Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Formula E, the electrifying future of motorsport

By Sheena McKenzie, for CNN
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
The inaugural season of the FIA's new electric racing series Formula E gets underway in 2014. Details about the new championship have been scarce, but are now starting to emerge. The inaugural season of the FIA's new electric racing series Formula E gets underway in 2014. Details about the new championship have been scarce, but are now starting to emerge.
HIDE CAPTION
Formula E
Formula E
Sounds like sci-fi
Formula E
Formula E
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The future is electric -- introducing Formula E racing
  • New motor racing competition features battery-powered cars
  • Engine sounds like something from sci-fi films Tron and Star Wars
  • Cars can hit speeds of 220 kilometers per hour

Art of Movement is CNN's monthly show exploring the latest innovations in art, culture, science and technology.

(CNN) -- It's an unnerving realization: the futuristic films of your youth have become reality.

The lasers that terrified a generation in HG Wells's War of the Worlds are now used in everything from DVD players to the operating table. While Star Trek's farfetched "language translator" is as simple as downloading an app to your smart phone.

Now the slick electric cars that battled against each other in 1980s sci-fi thriller "Tron" have leaped from the movies to our front doors.

Introducing the world's first Formula E motor race, an international competition where high-tech electric cars speed around some of the world's major cities -- all without a drop of gasoline in sight.

These motors are something no one has ever done before.
Alejandro Agag, Formula Electric CEO

"These motors are something no one has ever done before -- it's pretty science fiction," said Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag.

"If you think of movies like Tron or Star Wars and the noise those cars make, Formula E will sound a lot like that. The sound of the electric engine is quite interesting -- it's much lower, very futuristic, a bit like a jet fighter."

Brave new world

The future, it seems, is much closer than you think. From September next year these battery-powered beasts will be zipping around 10 of the biggest cities in the world, as part of a year-long competition that could revolutionize not just the sport -- but the future of transportation.

Much like traditional Formula One racing, the competition will feature 10 teams, each with two drivers, who will go head-to-head in 60-minute races.

Beijing -- one of the most polluted cities in the world -- is expected to be the first to host the radical competition showcasing green technology. Other cities will include London, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro.

Electric cars to hit race tracks
Who is the greatest F1 driver ever?

Already, major motorsport teams have signed up to the ambitious plan -- including U.S. team Andretti Autosport, Britain's Drayson Racing, and China Racing -- each expected to spend between $5 million and $10 million developing their high-tech engines.

Watch this: The aerodynamics of F1

"We're not trying to compete with Formula One -- we're positioning ourselves in a completely different way," said Agag.

"FE will be much more focused on new technology," he added. "The lower level of sound also means we can race in the heart of major cities without the same level of disruption."

Battery beasts

As the name suggests, Formula E is all about electric power -- and that means big battery engines.

Each battery weighs 200 kilograms, producing around 200 kilowatts of power. Depending on the speed, an electric engine can last anywhere from a few hours to just 25 minutes.

And if you thought they lacked the grunt of traditional engines, think again. These battery beasts can hit speeds of 220 kilometers per hour.

The gas pump is also a thing of the past in the brave new world of zero-emission racing. Once the battery is used, it can be charged again as many times as you like.

Read: Interactive -- F1's billion dollar business

"From the outside they look just like other racing cars," said Agag. "They're slightly smaller with more weight towards the back where the battery is.

"At the moment the electricity is from batteries but in the future it could run on different sources of energy. We're already working on a hydrogen prototype."

Green machines

Driving this new technology isn't just an era of Tron-like expansion. It's a racing industry grappling with increased environmental concerns.

For more than 60 years, Formula One has raced gas-guzzling cars across a planet which is now facing not just the threat of climate change, but limited and expensive oil supplies.

Two years ago motorsport's international governing body, the Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA), announced an ambitious plan for an electric car race that would mimic the hugely popular F1 series. Now as the deadline for Formula E looms, it could have a big impact on the future of car manufacturing.

"If you look in the past, a lot of development in the car industry has come from racing," said Agag. "The transfer of technology is potentially very big.

"It's important because people are not buying electric cars at the moment -- they think they're too slow, with limited range, and ugly. But if you show that they can go faster, longer, you'll change people's minds -- they'll be more likely to buy electric."

When Formula E waves its chequered flag for the first time in September next year, it will be a momentous moment in the history of motor racing -- and a step towards the sci-fi future.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Jason Hullinger, a computer security architect in Los Angeles, went to Joshua Tree National Park in December to catch the Geminid meteor shower.
For thousands of years, man has looked to the stars in search of answers. Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
NASA's new flying saucer-shaped spacecraft has made its maiden flight.
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide took this breathtaking selfie during Expedition 32 on September 5, 2012.
He may be best known for his part in the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, but did you know Buzz Aldrin snapped the "first space selfie?"
updated 5:33 AM EST, Tue November 12, 2013
Introducing GimBall -- a flying robot modeled on insects, which may change search and rescue missions forever.
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
If you were the second person to set foot on the moon, what would you be worried about? For Buzz Aldrin -- it was a locked door. Find out why.
updated 5:47 AM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Man has been making images of the moon for millennia. Explore our gallery of some of the most eye-catching creations.
shakespeare moon illustration
The moon has always had a powerful grip on our imagination. Here's how the likes of Shakespeare and Twain have taken inspiration from this midnight muse.
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
CNN's Becky Anderson looks at how practicing underwater is the perfect way to prepare for spacewalks.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
solar flare july 2014
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Inventor Glenn Martin admits he appears crazy -- "But it's the crazy people who change the world."
ADVERTISEMENT