The fizzy bass of the elec­tric mo­tor rises and falls like a syn­the­siser’s pitch ben­der

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com­peti­tors. The grooved 18-inch tyres are also univer­sal and used for both wet and dry races. They’re much more com­pa­ra­ble to road cars than the steam­roller 13s seen in F1 and with thin­ner side­walls the sus­pen­sion has more work to do on bumpy street cir­cuits.

The rear sus­pen­sion de­sign is the only com­po­nent of the chas­sis that of­fers scope for the team to adjust, but the powertrain is a dif­fer­ent story. The 700-volt lithium-ion bat­tery is com­mon, but the elec­tric mo­tor, three-speed gear­box and in­verter are to DS Per­for­mance’s de­sign.

Un­usu­ally – but log­i­cally – teams are also free to cal­i­brate soft­ware. It’s here that they glean deeper in­sights into en­ergy con­sump­tion and con­ser­va­tion, un­der­lin­ing the race-to-road rel­e­vance. For now, the bat­ter­ies take 50 min­utes to charge and last half a race – the driv­ers pit for a dif­fer­ent, fully charged car – but from sea­son five they’ll do a race dis­tance.

‘We are two years in ad­vance of road cars,’ says Che­vaucher. ‘We don’t share tech­nol­ogy di­rectly, but it’s the un­der­stand­ing that’s im­por­tant.’

Driver Sam Bird fin­ished fourth over­all last sea­son. He ex­plains that while a Formula E car might feel quite alien to drive in some re­spects, fun­da­men­tally it’s a sin­gle-seater with four wheels, two ped­als and a steer­ing wheel. Driv­ing one fast isn’t re­ally the hard part if you’re a pro­fes­sional race driver. The strat­egy of con­serv­ing the elec­tric bat­tery and har­vest­ing en­ergy while rac­ing ri­vals wheel-to-wheel is the chal­lenge.

“We have 28kwh of en­ergy, and you have to use it wisely,” he says. “We don’t drive flat out, but we’re within one sec­ond per lap of that and sav­ing around 20 per­cent of the en­ergy – down from 1.4kw to 1kw. But then we don’t get full re-gen un­til the bat­tery is at 80 per­cent charge, then you have to re­mem­ber to put the brake-bias fur­ther for­wards to com­pen­sate for the ex­tra brak­ing that re-gen puts through the elec­tric mo­tor at the back.

“I’ve done GP2, World En­durance, and this is the most dif­fi­cult by far. We’ve got driv­ers like Buemi, da Costa, Lopez, Vergne, and they’re all world class, 20 of us within an inch of each other. I think that’s ex­cit­ing for the fans,

as well as rel­e­vant to where we are on the planet to­day.”

I climb in the carbonfibr­e chas­sis, back­side low, feet straight ahead, legs bent a lit­tle more than I’d like, head rest clipped in af­ter­wards and only just clear­ing my shoul­ders. Che­vaucher at­taches the steer­ing wheel, ex­plain­ing that the mid­dle paddles con­trol the gears, while the top right pad­dle is for Fan­boost. Fans can vote on so­cial me­dia, pro­vid­ing the most pop­u­lar driver – usu­ally di Grassi – with an ex­tra burst of en­ergy. With just a few engi­neers look­ing on anx­iously, there’s lit­tle chance of that to­day. The bot­tom right pad­dle is for re-gen. Mys­te­ri­ously, the pur­pose of the top and bot­tom left paddles re­mains se­cret.

Formula E cars pro­duce 170kw and weigh around 800kg, which doesn’t sug­gest outlandish per­for­mance. But as I ac­cel­er­ate from a stand­still, the torque kicks in­stantly, the rear rub­ber bites hard de­spite be­ing way past its best thanks to Bird’s ear­lier out­ing, and I’m pushed back in my seat, flung down the straight, hit­ting 100km/h in three sec­onds or so.

