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BMW Formula e

My Formula E Experience

You might not know this, but my love for motorsport begins and ends with Formula 1. I’ve been to many events and each has their charm, but to me, the 20 drivers that take the line on any given Sunday represent the best of the best. And if I want to shoot Formula 1 one day, then I’m going to start in a group where BMW has an actual presence. Yup…here’s my Formula E experience in Brooklyn.

BMW FOrmula e
The cars are silent, aside from a gearbox whine. They look great!

What is BMW’s tie to Formula E?

They’ve teamed up with Andretti Motorsport to produce a team that sadly will come to an end after this season. BMW’s presence is felt throughout with BMW i pace cars, MINI safety cars and production vehicles hot lapping in between sessions.

Although all the E race cars must run on the same chassis, BMW is still able to tune the suspension and use their own motor designs homologated with the FIA.

They will still produce a power plant for Andretti’s team next season (2022).

BMW Formula e garage
Sadly, BMW will leave Formula E at the end of the year.

They don’t make sounds?

Formula E is totally electric, and the only sounds made come from the high-pitched whining of the gear box. Yes, it’s odd to see something that fast produce none of the typical race day sounds.

BMW Formula E
The cars can actually give a decent shock if you touch them at certain times, so indicator lights let you know when it’s safe.

Is this even a real thing?

It is, and as of 2020, holds ‘World Championship status” with the FIA, something only a few other series, including Formula 1, can claim.

Formula E garage
The mechanics at work on the car before the race.

Are the cars fast?

They look the part with all that carbon fiber and wings. The tires actually have treads as opposed to slicks used in F1. But make no mistake, they are fast, especially accelerating out of corners as I witnessed firsthand.

Formula e
0-60 hovers around 3 seconds – and they turn as you’d expect – on a dime.

Any crashes?

A few knocks happened right in front of me, and someone lost a carbon fiber fender. But thankfully, the race was mostly without incident.

Formula E hit
Contact!
Formula E hit
Rubbin’ is racin’

What’s it like shooting an FIA event?

The track doesn’t seem big until you have to walk in a dozen or so times to get the best angles, and I had no less than three badges to provide the correct credentials.

But the biggest change from a regular shooting day is working around other photographers and the TV crew. There are photo pits with cutouts to shoot from, but they fill up fast, so being nice to everyone is a must. Practice, qualifying and the race itself all happen on the same day, and it provides plenty of opportunity to change up your scene.

MINI e car
MINI also has a presence at Formula E.

What did you use to shoot with?

My long lens, the 70-200mm. And even then, I saw lenses that were twice that size there. Work with what you have, but there are not many wide angles to grab. My 24-70 was used for the hot laps with production cars. No tripod needed here.

How can you separate yourself from the dozens of other photographers there?

We all shoot the same action from the same angles. However, most of the shooters were there for editorial purposes. I hope my more artistic editing makes the images feel a bit different.

What else did you do there?

My pass included a hot lap around the circuit in a 530e, and the driver kindly let me shoot from the passenger seat. I felt right at home here, like I was at the Performance Center.

Also included was a pit lane tour, where I could see the cars being worked on in between sessions, with some of the crew answering questions.

Finally, I walked the grid before the start of the race. Here, I tried to be respectful – these guys were about to do open-wheel combat, and with what seemed like hundreds of people around, I imagine focus is difficult find.

Pit walk
The pit walk was a busy place.
Hot lap
Across the line.
Hot lap
A hot lap in a 530e

What’s the track like?

It’s held in the ferry terminals of Red Hook in Brooklyn, NY, so it’s not exactly a smooth road surface like a normal race track. But this is considered a street circuit, so turns are tighter and speed isn’t as high. Dirt and dust are everywhere, and shredded rubber builds up quickly.

One thing that surprised me was how loud the curbing was whenever a car would go over it. It sounded as if it would crack a car in half (it never did, of course).

Formula e driver
Walking the grid was a surreal experience.

Was this an M event?

I find it odd, in both road and race cars, that BMW continues to separate i from M. Perhaps the arrival of the i4, with its M50 version, will start to break that trend. But it’s strange to see not a single M badge anywhere here.

Formula E curb
The cars woukd produce a loud CLAP on each curb.

What do you think the future holds for Formula E?

From an enthusiast standpoint, it’s hard to say goodbye to the ICE engine, but the future is coming, and even F1 must adapt.

There is serious talent in Formula E, with many driver’s being stand-ins for F1 teams, and the cars themselves are very advanced. It wouldn’t surprise me to see both F1 and FE combine to form one “league” in the future. F1 is supposed to represent the pinnacle of automotive design, and if that no longer includes the typical engine, then it seems logical that they adapt an E powertrain.

Formula E lap one
Lap one chaos!

What about BMW in racing?

BMW left F1 long before I watched it, and so my heart breaks a bit each time I see a Mercedes driver raise a trophy. It’s my hope that they one day return to the pinnacle of motorsport, in whatever form that might take. In the meantime, there’s always DTM.

Formula e Winner
Jaaaaag won, oh well.
BMW iX3
This car isn’t actually sold in the US; it’s the BMW iX3. It stays behind on the first lap, as in F1.
BMW Formula E
What an experience!

Special thanks to BMWBlog and BMW USA for getting me special garage and hot lap access!

Commissions may be received for product links on this site, so help out if you can. I only write about products I use and believe in.

I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

Email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

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