FORMULA E: A NEW ERA OF RACING
2014 marks the inaugural season of Formula E, the world’s first fully electric racing series. Find out how it can raise environmental awareness and also help advance electric car technologies.
Racing is not just all about entertainment. Beyond all the action and drama on the racetracks, racing is also a platform for developing and showcasing new technologies. Technologies that will hopefully be passed down to regular road cars and make them better. So what is Formula E all about and how can it help electric cars? We find out by spending a weekend at second race of the inaugural season of Formula E held at Putrajaya, Malaysia.
What is Formula E?
Formula E is the world’s first fully electric racing series. It also aims to be the premier racing series for single-seater, electrically powered cars. The first season began in September earlier last year in Beijing and will see 10 teams with 20 drivers battle it out over the course of nine races in the next 10 months. The races will all take place on temporary street circuits - so as to bring the action closer to the fans - and the last race will take place in London in June later this year. Other cities on the race roster include Berlin, Monte Carlo and Miami.
Unlike most racing series, Formula E is also about raising awareness of environmental issues, promoting sustainability and acting as a platform to accelerate electric car technologies. For example, to minimize disruption, all practice, qualifying and racing sessions will take place in a single day. And to ensure efficiency and low pollutant emissions, the race cars are all charged by a special generator that runs off glycerine, which is said to be virtually emission free and is a byproduct created from producing bio-diesel. Work is currently underway to further reduce the carbon footprint of the race series by examining the viability of producing glycerine from algae living in highly salted waters. Further underlining the series’ philosophy of sustainability and environmental consciousness is the fact that each driver will only be given five front and rear tires per race weekend and must last through practice, qualifying and the race. In comparison, a Formula One driver gets a total of 20 sets of tires in various compounds per race weekend.
Races typically last around 50 minutes and drivers have to make at least one mandatory pit stop to change cars - there are no tire changes. Current limitations in battery technologies necessitate such as a practice a single battery unit is insufficient to last the entire length of the race. Additionally, because of safety reasons, the batteries are securely sealed within the car and so cannot be easily swapped for fresh ones.
Unlike most racing series, Formula E is also about raising awareness of environmental issues, promoting sustainability and acting as a platform to accelerate electric car technologies.
The racing grid is made up of 20 drivers, many of whom have driven in Formula One, including Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Karun Chandhok, Sebastian Buemi and more. In Katherine Legge and Michela Cerruti, Formula E has also has two female drivers joining the grid. In an attempt to inject more excitement and unpredictability into races, Formula E also sees the introduction of FanBoost. FanBoost lets fans vote for their favorite drivers via the Formula E website or official app and the top three drivers who received the most votes will be awarded with an in-race boost that increases their engine output from 202hp to 240hp for five seconds, which could give an edge when attempting overtaking maneuvers.
E for efficiency, electric, eco-friendliness
To keep costs down and the racing competitive, all teams will be racing with the same car - the Spark-Renault SRT_01E. The car was first shown at Frankfurt Motor Show in 2013 and is the result of collaborations between Spark Racing Technologies, McLaren, Williams, Dallara and Renault. Although all 10 teams will all get the same car, they are free to setup the suspension and some aspects of the car’s aerodynamics such as the front and rear wings.
The chassis is made out of carbon fiber and aluminum and is made by chassis specialists Dallara. The power train was developed by McLaren and generates a maximum power of 200kW (268hp) in qualifying trim. In races, the power output is reduced to 150kW (201hp) to increase its lifespan. The batteries are lithium-ion and were developed by Williams and it can be recharged in just 45 minutes. The tires are supplied by Michelin and were specially developed for the series. They are all weather tires that can be used in the dry and wet. With fluids and a driver, the car will weigh around 888kg - the batteries alone weigh 320kg. In comparison, a 2014 Formula One race car weighs around 691kg. And contrary to what you may think, a Formula E race car does make noises and it sounds like a loud futuristic vacuum cleaner.
In partnership with Formula E, BMW will be the Official Vehicle Partner and will supply the series with its i3 and i8 cars. The i3 is a fully electric car designed for city driving and has a full-electric range of around 130km. The i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car that is about as quick as a Porsche 911. The i3 will be employed as the medical and extraction car, whereas the i8 will take on the role of safety vehicle.
Wireless charging: Advancing electric car technology
Racing is an ideal platform for testing and accelerating automotive technologies.
A Formula E race car does make noises and it sounds like a loud futuristic vacuum cleaner.