The sen­sa­tion of light-switch thrust is sim­i­lar to a Tesla in Lu­di­crous mode, but your back­side is al­most skim­ming the as­phalt, and the vac­uum of con­ven­tional en­gine noise is filled by a bar­rage of wind noise like you’ve jumped from a plane in a wing suit. The car is far from com­pletely silent, though: there’s trans­mis­sion whine and the fizzy bass of the elec­tric mo­tor, which rises and falls in line with ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion like a syn­the­siser’s pitch ben­der. It’s a very alien sound­track, but one that isn’t with­out ap­peal.

The torque means you can stay in one gear the whole time, and Che­vaucher says the gears are re­ally there to help en­ergy con­ser­va­tion, but it also feels nat­u­ral to use them for per­for­mance. There’s a clunk as you pull back the pad­dleshifter, the fa­mil­iar­ity of me­chan­i­cal en­gage­ment amid all the strange whizzing and whirring.

The steer­ing, too, is res­o­lutely ana­logue. Ar­riv­ing at the first cor­ner, it feels light and com­mu­nica­tive, the turn-in su­per-di­rect. I reckon a go-kart would be harder on your arms over a race dis­tance, and Bird con­firms

that, re­ally, the g-forces aren’t that high, the cars not es­pe­cially phys­i­cally de­mand­ing.

The brakes, in com­par­i­son, are in­cred­i­bly firm, and you have to press deep into them to kill speed. The tight cock­pit bi­sected by the steer­ing col­umn means you have to left-foot brake.

Wary of de­stroy­ing the car and of its worn-out tyres, I’m per­haps a lit­tle over-cau­tious in the faster corners, but I’m never re­ally aware of an aero ef­fect, and the DSV-02 is quite car-like in the way it shifts around slightly be­neath you. Feed in throt­tle as the cor­ner straight­ens and the elec­tric racer gath­ers speed with the kind of run­away in­ten­sity that makes you tense and smile all at the same time.

Ex­it­ing slower corners, the front tyres start to scrub slightly. A Formula E car does have a higher per­cent­age of its weight at the rear than a typ­i­cal sin­gle seater, and main­tains that bal­ance be­cause it doesn’t burn fuel; per­haps that con­trib­utes some un­der­steer. Yet if you’re just a lit­tle greedy on the throt­tle, it’ll over­steer ea­gerly, es­pe­cially in sec­ond gear. You need to be quick with cor­rec­tions, but it’s a lot of fun.

Fa­mil­iar­ity with car and cir­cuit in­creas­ing, I start to take more kerb and cut corners more heav­ily, fol­low­ing Bird’s advice. Div­ing into a fast left-han­der, I cut the left wheel slightly into a dusty com­pres­sion and tense up, ex­pect­ing a large thwack through the chas­sis, but it soft­ens it all off like the wheel never left the cir­cuit. The com­pli­ance is un­real, and es­sen­tial on street cir­cuits.

Ear­lier, Bird had told me to hold out for the brake board at the end of the long back straight, and I swear he’s shifted it 50 me­tres up­stream as a prank. It feels very, very late, es­pe­cially as the speed is es­ca­lat­ing so quickly as you hold out for the marker.

To­wards the end of the stint, I steel my­self to brake maybe just very slightly ear­lier as the hair­pin zooms up. I feel the brake pres­sure build up hard, and it’s then that I have my lock-up. Bird says the grooved tyres are easy to lock, but are more re­sis­tant to flat-spot­ting than a slick.

I’m al­ready get­ting men­tally over­loaded, but in races, Bird will blend his brak­ing with a pull on the re-gen pad­dle to feed more en­ergy back into the bat­tery, and some­times brake even later be­cause he’s go­ing just a lit­tle slower to con­serve en­ergy.

Un­der­stand­ing what he’s do­ing is rel­a­tively sim­ple, but how he strings it all to­gether dur­ing a race as a pack of world-class driv­ers bear down on him is in­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive.

Me? Af­ter about eight laps, I’m about five sec­onds off Bird’s pace. Dur­ing a race, I’d be run­ning around like a stray safety car. But I’m happy enough with that, and even hap­pier to bring it home in one piece.


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