Just four days before the opening of the Baselworld 2015 edition, we stood on a race course set up on the streets of downtown Miami. Charging by us through Turn 6 were colorful, nearly silent racing machines that the FIA and TAG Heuer are betting on as the future of auto racing—the open-wheel electric racers of the new Formula E Championship.
Formula E is a new racing series begun last September by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile)—which governs Formula One, world sports car and rally racing—featuring Formula One-style racing cars powered by batteries and electric motors.
More than just the Official Timekeeper of Formula E, TAG Heuer is one of the founding partners of the new series. The commitment is emblematic of TAG Heuer’s reputation as the Swiss watchmaking brand most closely associated with auto racing.
The La Chaux-de-Fonds-based company has long been deeply involved in motorsports. Heuer timepieces like the original Carrera
models have been favored by racers, and its early commercial support of racing drivers such as Jo Siffert and Nikki Lauda is legendary. An ongoing 30-year part-ownership and involvement with the McLaren Formula One team at TAG Heuer continues today.
To understand why TAG Heuer has partnered with Formula E so closely, let’s take a look at the new series.
As its name implies, the formula for Formula E involves electrically powered racing cars. Built in the tradition of modern rear-engine open-wheel racing cars (like those in IndyCar and Formula One), the Spark-Renault SRT_01E cars used in the championship are all identical. They largely mirror their traditional counterparts but replace internal combustion engines with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack.
Capable of producing a maximum of 200 kilowatts—equivalent to approximately 270 horsepower—the batteries sit inside the chassis just behind the driver cockpit where an engine would normally reside. Atop the battery, or Recoverable Energy Storage System as it’s known, is a power inverter. This links to a transmission bell-housing containing an electric motor supplied by McLaren Electronics Systems. The motor supplies power to the rear wheels via a five-speed sequential transmission.
Maximum power is available only briefly, so it is used only in qualifying. During races, Formula E single-seaters drop their output to a power-saving Race Mode equivalent of 150 kilowatts, or 202.5 horsepower. The cars must do this because, as with road-going electric cars, battery technology has not advanced to the point where significant range can be maintained along with the high energy demands of motor racing.
For this reason, each driver must use two cars per race. Each race lasts just under 60 minutes, a relatively short or sprint distance in racing terms. But battery life is only good for about 25 minutes in racing conditions. Hence, drivers make a pit stop at half distance—not for fuel—but to actually change cars. It’s a novel feature of the series prompted by the fact that electric powertrain technology still has a long way to go to match engines powered by fossil fuels.
That, in part, is why the FIA launched Formula E.
Formula E representatives say their vision of the future of the motor industry serves as a framework for research and development of the electric vehicle. This is aimed at “accelerating general interest in these cars and promoting clean energy and sustainability.”
The global series is also meant to appeal to a new generation of motorsport fans, those who may drive electric cars in the future. TAG Heuer shares this vision.
“We’ve been in touch with Formula E since the early beginning of their plans,” the company notes. “TAG Heuer is deeply involved in motor racing so we knew the organizers from previous activities they ran. The brand quickly believed in this great project and TAG Heuer became Founding Partner o f the FIA Formula E championship.”
BIG NAMES, BIG AMBITION
The inaugural season of Formula E boasts a 10-race schedule with events in Asia, North America and Europe. Ten teams employing two world-class drivers apiece are competing. They include organizations headed by famous names like four-time Formula One Drivers’ Champion Alain Prost, Virgin brands founder Richard Branson and IndyCar champion Michael Andretti.
“I’m very, very impressed with the series,” Andretti told iW
. “I think it’s got tremendous potential. I think being in on the beginning of a new type of technology in racing is awesome and I think there’s a good chance that racing will really push development forward. I think it will help the technology reach a certain point much quicker via competition.”
TAG Heuer sees the same potential.
“For sure, it is a great challenge to partner a brand-new world championship. But it seemed quite obvious for us. Motor racing is part of TAG Heuer DNA. Looking at new series like Formula E is important,” said a TAG Heuer spokesman. “Also, it’s kind of a continuation of our involvement in electric motor racing.”
Recall that in 2010, for TAG Heuer’s 150th anniversary, the company celebrated by partnering with electric car manufacturer Tesla to run the Odyssey of Pioneers, a world tour in a Tesla roadster. A year after, TAG Heuer supported an International electric go-kart race with professional drivers in Paris. The current Formula E partnership is the result of discussions beginning in 2012.
While Formula E is a new horizon for TAG Heuer, other racing partnerships continue, including the maker’s position as the official watch of the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The partnership also includes entitlement sponsorship of the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, held annually on Carb Day before the Indianapolis 500.
TAG Heuer’s Indy 500 Chronograph
, based on its 42 mm Formula One Chronograph
with steel bezel and bracelet, remains unchanged for 2015 and will again be prominent at the Indianapolis 500 this month. As yet, no plans have been announced for a limited edition Formula E
watch from TAG Heuer, but stay tuned.
Watching the electric single-seaters of Formula E charge toward us at 120 mph on Biscayne Boulevard, we pondered whether this revived electric form of racing (the first automobile race on-track in America was won by a Riker Electric Car in 1896) is truly the future of the sport.
If it is, TAG Heuer will be racing ahead with it.