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.

HWM (Malaysia) - - FRONT PAGE - Text by Kenny Yeo Art Di­rec­tion Ken Koh

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.

Brakes:

Hy­draulic dual-cir­cuit brak­ing sys­tem, ad­justable brake force dis­tri­bu­tion.

Chas­sis:

Steer­ing Wheel:

Tires:

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.

Sus­pen­sion:

Bat­tery:

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.

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