When the formula E racing cars turned up for the first time in Marrakesh-Morocco, no one expected it to be the fiesta it has come to be. The race was coming to the city after a successful series in Hong Kong, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina. While the city had been accustomed to hosting high profile racing events, the formula E, though highly hyped, was not anywhere close to to the top of the list that defined what a ‘ racing event” was in the eyes of the Moroccans. But the people were in for a surprise, a huge one at that.
There was a lot of questions around the event. Racing cars that do not use gasoline? The whole idea sounded ridiculous in the eyes of the Moroccans. Yes, they had heard of electric cars. Having electric cars was a whole different idea of having electric racing cars, on the same level as Formula One.
How much power would they hold? Won’t the batteries that power the vehicles die in the middle of the circuit? Can the formula E racing cars reach the speeds that Lewis Hamilton, perhaps the most famous formula one driver of our time, can on his Mercedes car?
But it’s been five years since that day. In each of those years, Morocco has been part of the Formula E tour. Each of those three years too, the series has grown bigger, with more money pumped into it, and newer, faster cars have been built by the competitors.
For a start, the whole experience is different. There was no proper circuit for the formula E. The circuit uses the streets of Marrakech. The cars would whine through the thin streets one a time. The crowds, which milled at the spectator stages would stop to gape at the engineering marvel of each car.
While attending the race, it was hard not to notice some things. The Formula E cars do not have the noise associated with the brothers from Formula One. They probably look the same, but instead of the roar of a V10 engine, it is the whine of gears changing.
Besides that, it was hard not to be piqued by the presence on an NIO car on the track, the only Chinese representative at the Formula E.
In so much as the series is concerned, it seems that driving an electric racing car is so much different from driving the gasoline beasts of the formula one. After driving NIO’s formula E car, Nico Rosberg, a Formula One driver contends that he would “probably come last in the race because most of the things feel so different.”
The formula E is not a pure driving bonanza. The fans have an input in who wins the series. They call it the “fan boost”. Unlike the Formula One where your sheer speed and mastery of driving counts for all that you need to win, in the Formula E series you need all that, plus the votes of your fans.
NIO: China’s face at Formula E
While attending the grand Prix in the city, it was hard not to notice the presence of NIO, a Shanghai-based electric autonomous car developer. It was surprising to learn that the team, though owned by a Chinese company, is based in Oxford, UK.
Upon inception of the Formula E in 2014, NIO was among the first entrants to the series. Before branding as NIO, the team was known as China Racing Formula E team. To a huge extent, this team represented China’s aspirations in the electric car industry and acted as a display of dominance in the field.
The presence of NIO also influenced, to a huge extent, the inception of the Sanya E-Prix in Hainan. This circuit is considered NIO’s home-turf. Even the team, though currently based in Britain considers racing at the Sanya stop as “racing at home”.
The team won the first season of the series in 2014 with Ho Ping Tung, Charles Pic and Nelson Piquet Junior as drivers. After the inaugural year, the team is yet to win any other season. Despite being constantly under the shadow of the likes of Lucas Di Grassi from Mahindra, NIO has remained a contender to the title.
NIO’s prowess in the Formula E is not often seen on the field. It is in the pits and the industries where the company reigns supreme. Before the start of the series this year, the team tested their new cars in Valencia. On the wheels were Tom Diliman and Oliver Turvey, the team drivers for the season. The car, developed in Shanghai by the startup performed way beyond the expectations of the drivers and shocked competitors in the series. It forced even BMW to go back to the drawing board. Gerry Hughes, the principal of the NIO team stated that” they definitely would be in contention for this years win.”
It is worth noting, that NIO is not only a frontrunner in the Formula E, it also has entrenched itself in the electric car market. While it is still a startup, and hardly familiar to most ears, the company is at the final stages of putting its electric SUV into the market. This means the world will see the startup on the streets, and on the racing circuits.
What is the future of NIO at the Formula E?
The world is coming to tems with the fact that electric cars are the future of the automotive industry. This is why there is a craze, by virtually every company, to develop electric cars. This is why too, each year, there are new entrants to the Formula E, while the existing entrants pump in more resources to develop better cars for their teams.
Being one of the first companies to join the series, NIO boasts of experience, and an upperhand in dealing with issues related to the competition, both on and off the track. Each year, the series attract more entrants, and the competition is growing tougher. This means that the NIO team has to hold at bay bigger competition every new year.
While NIO has not won the series ever since the inaugural year, the rate of team development and the remarkable improvement that the team has undergone in this year’s series is worth noticing.
NIO might not win this year’s Formula Championship. They were among the Top 12 teams at the Sanya E-Prix earlier this month. The Sanya E-Prix is considered the home turf of the company. In the 2019 series, no team has won the races twice, but NIO has maintained good results all through it. It is definitely the team to watch in the future.
Featured photo credit to sohu.com