The Skills for Going Electric
The Formula E series, now in its second season, is the first championship to use fully electric racing cars, which are not onlyslowerthanFormulaOnecarsbutalso don’t have their macho cachet. Yet the elite drivers competing in the electric series say singular skills are required to drive these race cars that feel and behave like no other. Jean-Éric Vergne, a Frenchman who is a reserve driver for the Ferrari Formula One teamandafull-timeFormulaEracerforthe DS Virgin Racing team, said the Formula E cars were challenging to drive. “You don’t have the downforce, you don’t have the grip, you have obviously less power, the car is heavier, the tracks are a lot more difficult, more narrow, more bumpy,” he said. “It makes it quite tricky to drive. In some corners, at 250 kilometres an hour in Formula One that would go flat out, easy, thesamecornerinFormulaEmightbeonly at 200, but it would be on the edge and you are kind of sweating at the end of the corner, you know: ‘This one is done, now next one.”’ In a series inspired by conserving the world’s energy resources, driving the Formula E car successfully involves strategic use of battery life. For each race, the driver has a maximum power of 170 kilowatts of energy at top power, and so strategy is about calculating how to pace the use of energy over the course of the race. For the energy management, Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula One world champion, who competed in three races for the Venturi Formula E team this season, said that one of the main differences between an internal combustion engine and Formula E’s electric engine is the latter’s use of more power to save energy, which is counterintuitive. “Youuselessenergyathighrevsthanatlow revs,” he said. “So that’s the opposite. It is more efficient. So that is also very confusing. If you are behind a safety car, you have to be at high revs.” Although it’s clear that the Formula E vehicle is a racing car, Karun Chandhok, a formerFormulaOnedriverfromIndiawho raced in Formula E last year, said that driving one was still not so simple. The series has purposefully restricted the telemetry from the car to the team, which means that team engineers don’t know how much energy remains in the battery. The driver has to do mathematical calculations based on a reading from the dashboard on every lap. He can relay the information to his team, which will then guide him. “There are two things,” Chandhok said. “One is the actual amount of power, which is 170 kilowatts, and the other is you have the amount of energy, at the rate of 28.0 kilowatt hour, which you are allowed to use for the race.” “So let’s say the race is 40 laps,” he added. “You do 20 laps roughly in each car — you have two cars — so you do between 19 and 21 laps, and so you have to divide 28 by 20, so that’s 1.4 per lap, and every lap you are having to do the math. And you are having to tell the engineer: ‘At the moment my dashboardsays25.6,’andhewillsayyouare on target or you are below target.” With little engine noise and vibration, the Formula E environment is unlike that in the internal-combustion races that most drivers have long been accustomed to, from go-karts to the highest categories of racing. What is not widely known — even among racers — is how much a driver depends on those sensorial elements for racing. “It basically would be like playing a racing game, a video game, and turning off the volume of the engine noise,” said Villeneuve.
The New York Times
Nick Heidfeld of Mahindra Racing Formula E Team during the Buenos Aires ePrix