Since the FIA Formula E Championship first hit the world’s streets in 2014, the ground-breaking all-electric motorsport has garnered plenty of headlines. Proving itself more than just a showcase for revolutionary technology, it continues to take big-name drivers to big-name cities and – crucially – has proved itself capable of producing genuine sporting drama. As the sport approaches the culmination of its second full season and the teams prepare for a showdown final weekend in London, we take a look at some of the top moments from its first two years.
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Di Grassi Hits The Strip
On a sunny day in January 2014, eight months before the inaugural ePrix, the former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi took his Spark-Renault SRT_01E out for its first public spin – along the Las Vegas Strip. The stunt was part of a global showcase for the new sport, and resulted in the low single-seater sharing the road with regular Sin City traffic. Di Grassi even found time to perform a donut or two outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel (in a controlled environment, we hasten to add).
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Branson Talks Big
As the start of the opening season grew nearer, Sir Richard Branson made it clear how much hope he had for the sport. Speaking in London in June 2014, he explained that Formula E could rival – or even outdo – the popularity of its more established counterpart. “I think in four or five years you will find Formula E taking over from F1 in terms of number of people,” he said. “As time goes on, the clean energy type of business will power ahead of other businesses.” Branson’s Virgin Racing outfit are among the teams committed long-term to the championship, alongside the likes of Audi Sport, Mahindra Racing and Venturi, the latter co-founded by Leonardo di Caprio.
The Opening Race Goes Crash
Beijing was the setting for the very first Formula E weekend, a race won by Lucas di Grassi, but the debut event is now best remembered for a spectacular final-lap crash involving Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost. The accident saw Heidfeld’s Venturi flipped violently into the air by Prost’s Renault, an incident which Prost – son of French F1 legend Alain – later apologised for.
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Nelson Piquet Jnr Follows His Dad’s Tracks…
Back in 1980, an up-and-coming driver named Nelson Piquet won his first F1 Grand Prix, passing the chequered flag almost 50 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. The place? Long Beach, California. Fast forward 35 years and Piquet’s son – wearing a replica of his father’s old race helmet – took to the famous track himself in the inaugural Long Beach ePrix. He started third on the grid but claimed the lead from the very first corner, arrowing into a tight chicane ahead of his rivals. He remained in front for almost the entire race, claiming his own maiden victory in the process. Some things are just meant to be.
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…Then Goes On To Clinch The Title – Just
The first season was nothing if not an open affair, with the eleven races throwing up no less than seven different winners. It meant the standings were tight going into the final race weekend in London, and despite finishing only seventh on the Sunday, Nelson Piquet Jnr managed to claim the overall title by a single point. He had won just two races all season, but pipped Sebastian Buemi to the top spot after his compatriot Bruno Senna – nephew of Ayrton – held off a stern challenge from Buemi on the final lap.
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The Organisers Announce Roborace
The days of Stirling Moss have never seemed more distant. Formula E might still be in its infancy, but its organisers are clearly in no mood to hold back when it comes to developing new technology. Last November, Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag announced the imminent launch of Roborace, the world’s first driverless racing series. Set to debut in either late 2016 or early 2017, the competition will feature aerodynamic vehicles designed by Daniel Simon – best known as the man who created the futuristic “Light Cycles” for sci-fi film Tron: The Legacy.
Buemi Claims His Fifth Win
As the sophomore season reaches its climax, a number of drivers have now firmly established themselves as dominant forces in the Formula E series. Sam Bird, Jerome d’Ambrosio and Lucas di Grassi have all claimed multiple victories, but chief among the front-runners is Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi, who became the first to notch up five wins when he topped the podium in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in December. Buemi, formerly an F1 driver with Scuderia Torro Rosso, won despite starting fifth on the grid.
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Jaguar Announces Its Motor-Racing Comeback
Yet another household name joined the Formula E world in late 2015, when Jaguar announced it would be entering a team in the championship from the 2016/17 season onwards. The firm had spent 12 years away from motor-racing after leaving F1 at the end of 2004, and its comeback marks a statement of intent. “It will give us a unique opportunity to further our electrification technologies,” said group engineering director Nick Rogers. The Jaguar team will be partnered by Williams Advanced Racing, meaning fans can expect fresh design ideas.
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Sam Bird Wins In Buenos Aires
A number of races can lay claim to being the best to date, but precious few have been as exciting as this season’s Buenos Aires ePrix. The February event was won by Sam Bird, the British driver pulling off a masterly performance to lead from start to finish, but the main drama came courtesy of Sebastian Buemi, who began way down in 18th place and pegged his way up to second. The pick of his many overtaking manoeuvres was a four-wide swoop on the opening lap, and the closing minutes of the race saw Bird having to defend himself doggedly from Buemi’s final charge.
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The London ePrix takes place in Battersea Park on the 2nd and 3nd July 2016. Find tickets here.