I’ve been to Donington Park hundreds of times. For a local like me, the cascading twists and turns of the Derbyshire circuit are almost mirrored by the exciting country roads that lead up to the main gates. Or the Junction 24 slip road, if you choose the M1.
Nonetheless, the closer you snake towards Donington, the louder it gets, as the common crescendo of V12’s and straight 6’s squeeze through the gap in the sun roof and put your 1.6 Rover 25 to shame. You don’t mind however; after all, isn’t the noise part of what has, does, and always will make us lust over motorsport?
Well, ask Alejandro Agag, and he won’t agree. Instead, he’ll present you, as he did I last week, with his founded vision of the future: the FIA Formula E. A series composed of electric cars, big-name investors, and the challenge of changing the face of how we go racing, in a way that no-one has succeeded or even attempted at great lengths since the dawn of the chequered flag.
After my unusually quiet drive to Donington, I signed-on at the media accreditation desk within the bowels of the new Formula E factory units surrounding the circuit. It’s all very nice, very clean very friendly, but still, no noise.
I make the short trip up to the Media Centre, where I set-up shop, laptops and dictaphones aplenty, before going out onto the centres balcony atop of the pit complex. Finally, noise.
It’s taken me until writing this piece to really hit the nail on the head as to what the Spark-Renault SRT-01E sounds like heading out of the final chicane at Donington , but I’ve now settled with “old-school kettle ready to boil, but on steroids”, as the electric surge from the cars send them at a respectable Formula 3 type pace around the track. It’s a far cry away from Ayrton Senna’s 1993 MP4/8 McLaren that screamed around the track once upon a time, that’s for sure.
Further observation through three-quarters shut garage doors and body work panels that line the paddock of day four of pre-season testing, enhance the ‘F.I.A’ part to the series name, as it becomes more and more obvious that this is a series with some serious backing. It’s never going to be a half-arsed venture when names such as Virgin, DAMS, Audi Sport, and, err, Leonardo Di Caprio are decaled in and around the pit-lane. In that respect, it’s obvious that FE is a lot more Formula One, than Formula Acceleration 1.
Impressed with the operation, if not the noise, I turn to the drivers for their view on proceedings. Chats with lady-of-the-paddock, Amlin Aguri’s Katherine Legge, and the Carlin-run Mahindra teams’ driver Karun Chandok, do nothing but heighten my intrigue further, as they convey, or at least try to, just how different this new-for-2015 Formula is. “It can’t be compared to anything else”, Legge says.
“It’ll be great for the fans, as you can actually have a conversation as the cars are going round. It’s a very exciting series.”
Karun adds to Legge’s comments about that all important noise-debate, giving me an insight as to what it’s like in the cockpit: “You hear a lot more wind. You can hear bits of the brakes and bits of the gearbox, which you often don’t get in other cars.”
Whether Chandok and Legge’s enthusiasm will wash with motorsport lovers remains to be seen (myself included), with the inaugural race of the FIA Formula E Championship taking place on the 13th of September around the streets of Beijing the first opportunity for turned up noses and revved up fans to choose their side.
As it stands, it’s still an entity of uncertainty. One overriding thought in my mind however as I left the circuit and back into the world of the internal combustion engine was this: I’ve had a taste of the F.I.A’s greens, now I’m eager to try their salad.
Full-length interviews with Amlin Aguri’s Katherine Legge and Mahindra’s Karun Chandok will be online shortly on BadgerGP.com – keep your eyes peeled!