SCOTT MITCHELL S

“Mak­ing the cars last is the fo­cus”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News -

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.

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