, we're likely to see interaction ramped up further, particularly by social media. And for what form this might take, we need to look at a very different sport: the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Now, it's fair to say that the links between electric motorsport and professional cage fighting are not instantly obvious, but bear with me. The UFC airs a reality TV show called The Ultimate Fighter, where a group of hopefuls compete for the coveted prize of a contract with the UFC. Viewers watch as the competitors develop towards the top or, in some cases, crash and burn. The show is extremely popular; in fact, one particularly tasty bout from the first series helped to launch the UFC into the mainstream.

Imagine a Formula E version of this. You take 15 or so young drivers, put them through bootcamp, and eventually whittle them down to a chosen few. The ultimate winner – chosen by a combination of exert judges (ex-drivers, team bosses) and online fan voting – would earn a Formula E contract for the following season; after that, he or she would be on their own. It's easy to envisage this kind of format being in place by 2025, if not earlier. Hell, by 2025 we could even be watching a Formula E Academy graduate winning races.


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We're also bound to see some development in the range of countries Formula E visits. The current calendar has a lot going for it, but expansion is inevitable. That's already part of the plan, with Paris signed up to join the schedule this season.

Looking further forward, however, Formula E needs a race in Africa to call itself truly global. There are a few solid options in South Africa, but if it wants to score significant cool points an event in Nigeria or Côte d'Ivoire would make really unique additions (and trump F1 which, let's be honest, can't hurt). A race in Morocco would also be a sight to behold.

You'd hope Formula E has developed some proper rivalries by 2025, too. They're what make sport compelling viewing – Senna vs. Prost (the F1 version) was a huge draw, and if the next generation of Bruno (Senna) and Nico (Prost) or any of their competitors can build equally gripping rivalries, Formula E will have something to shout about. Fierce rivalries force their way on to magazine covers, website front-pages and newspaper columns – everyone being best mates doesn't have the same spark.

Of course, we've also got to talk about the technical side of the series. Formula E is, after all, a test bed for green technologies that can help plot the future of sustainable transport; it can't be all on-track duels and pit-lane scuffles.

The look of the cars will naturally evolve over time. Aerodynamics aren't the raison d'être for this series, but we're still likely to see some interesting developments, with new aero parts mushrooming across the bodywork. To what extent depends on whether this area is opened up to the teams – give them an inch and they will take a mile. But either way, the Formula E cars of 2025 are likely to look sleeker, with cleaner lines and more slender bodies.


The tyres on Formula E cars are used for both wet and dry conditions – a real talking point for the series. In season two these are still very new, but 10 years from now expect Michelin to have really upped their performance. Wet or dry, more grip (and thus higher speeds) seems inevitable.

But, let's be honest, the electric powertrains are where the real development potential is at. These have already been opened up to manufacturer involvement, which is the equivalent of handing a kid the keys to a sweet shop and telling them to go easy on the sugar. With the likes of Renault and Citroen involved – and more to follow – we can expect some big progress here.

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One thing we're likely to see by 2025 is a battery that can last a full race. FIA President Jean Todt has singled this out as a must, so expect the technology to be such that 45 minutes on a single battery is possible in a decade.

Now we come to the big one. Like any sport, the most important part of the Formula E puzzle is the competitors. The best cars competing in the most interesting venues mean very little when no one cares about the guys and girls driving them. It's no different from the likes of Ali, Pele and Federer – I don't need to tell you what sports they competed in, they're just icons, plain and simple.

And this is where Formula E will need to perform in the next decade. Sport is about heroes: the drivers need to be seen as daredevil racers who do things the fans simply cannot dream of. Now and again you also need a villain – the person you love to hate, a Dick Dastardly character.

Most importantly, the personalities need to grab the public's attention outside the car. Look at Lewis Hamilton. As well as a champion on the track he's an icon off it, hanging out with Pharrell and dating any number of desirable women, depending which newspaper you read. 10 years from now, you'd hope that Formula E will have its own driver capable of transcending the sport – ideally, one plucked from the Formula E Academy.

By 2025, the series needs competitors – male and female – who capture the imagination, who are more than just drivers. There are a few killjoys who think a racing driver should simply love driving and nothing else. Bullshit. Just as in any sport, the public crave real characters – flawed and brilliant in equal measure – not robots. Because remember what I said earlier: the future won't belong to the robots. If Formula E can get the human side right, it'll be in a good place come 2025.