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Electric cars Motor racing returns to Switzerland via Formula E

Formule E de Sébastien Buemi

Formula E cars can reach speeds of 250 kilometres per hour (155 mph), and go from 0 to 100km/h in about three seconds. But the noise from their electric motors is only 10 decibels louder than that of a regular passenger car.

(Keystone)

Zurich is hosting its first ever Formula E electric championship race on Sunday. This is the first time for 63 years that motor racing has been allowed on Swiss soil since it was banned.

Swiss driver Sébastien Buemi is one of the favourites among the 20 drivers from ten teams taking part in Zurich in one of the final races of 2017-2018 Formula E season. One of the unusual characteristics of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship – the world’s first fully electric international single-seater street racing series – is that the races all take place in city centres.

With this race, Zurich joins the big leagues. The other races of the season will be held in in Hong Kong, Marrakech, Santiago, Mexico City, Punta del Este, Rome, Paris, Berlin and New York.

It’s an important event for the city. No fewer than 100,000 people are expected to attend the race on Sunday. 

Map of racing track
(Swiss E-Prix Operations)

Swiss champion 

The idea of a Formula E championship was born in 2002, on the initiative of the International Automobile Federation (FIA). The idea of Jean Todt, then FIA president, was to “demonstrate the full potential of sustainable mobility”, according to the organisation’s website. The 2017-2018 season is only the fourth Formula E Championship ever held.

This history of Formula E racing starts with a Swiss. After passing through the F3 and then the F1 categories – from 2009 to 2012 for the Toro Rosso and Red Bull teams – Sébastien Buemi truly took off in Formula E racing. He was world champion during the 2015-2016 season, and vice-champion in the 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 seasons. This season, he is currently ranked fifth overall.

More than 60 years of waiting

The race in Zurich is the first car race on a circuit organised in Switzerland for more than 60 years. There used to be a Grand Prix race in Bern. It was even included in the F1 world championships from 1950-1954. But the Swiss authorities banned car races on a circuit following the drama of the 24 Hours of Le Mansexternal link. On June 11, 1955, a collision between two cars participating in the famed French endurance race sent debris flying into the audience, causing 84 deaths and 120 injuries.

In 2011, the Swiss Senate rejected a parliamentary initiativeexternal link (link in French, German and Italian) demanding the lifting of the ban. The senators felt that allowing races would not be a good signal to send in terms of climate polity and road security. 

The fact that Sunday’s race can take place is thanks to a derogationexternal link (link in French, German and Italian) granted by the Swiss government in 2015 for electric vehicle races. “The organisation of events of this type benefits the economy and research in Switzerland,” it concluded.

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Accident du Mans de 1955

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