Around 3000 people had registered to attend the tests which seemed an optimistic number for mid week test days of a brand new series but the car park testified to a turnout that would have easily pleased a weekend club meeting.
Whilst many have dismissed Formula E as a gimmick clearly people are intrigued by this championship and most were visiting just to see what it was all about with the overwhelming reactions seeming to be positive.
Noise, or the lack of it is the biggest bone of contention. The throb of an engine is to many the essence of motorsport. The distant roar of a full grid of cars tearing off a start line stirs primeval feelings deep inside the brains limbic system, a reminder that in our earliest day’s distant loud noises generally heralded danger. Today it’s nothing more than a short shot of adrenalin that for many is enough to keep them hooked for life.
The organisers acknowledge that the lack of noise could be an issue and they hope to deal with this by piping music through the PA at key points in the race, almost creating a real life version of the game Wipeout mixing the high pitched whir of the electric motors with a loud techno soundtrack.
Having spent the day listening to the cars it would seem better to leave The Prodigy CD at home and let the cars speak for themselves. When fully flat out the cars are often heard before they are seen as the electric motors wind themselves up, the wind whistles over the bodywork and tyres pound and squeal across the tarmac and kerbs. It didn’t take long to appreciate that actually there is a noise and it’s not all that unpleasant.
On the circuit the cars set times comparable with a BRDC F4 car although the adding of an extra chicane along the Wheatcroft straight makes comparisons difficult. However a straight comparison would be unfair as the limitations of the cars leave them struggling on a conventional track. The constraints of their battery power means that long straights and steep inclines can overwhelm them. Thus the need for circuits with short straights, tight corners and little difference in elevation means the choice to race on city street circuits is one of necessity but with the advantage of bringing the sport directly to the public who may never have ventured near a race track.
The championship is also proving tempting to drivers and is hosting a number of former F1 and WEC drivers as well as a smattering of female interest in the form of Katherine Legge and Italian Michela Cerutti. Both have shown consistent improvement as they get to grips with the unique characteristics of an electric racing car and each have seen their times drop from 1.48 to 1.33 With limited running time of at best 33 laps and at worst 11, Legge driving for the Amlin Aguri team found herself at the end of day 4 just 2.6 seconds behind fastest driver Sebastion Buemi whilst finishing ahead of her team mate, Fabio Leima in both of the final two tests.
Cerruti has joined the Trulli team but seems unfazed by her big name team mate and boss, finishing the final test just 1.1 seconds behind the former F1 winner and 2.4 seconds behind Buemi after completing just 86 laps over 4 day at the Leicestershire circuit. By Jurek Biegus