Energy recovery systems found in high-end hypercars like the Ferrari LaFerrai and McLaren P1 were first seen on Formula One race cars. Other technologies that road cars have adopted from their racing counterparts include anti-lock braking systems, four-wheel drive, limited-slip differentials and more. Formula E hopes to play the same role for electric cars and wireless charging is potential game changer.
One of the most important new technologies that Formula E is testing at the moment is wireless charging, specifically Qualcomm’s Halo WEVC (Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging) system, which can have a dramatic impact on the viability and ease of use of electric cars.
Qualcomm’s Halo WEVC system work using the principles of electromagnetic inductive charging. On a very simple level, it uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects. So like wireless charging systems used in mobile phones, the Halo WEVC also uses a charging base and requires vehicles to be outfitted with a special receiving pad.
As Graeme Davison, Qualcomm’s vice president of technology puts it, the technology behind the Halo WEVC is actually quite old and that the difficulty with implementing it to electric vehicles is not so much with the technology itself, but rather using and harnessing it in an efficient way. “Where we come along, is take very simplistic physics and make it much more efficient.” Today, the Halo WEVC system can
be as much as 95% efficient, which rivals or even exceeds that of cabled charging systems.
The reason why the range of wireless charging devices in mobile phones is so short is because the wireless charging distance is limited by the size of the magnetic field generated by the charging pad. It is not difficult to generate a larger magnetic field, but as the field gets larger, it becomes less efficient at inducing a current in the receiving pad. The trick, therefore, is to design a system such that it can effectively direct magnetic fields so that it can be captured by the receiving pad on the car. And this is exactly what Qualcomm’s Halo group has achieved, and its system can efficiently transfer energy at gaps of between 150mm to 200mm, which makes it suitable for use with all types of cars, even tall SUVs.
What’s more, Qualcomm’s system has a fairly wide level of tolerance, so the car does not need to be 100% perfectly aligned with the charging pad to charge - it goes without saying that effectiveness would be increased if the car was better positioned. We saw a demonstration of the Qualcomm Halo WEVC charging system and can attest to its ease of use. Right now, Qualcomm’s Halo WEVC system is being used to charge both the BMW i3s and i8s at Formula E and there are plans to extend it to the race cars next year.
An electric future? Beyond Formula E, Davison is convinced that wireless charging can have an important impact on the future viability of electric cars. If you think about it, range anxiety and battery technology aside, one of the reasons why electric cars have not taken off is because using them requires a fundamental change of the mindset. The car is symbol of freedom and one reason why it has endured is because it is simply so convenient and easy to use. When you drive home and park your car, you simply turn off the ignition and get out. Electric cars, on the other hand, are different and require users to plug their cars into a power outlet to charge, something which most drivers are not accustomed to. Furthermore, forgetting to plug in the car after coming home can have serious consequences. Have you waked up in the morning only to find your phone only has 5% of charge left? Just imagine this happening to your car. Worse of all, unlike cars powered by conventional fuels which only take minutes to top up, getting a car charged often takes many hours. So as you can see, wireless charging can simplify the ownership of electric cars and make them more convenient and practical.
And if we can employ wireless charging pads in our homes or residential establishments, why not extrapolate this and implement this outside of our homes? Imagine car park lots with wireless charging pads that will charge your car as you are away running your errands or having a meal. This will surely go some ways to alleviating range anxiety.
And while we are at it, why not also employ it on public roads? Since cars require the most energy to move off from a stop, placing charging pads at traffic junctions could help the cars move off with less energy expended and consequently help increase its overall range. And if we were to really dream big, why not have a lane on expressways filled with charging pads - a “charging lane” so to speak, where cars can pull in to recharge their batteries. It is a bit farfetched for sure, but the fact is that wireless charging can go a long way in making electric cars more practical and also help speed up its adoption.
Hydraulic dual-circuit braking system, adjustable brake force distribution.
18-inch wheels with Michelin specification tires (same tread as for production cars).
Specification carbon fiber/ aluminum chassis by Dallara.
Specification steering wheel with paddles for shifting and recuperation, controls for various motor settings and dispaly for all the key information.
Independent front and rear suspension with adjustable stabilizers and double wishbones. RIde height, camber and toe are adjustable. Two-way adjustable (front) and four-way adjustable (rear) Koni dampers.
Developed by Williams Advanced Engineering, charging time: approx. 45 minutes.