Formula E is the electric future of car racing. When the international competition started in September 2014 in Beijing, it ushered in a new competitive platform that pushes electric car technology to another level.
In the same way that F1 tech filters down to road cars, developments in Formula E should speed up electric car development and uptake on the road.
From battery developments to quick charging improvements, these cars need to be the best they can be to win. The result is new discoveries from all the money invested in the sport.
The Formula E cars might be electric but they are still some of the fastest machines on the planet. This is an open championship, like Formula 1, that lets different manufacturers enter. But, in the first year, all participants were provided with the Spark-Renault SRT_01E battery pack, powered by a McLaren MGU engine, electric race car.
What that car offered was 200kw of power which is the equivalent to 270bhp when in Max Power mode, which may not sound like much but, keep in mind, these cars only weigh 800kg including the driver! Max Power mode is only allowed in qualifying and practice sessions. During the races, drivers are limited to Race Mode which is a power-saving output of 150kw, or 202.5bhp. This also features a FanBoost burst of an extra 30kw for 5 seconds per car. This is similar to the KERS burst system used in Formula 1 which makes for some interesting racing.
The car's weight is limited to 896kg, which includes the driver, and a maximum of 320kg worth of batteries. All this results in a 0-62mph time of 3 seconds and a maximum FIA limited speed of 225km/h which is 140mph.
Cars are allowed a maximum of two MGU motors which can only be linked to the rear axle. So one for each rear wheel then. Also, another interesting fact is that traction control is forbidden in Formula E.
The batteries used in each car are limited to a maximum of 320kg, which is the FIA imposed limit. These are Rechargeable Energy Storage System (RESS) batteries which must all be certified to UN Transportation Standard.
The races last around one hour with a pit stop mid-way to change cars. This means there is no need to change batteries during the race. There was a lot of talk about Qualcomm fast chargers being involved but in the first year, this wasn't part of the race event.
Future events may involve fast chargers, or quick battery changes like Tesla has shown off in the past. These will be key to help developments that can be used in road cars where battery charging and changing is a big problem still.
The cars come in at 1250mm in height, 5000mm long and 1800mm wide for a ride height of 75mm. Coupled with double steel wishbone suspension that's pushrod operated with twin dampers and torsion bars, making for a very controlled ride.
The car runs on bespoke 18-inch Michelin tyres for both wet and dry conditions.
Steering is handled by a non-assisted rack and pinion system. Brakes are two separate hydraulic systems operated by the one pedal. Electronics are McLaren made including the power supply management unit, CAN data acquisition pre-equipment, FIA Marshalling system and Beacon receiver.
The chassis is made of a carbon-aluminium honeycomb structure from Dallara. The front and rear wings are carbon as is the bodywork which is also made of Kevlar honeycomb. The gearbox is a paddle shift sequential unit.
For its first-year, 2014, Formula E had a total of 10 teams taking part, each with two drivers. They are:
Andretti (US) – Simona de Silvestro and Robin Frijns
Audi Sport ABT (Germany) – Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt
Next EV TCR (China) – Nelson Piquet and Oliver Turvey
Dragon Racing (US) – Jerome D'Ambrosio and Loic Duval
E.Dams Renault (France) – Nicolas Prost and Sébastien Buemi
Mahindra (India) – Bruno Senna and Oliver Rowland
Trulli (Switzerland) – Vitantonio Liuzzi and Jarno Trulli
Venturi (Monaco) – Stéphane Serrazin and Jacques Villeneuve
Virgin Racing (UK) – Sam Bird and Jean-Eric Vergne
Team Aguri (Japan) - Antonio Felix da Costa and Nathanael Berthon
The Formula E format is very similar to Formula 1. First is the practice session where drivers will have up to two cars available to them to learn the track and machines. Next comes qualifying which lasts 90-minutes, where the drivers must set their fastest lap to determine their race-day start position.
Formula E hasn't nearly the following of Formula 1, and that's not necessarily just because Formula 1 has been around longer, one big factor is due to the sound (Watch the video below) even over the last decade and a half, Formula 1 lost a great deal of following due to that aspect alone, which, in most cases is quite pathetic. But I guess it's safe to say that it would be the same as going to a huge soccer event where's there is no roar from the crowd. All atmosphere is gone.
But, nevertheless, Formula E is growing exponentially in popularity, and we can expect some great racing and automotive advances as a whole in the years to come.