The Audi R18 e-tron quattro in motion

Electric dream machine


Audi Sport’s Lucas di Grassi recently won the Formula E World Championship and Audi is now set to enter the exciting all-electric racing series as a manufacturer team. Earlier in the season we headed to Monaco to catch the action

Motorsport has developed hugely over the last 100 years, but until recently it was powered almost exclusively by internal combustion engines. Which is what makes Formula E so different. It pits electric race cars head-to-head on challenging street circuits and entices city-dwelling audiences often new to motorsport.

Formula E is in its third season and it’s set to expand dramatically. Big manufacturers have been moving in, and Audi has partnered with the ABT team ahead of entering a full manufacturer team next season.

Formula E has attracted some serious talent, with several drivers – such as ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport’s Lucas di Grassi – having Formula 1 and Le Mans 24 Hours experience. And the series of short qualifying sessions that build up to a ‘superpole’ final create plenty of excitement. Power is limited to 170kW for the race and 200kW (around 270PS) for qualifying, though FanBoost gives the three drivers who are tagged most often on social media a brief boost to 200kW during the race.

Lucas di Grassi at the Formula E World Championship

Close up of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro

The Audi R18 e-tron quattro

Brazilian ace di Grassi admits that his new electric-powered single-seater racing car does not have the sheer pace of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro he raced in the World Endurance Championship, but he insists that Formula E can be just as exciting as endurance racing. ‘OK, it might be slower in terms of pure speed,’ he acknowledges, ‘but when you’ve got the barrier up against you, it certainly feels fast, and when you’re on the limit at 100mph or 200mph, it’s still the limit.’

Watching Formula E in action is indeed exciting, even if the traditional roar of combustion engines is missing. Instead, the cars produce a distinctive sound on acceleration – an electronic whine that’s part sci-fi hyperdrive, part speeded-up Tube train. Racing at Monaco was close, and featured some impressively committed overtaking. Di Grassi earned a FanBoost and, although it wasn’t enough to pass leader Sébastien Buemi in a tense last-corner tussle, he finished second and kept the same position in the championship.

With seven races left, including rounds in Paris, Berlin, New York and Montreal, the season was far from over after Monaco. Three months later, at the final event in Canada, di Grassi clinched the drivers title and Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport secured second place in the team classification. ‘Today is the best day in my career,’ the new Formula E Champion enthused after the race. ‘I’ve believed in Formula E from day one because the world, including motorsport, is changing. Three years ago, we won the first Formula E race in Beijing and now finally the title as well. ABT Sportsline, Schaeffler and Audi Sport have done a perfect job.’

The buzz around electric racing is set to grow, with the new season getting underway in Hong Kong with two races over 2-3 December.

 

Written by Mike Duff. Photographs by Greg Funnell

 

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Race car in motion at the Formula E Word Championship