COMES TO MONTREAL
Montreal has long been the home of Formula 1 racing in Canada. Now, the new FIA Formula E Championship has landed in the city as well. This past July, the FIA staged two rounds of the inaugural Montreal eprix, which were also final two races of the 2016-17 season and the ones that decided the championship.
Given the shift in thinking towards the acceptance of the idea that all-electric cars will soon become the dominant form of personal transport, it should come as no surprise that the FIA has jumped on the bandwagon and established an auto racing series based on this concept. The races at Montreal were part of the third season of Formula E racing.
As you might expect, these cars are specially built open-wheel single-seaters using on-board storage batteries powering electric motors. In the first year, all the cars were identical and used battery packs from Williams Advanced Engineering and power trains from Mclaren Applied Technologies with Michelin as the sole tire supplier (see sidebar). Since then, other manufacturers have been allowed to provide the inverter/engine/ transmission package and there are nine manufacturers involved across the ten teams.
These cars weigh about 800 kg with the driver aboard, 200 kg of that coming from the battery pack. The cars have a power output of about 200 kw (180 hp) with more power made available for qualifying. This gives them a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of less than three seconds. The top speed is limited by regulation at 225 km/h.
As per standard Formula E practice, a tight street circuit was erected just east of downtown Montreal (surrounding the CBC building) even though the site is just a short distance across the river from the permanent Grand Prix circuit on Île Notre-dame. This year, the two Montreal rounds were the final two races in the championship year, adding extra interest to the event here.
Given that these races are run on a street circuit, the whole `circus' arrives in the form of a pop-up tent village with everything housed under canvas. In Montreal, it looked like general admission spectators might have difficulty finding a good view of the action but there were a number of grandstands erected for the event, including one for the upscale `EMOTION” hospitality club.
The Montreal event had two race days, Saturday and Sunday, each with a complete package off ontrack activity – practice, qualifying
and the one-hour race. Given the limited amount of energy that can be stored in on-board battery packs and long recharging times, Formula E uses a pair of identical cars for each driver in each race. At the half-hour mark the driver pulls into the pit area and jumps out of the car and into another one for the second half of the race.
This year, Sébastien Buemi had been dominant in the points standings. Heading into the tworace New York event a couple of weeks earlier, he had won six of the first eight races and he led in the championship points standings by 32 points over Lucas di Grassi (157 to 125). Unfortunately for Buemi, he had to miss the two New York races to fulfil a commitment to drive for Toyota in the Nürburgring round of the World Endurance Championship, so coming into Montreal his points lead had shrunk to just ten.
Montreal proved to be Buemi's undoing. In practice on Saturday morning, he crashed his car and the team had to prepare a spare car for the race. The battery pack in the wrecked car was damaged and they had to go to a replacement, which saw him penalized and sent towards the back of the grid. In the race, he drove well,
passing most of the cars ahead of him and he finished in fourth place. Unfortunately, his team built the spare car so quickly that they did not had time to weigh it and it came in underweight after the race, so he was disqualified. On Sunday, various problems saw him finish 11th, out of the points. Meanwhile di Grassi won the Saturday race and finished in seventh place on Sunday – good enough to clinch the title.
If you missed watching this year's eprix season, you can see the highlights on Youtube; just search Formula E Season 3 Review Show.
Given that the series' rationale is based on the notion that the automotive world is moving (slowly) toward an electric future, and auto racing reflects the technology used in cars being driven on the road, the success of the series may depend on how accurate that future vision becomes. So far, Formula E is not about to overwhelm the massive worldwide popularity of Formula 1, but who knows what the future holds.
The 2017-18 Formula E schedule has been announced and, once again, the final two rounds will once again be staged at the second annual Montreal eprix next July 28-29.