SCOTT MITCHELL S
“Making the cars last is the focus”
ince its debut in 2014, Formula E’s been gathering plenty of momentum. Its driver line-up rivals the World Endurance Championship and cool street tracks are providing fantastic entertainment. The cars are difficult to drive, different to look at and – as of season two – have different technology in the back, thanks to the rules opening up to allow so-called ‘manufacturers’ to develop their powertrains (that’s the motor, inverter and gearbox).
I write ‘so-called’ because the term manufacturer is given to any team homologating its own technology and there are three independents doing exactly that. Soon I won’t have to write ‘so-called’, because the incoming Jaguar and serious interest shown by BMW and Nissan proves FE has a manufacturer appeal like no other series right now.
Any conventional series would kill for any one of the factors above. But Formula E is not conventional. From the beginning it has been pushing to spread the word of electric vehicles. OK, you could argue its carbon footprint travelling the world doesn’t help. But it wouldn’t need to do it if the message didn’t need shouting loudly.
And there are green credentials beyond the zero-emissions racecars. For example, a link with British company Aquafuel allows the series to replace diesel with carbon-neutral glycerine (which can be farmed from salt-water algae) as fuel for the generator that charges the race batteries.
But the greatest difference Formula E should be making regards EV technology. That’s why manufacturers care about it.
Downscaling season-by-season power and energy targets and postponing open battery competition felt to me like FE was underdelivering in its most important area. But digging deeper reveals long-term sensibility.
Battery cell technology is limited and that means range and charging is fundamentally an EV’S biggest issue. But it’s an area that improves at a good rate – on average, by eight per cent a year.
Introducing a new one-make battery for season five will allow the series to tap into industry advancements. A new chassis will allow battery design to be more aggressive (the current battery was crammed into a pre-determined space at the last-minute).
Single-car races, achievable for season five, will be a huge step, and a bigger achievement than making the cars faster. The technology exists to deliver 1 Megawatt (that’s 1341bhp), so power potential’s not the issue. Making any significant power output last is the focus.
A battery arms race would probably help speed up the process, but lifting the championship’s cost caps just to save face would have disastrous long-term consequences.
It’s a nascent series and requires an element of patience. A few steps back to take a giant leap in the not-too-distant future is not a bad trade-off. Especially if it helps Formula E make the sort of tangible real-world contribution that should underpin its very existence.