A Spectacular Crash Could Boost Interest In Electric Car Racing

Formula E-Crash SSScreenshot via YouTubeThe driver walked away.

Formula 1-style racing with electric cars started off with a bang this past weekend in China.

On the last lap, Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost collided in their Formula E cars. Heidfeld then got briefly airborne before crashing into a wall and ending up inverted.

Neither driver was injured, and on Twitter Prost took responsibility for the crash — although he and Heidfeld got into an argument as they left the track. Lucas di Grassi’s win was overshadowed by all the drama.

At Autoblog, Chris Bruce out his finger on something critical:

While crashes like this in motorsports are never positive because they put drivers in serious danger, an incident like this with no major injuries could actually work to give Formula E some notoriety — particularly among those who don’t follow racing religiously. If nothing else, the crash vividly illustrates that the series’ drivers are willing to put it all on the line.

For whatever reason, prior to the race, there was something of a benign vibe around Formula E, which is operating with the backing of the International Automotive Federation (FIA) and with $US100 million in funding. Big names are backing teams: Leonardo di Caprio, Richard Branson, and Formula 1 veteran Alain Prost — whose son Nicolas was leading the Beijing race until Saturday’s crash.

In fact, Heidfeld was driving for di Caprio’s Venturi team.

However, the series is pitching itself as a promotional platform for electric cars and the benefits they can deliver to a polluted planet. This makes it seem less like “real” racing — although it obviously is real racing, as the final lap this weekend demonstrates, and Autoblog’s Bruce stresses.

The debate now is whether a crash really is a good thing for the fledgling Formula E. It certainly looks a lot more like real racing now. One potential problem for the future is that while high-performance brands such as Ferrari and McLaren benefit from the inherent risks associated with competing in Formula 1, electric cars have theoretically higher ideals than simply going fast around a race course.

However, the world’s so-far most successful stand-along electric car company, Tesla, decisively changed our impressions of electric cars with the introduction of its first vehicle, the very fast Roadster. Speed was part of the argument in favour of EVs.

One thing’s for sure: We’ll be looking at the next Formula E race, in Malaysia in November, with an expectation for some extremely spirited competition.

Here are some photos from race day:

Formula-E-1Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesThe race took place in the shadow of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium.
Formula-E-2Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesThese cars can do 0-60 in 3 seconds.
Formula-E-3Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesNo quite as loud as Formula 1.
Formula-E-4Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesRacing was wide open at times.
Formula-E-5Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesBut racing was also tight.
Formula-E-6Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesLuca di Grassi won the race — and popped the Champagne.

And here’s video of the crash:

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