What is Formula E? Your guide to Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson's favourite new motorsport

Joe Hall
Follow Joe
An example Formula E racing car (Source: Getty)

Racing goes on the grid for the first time this weekend, as the debut season of Formula E gets underway in Beijing this weekend.

Formula E is the electricity powered alternative to the more gass-guzzling versions of motorsports, backed by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and an array of famous faces including Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson.

Tomorrow in China's capital, Formula E's cars will rev up for the first of ten races to be hosted on the streets of some of the biggest cities around the world, with the competition winding down in London on 27 June 2015.

But what distinguishes Formula E from its contemporaries beyond a refreshing petrol fume-free pit stop? And why should you care?

Here's all the info you need:

Cars & racers

Formula E is a unisex sport comprised of 10 teams who have four identical cars and two drivers each. Starting from next season, teams will be permitted to start designing their own cars, as is the case in Formula 1.

The car that racers have had to get to grips with is the Spark-Renault SRT-01E, a zero emission vehicle with a superlightweight chassis, electronics by McLaren Electronics and batteries from Williams Advanced Engineering. Specially designed 18" treaded tyres come from Michelin.

Each driver has two cars as Williams have not yet developed the technology for a battery that can last the distance. Drivers must quickly jump from one car to another in a pit stop.

The cars, while not quite as fast as their Formula 1 counterparts, can still reach a maximum speed of 150mph and can zoom from zero to 62 mph in just three seconds.

Two of the racers in the competition may sound familiar. Nicolas Prost, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Bruno Senna are all from Formula 1 royalty. Nicolas and Nelson are the sons of Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet, while Bruno, an ex-Formula 1 driver in his own right, is the late Ayrton Senna's nephew.

Rules - you decide the outcome

Each round of the competition, including a practice session, qualifying session and the race itself will take place within one day. The race lasts one hour with each driver required to make one mandatory pit stop in order to switch cars.

Cars will be restricted to "race mode" power levels but - and this is where it gets interesting - viewers from home have the potential to bestow increased power to 180kw on their favourite racer with a "FanBoost".

The three drivers who receive the most votes from fans before a race get given a five second "power boost" to use at any time of their choosing.

Jet-setting global schedule

The FIA Championship, which consists of both a drivers and teams' championship, will see its competitors zipping past some of the world's most famous landmarks, with the air soundtracked by the aeroplane-like sound of its cars echoing through its streets. Beijing is first up.

The schedule takes racers across five continents, however the FIA is still looking for an event on Valentine's Day next year after cancelling a date in Rio de Janeiro for undisclosed reasons.

Here's the schedule in full:

Famous faces

Just as Formula 1 tracks has long been a popular destination for the rich and famous, Formula E has its fair share of notable backers in tow.

Not only have Formula 1 legends such as Alain Prost, Mario and Michael Andretti have set up teams, Richard Branson is a fan and will be cheering on the Virgin Racing team.

Oh, and then there's Leonardo Di Caprio who teamed up with Venturi Automobiles to enter a team into the competition.

When he's not playing a gangster or Gatsby, Di Caprio is a big environmental campaigner. He told the official Formula E website:

The future of our planet depends on our ability to embrace fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles. Venturi Grand Prix has shown tremendous foresight in their decision to create an environmentally friendly racing team, and I am happy to be a part of this effort.

A sport with a message

Formula E is more than just a new sport with a gimmick and a hope of making a quick buck. It thinks of itself as carrying a message to the cities of the world, and hopes to act as a driving force towards a cleaner, more sustainable motor industry.

Formula E says it "represents a vision for the future of the motor industry over the coming decades, serving as a framework for R&D around the electric vehicle, accelerating general interest in these cars and promoting sustainability.

"The championship centres around three core values of Energy, Environment and Entertainment and is a fusion of engineering, technology, sport, science, design, music and entertainment - all combining to drive the change towards an electric future."

Where to watch it

UK fans can catch the sport on ITV and BT Sport.

  • 8.00am ITV 4 - FIA Formula E Championships LIVE: Beijing
  • 7.00pm ITV 4 - FIA Formula E Championship Highlights
  • 9.00pm BT Sport 2 - Highlights

Related articles