The Cape Town round of the Formula-E championship has been dropped from the 2022 calendar amid COVID-related concerns. At the time of writing, the event was yet to be cancelled. We explore what would have been SA’s first foray into the realm of Formula E, bearing in mind that not all is lost just yet as we seem to come off what was our peak of the Omicron variant…
26 February 2022. That’s the date South African motorsport fans had added to their calendars after Cape Town’s inclusion in the 2022 Formula E season, which was confirmed this past July. The Mother City is no stranger to hosting acclaimed motorsport events, boasting an impressive list that includes the FIA Rallycross Championship, the Extreme Festival National Championship, as well as Drift City at the Grand Parade.
The Western Cape’s bid to host a Formula E race was put together in partnership with promoter, e-Movement, the City of Cape Town and bid sponsor Jaguar South Africa. The British carmaker joined the Formula E grid in 2016, marking its return to top-flight motorsport for the first time in 12 years after it bowed out of Formula 1. This revival of motorsport activities was to piggyback off its first all-electric production car, the I-Pace, launched in 2018.
Fans will notice a host of familiar and prestigious marques in the series including Porsche, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar and Nissan, which is a testament to the growing appeal and relevance of the series. And let’s not forget the last time the world motorsport governing body, the FIA, put its stamp of approval on a single-seater event in South Africa, it was the 1993 Formula 1 Grand Prix at Kyalami featuring the likes of Prost, Senna and Schumacher.
While Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s tight battle in F1 has seen motorsport’s global popularity increase dramatically, the focus has also shifted to greener forms of motorsport. The Mother City’s E-Prix was set to form part of a week-long e-Fest programme focused on sustainability, with a series of different events including an e-mobility conference, a golf tournament hosted by SA great Ernie Els and a Climate Change Summit by the World Bank. The event was to also include local communities and schools to educate about electric mobility, how they can contribute to a sustainable future and the impact of inner-city air pollution. Set to be the first Southern African city to host the single-seater event (Marrakesh in Morocco was the first African host city back in 2016), Cape Town was to join a list of some of the world’s most iconic cities including New York, London, Monaco and Berlin.
The City of Cape Town had earmarked the precinct in the Atlantic Seaboard suburb of Green Point around the Cape Town Stadium as the area to host the race. With the iconic Table Mountain in the background and the majestic stadium in the foreground, the location would likely have proved a tremendous drawcard for tourists and locals alike.
While the E-Prix was scheduled for February 26, the revised calendar leaves a date available for a fourth round on March 5 in a location that is yet to be decided. What the means is that the calendar now features two open slots, one of them potentially being a return to China as the final destination, the first time since Sanya in 2018-19.
What is Formula E?
Just over a decade ago, FIA president Jean Todt and Spanish businessman, Formula E chairman Alejandro Agag, met in a Paris restaurant and put together a plan on what would become the world’s first all-electric single-seater championship. The first race was held in 2014, but the FIA granted the series world championship status for its 2020/2021 season. “It was always our ambition to one day become an FIA World Championship. Everything we have done and delivered to this point has been working towards this particular moment,” said Formula E founder and chairman Alejandro Agag at the time.
Agag is also the founder of the Extreme E racing series, an off-road EV championship that has attracted the world’s best racing drivers to compete against one another in remote locations with the ultimate goal to bring attention to climate change.
The Formula E series has maintained its status as the blueprint for carmakers that design and produce new EV tech for road cars. The action started at the first race in Beijing on 13 September 2014 with Lucas di Grassi in the Audi Sport ABT securing the inaugural Formula E win.
The battle for supremacy and the ultimate crown in Season 1 went down to the wire with Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr converting his two wins in the season to narrowly beat Sebastien Buemi by a solitary point to grab the championship in its debut season.
The sport’s most successful driver is France’s Jean-Éric Vergne who is the only driver to win back-to-back Formula E titles, in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.
Just how quick is a Formula E car?
Electric racing cars might be near-silent off the line but that doesn’t make their acceleration any less violent. From the first race till now, the advancement in battery technology has only accelerated. To ensure racing is close, all teams use the same chassis. The Spark-Renault SRT 01E – better known as the Gen1 car – was used in the opening four seasons and sported 180 kW in race trim (with subsequent power upgrades) back in 2014. It is capable of surging the car to 100 km/h in just over three seconds.
Formula E at the time said the Gen1 car harboured battery-electric technology that had never been tried on a racetrack and set Formula E’s blueprint, pushing the envelope of what was possible with cutting-edge EV tech. The Gen1 car’s battery lacked sufficient range capacity over the full race distance, however, and cars had to be swapped mid-race to reach finish line.
As the organiser says, the heart of any Formula E car is the battery and this is where the sport has witnessed another quantum leap in its seven-season history. The first battery produced 200 kW in its most potent qualifying mode, weighed 320 kg (the equivalent of 4 000 mobile phone batteries) and took 60 minutes to charge from zero to 100%. Crucially, it lasted only 25 minutes in the race.
Ushered in for the 2018/2019 season, the Spark SRT05e – most commonly referred to as the Gen2 – was the first car capable of completing a full race distance, fitted with a battery constructed by McLaren Applied Technologies. With 250 kW of max power (200 kW in race mode), the Gen2 accelerates from zero to 100km/h in 2,80 seconds on to a top speed of 280 km/h. Formula E has said the upcoming Gen3 car will debut in 2022 with even more efficient performance.
Motorsport fans of all calibres will no doubt be intrigued by the Batmobile-looking cars set to slink through the Cape Town city streets next year, weighing around 900 kg (including the driver) and at just over 5 000 mm long and 1 770 mm wide, they are impressive-looking machines.
In a close and frenetic finale to the 2020/2021 season, that saw a 13 drivers still in with chance of winning the title in the last E-Prix in Berlin, Mercedes-EQ’s Nyck de Vries became the first ever FIA Formula E World Drivers’ Champion when he beat the rest of the field by the slenderest of margins.
Cape Town e-Fest 2022
The aim of e-Fest was to showcase all things e-mobility. Formula E is a great avenue to educate the public about electric vehicles, climate change and sustainable materials.
Iain Banner, co-founder and chairman of e-Movement, said: “South Africans can look forward to a week-long festival of events and activities celebrating sustainability. The race is what I call the celebration. So, we’ll have a two-day conference where we’ll have everything from one-wheelers to bicycles, possibly even a plane and a boat to showcase to the public what ‘E’ is all about both now and going into the future.
“We’ve also got a golf tournament that Ernie Els is hosting for us where our drivers and team principals will play a round with sponsors and others in the broader e-ecosystem. Then, very importantly, we’ve got a climate change summit. A big initiative in taking this to Cape Town is not only to race, but to grow the economy and promote e-business as well.”
With foundations laid and the majority of Cape Town’s Formula E event planned and on track, we can only wait in anticipation to see what is decided with regard to the two open slot in the 2022 calendar. Whether or not Cape Town can be reinstated as a location is unknown, but fingers crossed that the Mother City will be given a chance to show some Formula E fans what we have to offer as a motorsport crazed nation.