How to drive a 225kph electric race car

People are "less scared" of electric cars says Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi
Nissan/Paul Ryan
People are "less scared" of electric cars says Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi

Story highlights

Driving an electric race car was "a bit strange" for the first few laps - Buemi

The cars are difficult to control but that increases excitement and overtaking

People are now "less scared" to buy electric cars

Predictions of 125 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030

CNN —  

Aged just seven Sebastien Buemi was already on track to become a Formula E world champion.

Like most young motorsport fans he had a Scalextric set, racing the original battery-powered race cars on a winding, model track.

“I loved it,” Buemi recalls to CNN. “But I would not have imagined I would one day drive a real electric racing car.”

Fast forward 20 years and the Swiss powered a full-size electric car to the Season Two Formula E world title.

Now the Nissan e.dams star reveals how to drive an electric car – and why we should all prepare for an electric future.

How do you start an electric race car?

“The procedure in itself is quite similar to a Formula 1 car,” explains Buemi, who raced in F1 with Toro Rosso for three seasons.

“We have a button called the main switch and then the ignition to switch on all the software. We switch to move then you press a button to engage first gear - and you go!

READ: The 56,000 mile electric car journey

“You don’t need to warm up anything like you do in F1 where the engine needs to be properly warmed up [for example].

“It’s a bit more easy to start and just go but there is a lot of software involved, even more than in F1, so when you have a bug or a problem sometimes it’s not so easy to see.”

On the road: Tesla owners can even use an app on their smartphones to lock and unlock their cars.

What’s it like driving an electric car for the first time?

“It was a bit strange for the first few laps,” recalls Buemi, who had never driven an electric car prior to testing for the inaugural 2014/2015 Formula E season.

“When you do motorsport most of the time you have a big engine with a lot of noise but [in Formula E] you go to basically no noise. Above 100kph (62mph) you just hear the wind.

“You can still hear the gearbox and a little bit of the motor but it’s a lot less than a normal combustion engine.

“I got used to it very quickly and within three or four laps I didn’t miss the noise, which I was expecting to.

“But because there is less noise you get [more] families and small kids coming to the races.”

On the road: The US Department of Transportation has ruled that all electric and hybrid vehicles must, by 2020, emit a noise when traveling under 18.6mph to help keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.

How fast can you go in a Formula E car?

The fastest race cars on the planet are found in Formula 1 where the drivers can hit highs of just over 230mph.

The sport’s beautifully engineered cars use complex aerodynamic wings and smooth tires to help suck the car to the track and increase speed.

Formula E’s more uniform cars have less downforce and use grooved tires similar to those on a road car, which means the car’s top speed is lower at around 140mph.

01:39 - Source: CNN
Will Formula E merge with Formula One?

“In F1 the regulation is a lot more open you can produce the car from A-Z” explains Buemi. “Whereas in Formula E something like 75% of the car is common for everyone. [The teams] only produce the power train and software.

“The idea of Formula E is to focus on efficiency rather than on pure lap time.

“If you wanted to speak about pure lap time you would put on more downforce, use slick tires and you would go a lot quicker - and that’s not the idea of the regulation.

“Downforce is speed and as a driver you love to go quick… but I prefer the concept of Formula E because… things are more unpredictable.”

On the road: The fastest electric road car in the world was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019. Italian carmaker Automobili Pininfarina claims its Battista does 0-62mph in less than two seconds.

What is the car like to drive?

“The car slides more and it is difficult to control,” says Buemi, who also drove a hybrid sports car to the World Endurance Championship title in 2014.