THE NEXT sentence in this column will instantly polarise people, splitting them into divisions of either ‘I agree’ or ‘he’s an idiot’ in a heartbeat.
I do not much like Formula E.
There you go. I wrote it and I am okay with It and own that statement.
Having now pissed off half of our audience, let me make one thing clear; I do not dislike the class because they are Electric racing cars – in fact, I think the technology and its rate of development is seriously impressive.
I also do not dislike it because of the competition, which is intense and the presentation, which is slick. I like the fact it has multiple serious manufacturers engaged, I love the quality of the drivers involved (I commentated on Mitch Evans when he was in Formula Ford and F3, he’s a cracking young bloke and should have been given a shot at F1) and I think their efforts to be carbon neutral are admirable.
The problem that I am yet to be able to remove from my brain is however, a simple one.
I don’t think it has a soul.
To me – and I’ll emphasise, this is a very personal opinion and at no point should anyone feel obligated to agree – it lacks emotion and that’s exactly what drew me into the sport in the first place.
You see, when I was a kid I was lucky enough to grow up with a Formula One race in my backyard.
I wrote picture books about F1 in school, I discussed it with my friends and often we’d go into the city and sit in the backyard of my grandparents house, not more than 5 kilometres from the track, and listen to the cars. To this day I remember picking the Ferrari V12 shriek above them all, even from that distance.
But it was my first trip to the race itself that I remember vividly as the moment that started my love affair with the sport.
I’d been to races before, of course, but nothing like a Grand Prix and certainly I’d experienced nothing like F1 cars in action. Even today, for all their lack of (relative) noise, there’s still something different about seeing a Formula One car at work.
But back when I first went, it was Cosworth V8s against Renault V10s and Ferrari V12s and it wasn’t so much as sound as it was a feeling. You could feel the reverberations of the bigger engined cars as they accelerated out of slow corners, before the shattering racket of the high-pitched V8’s revving at 18,000 RPM distorted your hearing as they flew past.
I distinctly remember it being completely overwhelming, reaching every one of my senses: touching the barriers and feeling the cars as they’d pound by, the taste of the unburnt fuel in the air, the smell of that fuel and torched rubber. The sight of Senna’s famous Yellow helmet in his Red and White McLaren. And the sound.. sound that reverberated out from between the walls to encompass the entire city of Adelaide.
The same can be said for our own V8 Supercars: I maintain that one of the best moments in sport is standing on the fence directly parallel to a Supercars race start – a field of 20+ V8’s crashing off the rev limiter about to launch is like nothing else.
Again, it’s as much the feeling in your chest as it is the noise in your ears and as much as I enjoy a good TCR race, their starts lack almost all of the impact of their Supercars equivalent.
Speedway does it too and while I do not possess to be a massive fan of Drag Racing, watching a Top Fuel car launch in person for the first time is distinctly life altering. I’d recommend it to anyone as it will shape their comprehension of what an internal combustion engine can do.
Now I’ve not seen Formula E live, but even TV translates some of motorsport’s soul to viewers at home and I don’t get that from the Electric series.
Like I said earlier, I admire its ambition and its concept and I have no problems with people who do enjoy it.
As yet, however, I can’t buy in to the product.
If anything, this was enhanced further last weekend as I was lucky enough to work on an event called The Bend Classic.
Billed as the Goodwood Festival of the Southern Hemisphere, this still incredibly young event drew a remarkable field of 76 cars in just its second attempt, despite most interstate competitors being unable to attend given border closures and whatnot.
The highlight, of course, was a group of Formula One cars from the 1980s and 1990s that in an instant took me back to that day on the Adelaide streets watching Senna and Mansell do their thing.
From the raspy, flat burl of the 1.5 litre Turbocharged Hart in-line four in the Toleman TG185 to the almost musical notes of the four-cam Repco V8 aboard a stunningly restored Brabham BT62 and the iconic howl of four Cosworth V8’s in action.. it was incredible.
Standing at the final corner, with 1.1 kilometres of front straight to my right, I’d watch the cars hammer out of the final few corners and fly up the hill towards turn one; flat on the throttle for the better part of 10 seconds without hesitation, banging through the gears.
It was like being in the front row of a concert and while this time the band was playing a Cosworth V8 at 12,000 RPM, the feeling – that indescribable sensation deep behind your ribcage in your chest you get when you see a great band play live – was there, front and centre.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen these cars, both in Adelaide and even at The Bend so perhaps it was the fact that it has been a year with little of that kind of stimulation that ilicited such a profound response this year.. I honestly don’t know. And honestly, I’m not going to put much thought into it.
Either way, It took me right back to those moments as a kid and reminded me exactly why I love the sport, hairs standing up on the back of my neck and everything.
Motorsport’s drive to become ‘relevant’ in the face of an advancing electric-driven and autonomous world is laudable.
But to my eyes and ears, there is still absolutely no substitute to igniting refined oil in a cylinder housing – preferably eight of them – and letting it explode. It is what gives the sport it’s soul, in the same way a heaving stadium does the same for a game of football.
And based on the reactions from several young fans enjoying at the circuit last Sunday, some of them possibly experiencing a real F1 car for the first time, I don’t think that is going to change any time soon.