Formula E Racing Drives Electric Vehicle Innovations
If you have not heard of Formula E racing then I have some news for you, it is similar to Formula 1 racing with electric race cars. What is interesting about Formula E is that now there are major automotive brands actively spending time and resources on electric vehicles for performance. Even if you do not follow any type of racing it is undeniable that every company wants to win the championship. To win in a competitive race environment there needs to be innovation and development of components to gain an edge even a slight one. The strategy is simply to compound these slight edges over the competition in order to win the race and earn the championship.
Electric Vehicle Development
The development that has happened so far in the short life of the FIA Formula E, which was started in 2014, is great news for electric vehicles in the consumer automotive market. This large scale of development is essential to pushing the innovation of electric vehicles. FIA Formula E is dedicated to the innovation and development of electric vehicles. Currently, in the third season, there is a focus on electric powertrain development.
Differences Between Formula E and Formula One
Unlike Formula 1 race weekend which consists of a practice, qualifying and race day, the Formula E is condensed into one day. Another major difference is that each team needs to have two vehicles for each driver. Two cars are required due to the limitations of battery capacities. This does add a new race strategy to the formula series as the Formula 1 have to plan out each full-service pit stop, which would include tire change and refilling. Pitstop planning with Formula E dealing with the timing of when to switch vehicles can be the difference between a podium finish and mid-pack.
The Formula E race cars do look a lot like the Formula One race cars. There are a couple of quick ways to distinguish the two. The first is the top portion of the front wing is not flat like the ones used on the Formula 1 cars. The second is the single air intake that is above the driver’s head, instead of the air intakes on each side of the driver. I found a die-cast model of the Formula E car which is an accurately scaled model, and it is a great conversation starter.
The venue that Formula E uses around the world is within city limits. This is due to the electric vehicles being lower noise pollution as well as no additional exhaust pollution. Majority of the Formula 1 tracks are permanent venues that are well used by other racing championships, which are outside of city limits due to the excess noise pollution.
A surprising dilemma with the two-vehicle required to make it through a race is the effect of an early collision. If the first vehicle is involved in a collision large enough to break off the front or rear aerodynamic wings then the team may decide to end the race. They know that their second vehicle will not make it through the remaining race and their first car will be bleeding its lap time in the condition it is in.
Formula E Test Car Debut
I find it very interesting to see the initial test car debut taking its first lap. This was done before the start of season one and was the defining portion of the Formula E vehicle standardization to provide a level playing field as well as an enjoyable sporting event. The racecar was debuted with 25 percent of the power and torque compared to the final race-ready version.
Season One Restrictions
Just like Formula 1 the vehicles used in Formula E are well-defined body as a standard. Each electric vehicle needed to have a single motor, inverter, battery and a 4 gear transmission. This was the original stipulations at the very start of Formula E.
Season Three Developments
Now after two full years of races some of the restrictions have been lifted to encourage the development of different electric powertrain configurations. There are eight manufacturers involved which have taken different approaches toward improvements and configuration changes.
Some of these changes include the number of gears in the transmission, whether changing to two gears or to a six gear transmission. The addition of a second electric motor with a two gear transmission is a particularly interesting configuration. Another direction was to focus on placement and orientation of existing components to improve efficiency and cornering due to a slightly lower center of gravity.
Formula E Fan Boost
An interesting aspect of the Formula E is the fan boost. This allows fans at each race event to vote for their favorite driver to provide them with a boost. This boost is an additional 100 AH battery capacity, which is only unlocked by fan boost. The team can decide how they want to use the added battery capacity to either extend the vehicle range or to overpass on a straight section, or a bit of both.
Future Electric Vehicle Innovations
After each season each team spends time during development of their vehicle based on results from the current year’s races. Teams so far have taken aspects from the other teams that outperform them. It is only a matter of time until the innovations and research that is learned by these manufacturers start to trickle into consumer level electric vehicles. It should not come as a surprise that some of the eight manufacturers now have released plans to create their own electric sports cars. The FIA Formula E is a great proving ground for electric vehicles. I am looking forward to seeing what developments will come out of years of electric racing.
The debut season for the Formula E series has come and gone. Check out the brightly colored photo book from the Miami ePrix in 2015. A great way to immortalize the start of electric racing.
Here is the FIA Formula E race schedule.
Let me know what you would like to see come from Formula E racing.
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