I have written many articles that highlight why Formula E is such a particularly innovative motorsport, but I have only touched on its greatest asset in passing until now: The FE Schools Series.
This is surely the jewel in the sport’s crown and one that could turn Formula E’s mightily impressive inaugural season into a lasting legacy for all of motorsport.
Putting kids on grids
The FE Schools Series is the official support race for the Formula E championship and is open to budding engineers and racers between the ages of 11-16.
Ten teams are selected from local schools for each race and are provided with kits to build their own electric racers, which include everything from the wheels to chassis and even the spanners with which to build it.
These kits, which cost around £3,000, are provided to schools free of charge by Greenpower – the independent UK charity that promotes careers in engineering and sustainability to young people, and who manage the FE Schools Series.
Greenpower also provides support to each of the competing schools, assisting teachers and students in the development of their car – as they do for their own racing series in the UK, in which more than 9,000 pupils currently participate.
This championship in the UK has already produced impressive results. Participants Luke and Laura Horsfall not only beat the likes of Jaguar on the track but were so inspired by the knowledge they gained developing their electric racers that they plan to undertake a world record attempt to drive 2,000 miles in an electric vehicle in a single day – the current record is just 1,200.
The technological advances gain from this series have greatly aided FE Schools Series participants in the development of their cars, which are raced in the build up to the Formula E race in each city. Pupils pit their know-how and racing skill against one another in front of thousands of fans in a 20 minute practice and qualifying session, and a 20 minute race.
Free race tickets are provided to fellow pupils, family and friends to show their support for those participating in the FE Schools Series, which demonstrates the impressive community outreach of the programme.
Why is FE Schools Series so important?
The global science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) shortage has rarely left the media agenda over recent years, as the majority of developed nations have been gripped by a lack of skilled workers.
For example, a 2015 report by the British Government found that the lack of qualified engineers is costing the UK £27 billion per year. This is accompanied by a warning from Semta, the sector skills council for STEM technologies, that the UK faces a shortfall of more than 80,000 workers in the next two years.
It is clear then that new talent is needed to support growth worldwide. And it is here that the FE Schools Series is making strides.
Fifty schools will have participated in the series by the end of Formula E’s first season. That’s several hundred potential engineers that have had the chance to hone their skills, meet like-minded people and the dream opportunity to race on the same track as their idols.
Being sat in a classroom reading through maths problems in an exercise book is hardly likely to enthuse a gifted pupil with the drive to pursue a career in engineering, but having the opportunity to develop an electric racing car that requires precision engineering, mathematical knowledge, and basic sciences – well that’s just innately exciting and fun.
Furthermore, there is a persisting gender imbalance in STEM subjects, with considerable fewer female workers than in other sectors – today just 6% of engineers worldwide are women. The FE Schools Series has sought to address this by implementing a minimum number of male and female team members to ensure that there are equal opportunities for talented pupils, regardless of gender.
Creating a lasting legacy
Formula E CEO, Alejandro Agag, has been an avid supporter of the series from the start but little has been said of the FE Schools Series since he announced the intention to introduce a feeder series to Formula E.
I hope that the FE Schools Series will remain in place for as long as Formula E exists, providing talented young people with the knowledge and skills to pursue a career in STEM subjects. This will not only support national economies but also provide us with new STEM pioneers – the next generation of Adrian Neweys, Frank Gehrys and Hedy Lamarrs.
The FE Schools Series is the future of racing and the playground for the world’s future innovators – long may it race!
For more information on the FE Schools Series visit: www.fiaformulae.com/en/sustainability/formula-e-school-series