Do you know that the Formula E season is past its halfway point for 2023? Can you name any of the drivers, or who’s winning the championship at this point, or which constructors are in the series? What about Extreme E? Can you recite any of the ways that this series differs from Formula E or Formula 1? If the answer is No, you’re probably not alone in this CleanTechnica readership. While we love electric vehicles for our own pursuits of the open road, all-electric racing just doesn’t seem as fully realized or as enduring at its fuel-powered siblings. What would you say to an all-electric F1 vs. legacy F1 racer?
That’s Elon Musk’s newest idea.
The Tesla micromanager who has announced he wants to personally supervise every hire was on the pinnacle of the world racing stage for a brief moment last weekend. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was a guest in the Red Bull paddock at the Formula 1 LSXMA Miami Grand Prix on Sunday, May 9. Musk was only one of several celebrities in Miami that weekend — Amazon guru Jeff Bezos; Top Gun’s ageless star Tom Cruise; and, tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams — dear friends of 7-time F1 driver world champion Lewis Hamilton — were also on site.
Can’t you just image Musk bending the ear of a mechanic in the Red Bull garage, quizzing them about ratios and downforce compromises?
For decades, the Formula 1 Euro-centric elite turned their proverbial noses up at US drivers and fans — that is, until US-owned Liberty Media acquired the series in 2016. Suddenly, the US was much more appealing.
Three races are on the F1 2023 calendar — Miami, Austin, and Las Vegas. A Netflix docudrama, Drive to Survive, elevated the visual appeal of the sport for new audiences.
A 2022 Liberty Media press release outlines how attendance grew 36% from 2019 to 5.7 million, and F1’s full-year revenue rose 20% from 2021 to $2.6 billion, $1.2 billion of which was passed on to teams. The racing series’ operating income more than doubled to $239 million.
Now that the F1 insiders have (at least outwardly) embraced the US, it makes sense that Musk would want to be part of the paddock festivities. ESPN F1’s tweet displayed Musk alongside Horner. In response Musk said he proposed an F1 race that would feature EVs competing with the Red Bull RB19, whether gas or hybrid-powered vehicle.
During an interview with the Financial Times, Horner shared his insights. “It was great to see him coming to a Formula One race and embracing the combustion engine again! I think he was very impressed with the technology, obviously an incredibly bright guy, wanted to know all about the battery and so on, and the power and the output of the car. Then he threw down the gauntlet of wanting to race us with one of his electrical vehicles, but then realized that they could only do half the race… He’s a partner with Larry Ellison from Oracle, who is our title partner. It’s always great to meet people like that because they’re so involved in the tech and so forward thinking as well.”
Horner also said that it would be “great to attract talent” like Musk at the next regulation change, which will be for the 2026 season as well as with the sports ongoing quest to transition to carbon neutrality by 2030.
Indeed. Musk’s proposal could be a catalyst to spark several important systemic changes in Formula 1. The Tesla brand name carries with it a certain panache. It’s not a stretch to imagine a Tesla Model S Plaid modified with brakes that invite maneuvers through tight corners and additional features that currently set F1 apart from other racing series.
All-Electric F1 Vehicles? What Would Be Different from Formula E or Extreme E?
There is a racing league that has electric vehicles, that being Formula E. Formula 1 had its inaugural season in 1950, while Formula E made its debut in 2014.
But Formula E cars have yet to show that they can match the top speeds of their E10-powered counterparts in Formula 1. Formula 1 vehicles average around 200-220 mph during long straight lines of race circuits, but top timed speeds max around 231 mph. Formula E cars top at around 175 mph/ 281 km/h. The Tesla Model S Plaid reportedly can reach speeds of up to 200 mph/ 321 km/h, the latest Formula E car – the Gen3 of 2022 – reaches a top speed of 322 km/h.
Formula E vs F1 cars also differ in their rate of acceleration: the former can go from 0-100 km/h in 2.8 seconds, while the latter performs the same feat in 2.6 seconds. Behind-the-scenes experts expect that gap to close quickly.
Then again, the Formula E Attack Mode is more appealing than Formula 1’s DRS boost. Attack Mode racers are allowed to temporarily boost their power by 50 kW by pressing a button on their steering wheel. The rules governing Attack Mode are quite strict and can change from circuit to circuit, which means teams must come up with race strategies at the last minute, adding to the excitement and variability between races.
The powers behind Formula E insist that the series is not intended to rival Formula 1. Rather, its founding mission is to accelerate the transition to zero emissions mobility by testing new technologies on the race track before rolling them out for public use.
This season, the two feeder series to F1 — F2 and F3 — announced they were moving to sustainable fuels. F1 intends to transition to carbon-neutral gasoline in 2026 with the only supplier to be a fossil fuel giant, Aramco providing a single-make fuel formula. (That’s the same conglomerate that has stated it will invest to increase crude oil production capacity to 13 million barrels per day by 2027, expand its liquid to chemical production, and look to increase gas production by more than 50% by 2030.)
Former Red Bull driver and 4-time driver champ Sebastian Vettel, who retired after the 2022 season, released a video in March test driving the Tesla Model S Plaid. He stated that he was able to reach 217 mph behind the wheel.
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