At the recent Monaco E-prix, FIA Formula E revealed its 3rd generation car that will be used for the forthcoming 2022-23 season. While it will be faster, lighter, and promises to provide more frantic racing, it has received negative feedback, in particular about the way it looks. The new design is radical to say the least. With hard, geometric lines and odd proportions, it’s not an attractive thing to look at. It’s so radical in fact, its fugly. Considering the design was inspired by a fighter jet, this is probably not what promoters of the sport had hoped for. How could it have ended up looking like this?
Much To Like About Formula E Gen3
Formula E is a fantastic racing series that delivers close and electrifying (pardon the pun) racing throughout the 16 races of a season. There should be no doubt that this new car will continue the excitement of EV racing for the next four seasons.
When the cars eventually hit the track for season 9 in late 2022 at the Riyadh Street Circuit in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, this latest generation racer promises to be a massive leap forward in terms of speed and vehicle dynamics over its Gen2 predecessor.
With a 200mph top speed, 350kws of power, an MGU (motor generator unit) on the front axle for squeezing even more regenerated energy back into the battery, and an allowance for 600kw fast charging, meaning the (possible) introduction of in-race recharging – a first for any sport, this should tantalize any electric car enthusiast. I know I am.
However, while the performance specs are exciting, the looks of the new car are a bit ho-hum…
The Triangle in the Room
‘As an engineering exercise… it’s astonishing. But all their efforts with the power and the speed and the toughness and the agility, were all a complete and utter waste of time. Because look at it…’
It has been described as a paper aeroplane, a slice of pizza, an F1 car with 80’s graphics, or ‘like a F2 had sex with a Tesla Cybertruck’. There is no getting around it, Gen3 just looks dumb.
While there are some who like it, they are in the minority. To say the reaction from social media was negative is an understatement. With a cartoonish front wing, bulky sidepods giving the car a ghetto-booty, miniscule rear wing, and cardboard cut-out roll hoop, this design is more RICE (Race Inspired Cosmetic Enhancement) than race.
Since the display car’s launch, most teams competing next season have released teaser images with their own liveries. While this has masked some of the unflattering bodywork, there’s no getting around the fact this new car simply doesn’t have nice lines.
Current ROKit Venturi Racing team driver, Lucas di Grassi, went as far as posting his own ‘redesign’ of the Gen3 shortly after the public launch. In collaboration with Chris Paul Designs, this revamped Gen3 has a fundamentally different shape, a slimmer nose, and better defined sidepods; in general it borrows conventional open-wheel design cues.
The front wing has more aero elements, along with covers over the front wheels to reduce the aerodynamic effects of dirty air off the front tyres, in theory adding to aerodynamic efficiency overall. Even then, Di Grassi admits that his design is simply an attempt to make the new car ‘look more aggressive and racy’.
Aesthetics are a superficial thing of course and to say something is fugly or dumb is a personal opinion after all. However, this new design goes deeper than simply being about looks. The aesthetics of the new car are very intentional, having been influenced strongly from both a technical and marketing stand-point. The sports slogan is ‘change accelerated’, and this new car is certainly changing the way race cars are being engineered.
Who Needs Downforce Anyway?
To begin with, consider one important aspect of any vehicle used in motorsports – aerodynamics, and in particular downforce.
For race cars, downforce is especially good for providing grip in high-speed corners. However, the greater the level of downforce, the more drag, and unfortunately drag is the invisible arch-enemy of all electric vehicles.
Gen3 has adopted a low drag design philosophy to reduce the battery draining effects of aerodynamics acting upon the car. As a result, there are no big wings or spoilers, no cascading elements, no turning vanes for guiding air flow over and around surfaces. The majority of the car’s downforce is produced from the floor and diffuser, generating a low pressure venturi tunnel under the car rather than high pressure over the top surfaces.
Downforce not only provides grip in the corners, it also acts as a braking mechanism on the car, slowing it down even without mechanical braking intervention. Cars with a greater reliance on downforce, i.e. Formula 1 cars, have a stronger braking effect when no throttle is being applied. The braking effect from aerodynamics alone can be so great it’s like pressing on the brakes of a regular road car.
On the new Formula E car there are in fact no rear mechanical brakes at all, meaning more reliance on electrical braking. Increasing the downforce, and therefore aerodynamic braking, would take away from regenerating energy back into the battery and reduce the range.
Formula E drivers must lift and coast as much as possible during a race to capture as much of the kinetic energy and put it back into the battery. This meant that out of necessity for increased efficiency and range,Formula E had to dramatically reduce the overall downforce on the car, hence no real aerodynamics to generate downforce.
Without the constraint of aerodynamics governing what the car should look like, designers had an almost blank canvas to play with. So why not exploit this and make it look completely unique?
Why So Extreme?
Formula E doesn’t want to be compared to Formula 1 anymore. They want to make it on their own in the world of motorsport and in an effort to once and for all separate themselves from their more established rival, the Gen3 chassis is designed to be as striking as possible.
As it’s difficult to bring across ‘traditional’ racing fans who like loud, high revving engines, it makes sense to target those who may not follow these more well-established forms of motorsport. Why not offer something completely different? Something unique to the online generation, and to those who will ultimately, more than likely, be driving electric cars in the future.
It’s no accident then that the car now looks like something out of a video game. Formula E’s target audience is younger race fans, particularly those who are into gaming and sim racing.
The unfortunate thing is Formula E felt the need to go to such extreme measures to differentiate itself from other racing series. The fact that an all-electric formula doesn’t seem to be enough to pique the interest of seasoned F1 fans has led to this extreme design.
There’s nothing subtle about Formula E’s new car. The designers felt that if you’re going into battle (against F1), you’re better off bringing a fighter jet than something mediocre and forgettable.
Have they gone too far with the new generation car? Is Gen3 a jumping the shark moment for Formula E?
It really depends what metric is being used.
If measured from a pure marketing perspective, then it hits the mark and has been a success thus far. The uncompromised design is getting people talking more and more about Formula E, and surely many will tune in and follow the competition next year in locations such as London, New York, Berlin, Diriyah, and Sao Paulo.
If measured purely against the archetypal idea of an open wheel race car, then it’s a failure. It looks like an awkwardly proportioned electric wedge on wheels.
There are going to be haters out there who despise the way this thing looks. While I am not a huge fan of the alternative design cues, I admire them for trying something different, and revel in the fact that EV technology has taken a significant step in the right direction. Formula E know what they are and who their audience is, and they have built the right car for the product they are selling.
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