In­side For­mula E’s next-gen­er­a­tion cars

In comes a glut of works teams, faster cars and no more em­bar­rass­ing mid-race car swap. For­mula E just got se­ri­ous. By

CAR (UK) - - Contents - Cur­tis Moldrich

THIS IS WHEN it re­ally gets in­ter­est­ing. For­mula E has been around for four years now, but the im­mi­nent fifth sea­son marks a step change in its tech­ni­cal in­trigue. A rad­i­cal new chas­sis and aero kit means Gen 2’s cars will cer­tainly look quicker, while freer reg­u­la­tions mean they’ll ac­tu­ally be faster, too – and their bat­ter­ies will last an en­tire race.

With 22 cars on the grid, more man­u­fac­turer sup­port than ever and an in­creas­ingly high-pro­file driver line-up, this is when For­mula E starts to look like a se­ri­ous al­ter­na­tive to F1.

The most ob­vi­ous change is an all-new Dal­lara-made car that’ll be used by all teams for the 2018/2019 sea­son. Gone are the awk­ward looks of the Gen 1 car, re­placed by a new ma­chine that blends the best bits of cur­rent WEC LMP1 and For­mula 1 cars – and even makes the halo look ac­cept­able. It’s more Bat­mo­bile than elec­tric go-kart and, vis­ually at least, For­mula E fi­nally looks like it means busi­ness.

The changes aren’t just skin deep, though, with new tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions al­low­ing for greater free­dom. A new bat­tery rep­re­sents the most im­por­tant ad­di­tion for the 2018/2019 For­mula E rac­ers. Built by McLaren and used by the en­tire grid, the new bat­tery will have enough charge to com­plete a full race with­out a car swap – and that’s im­por­tant from a mar­ket­ing point of view. The swap could be en­ter­tain­ing, like any pit­stop,

With the new Gen 2 car, For­mula E is in­ally start­ing to look like an al­ter­na­tive to

For­mula 1

but gave out the wrong mes­sage as far as road-car mar­ket­ing was con­cerned. The larger cells mean cars now race with 264bhp of power in race mode (with up to 330bhp with FanBoost and 297bhp when us­ing a new ‘Hyper­boost’ or at­tack mode). Even with its in­creased range, the new car is around five per cent faster than the old car – around two sec­onds per minute of lap time.

More tech­ni­cal free­dom

Be­yond the new bat­tery, plenty else has now been opened up for de­vel­op­ment, too – and that’s why we’re now see­ing big OEMs rush­ing into the sport, keen to prove their tech.

‘The cur­rent that comes is the same for ev­ery­body – what you do down­stream of that is up to you,’ BMW di­rec­tor of mo­tor­sport Jens Mar­quardt told CAR. ‘The hard­ware, elec­tric mo­tor, in­verter, the pack­ag­ing in­side the rear end of the car, the rear axle tech­nol­ogy, the rear sus­pen­sion kine­mat­ics go­ing into the stan­dard hubs, is all BMW.

‘How quickly you can get the charge into your elec­tric mo­tor, how quickly you go be­tween charge and re­gen, how you de­liver the power to the unit, how ef­fi­cient you are in that re­spect – it’s all up to each team.’

An F1-style brake-by-wire sys­tem is also new for sea­son five, and will give driv­ers more sim­pli­fied con­trol over their brak­ing and en­ergy re­gen­er­a­tion. Of course, these will re­quire com­plex soft­ware, so ex­pect brak­ing per­for­mance to be an­other key area of tech de­vel­op­ment.

At­tract­ing new spon­sors

The new rules place re­newed fo­cus on ef­fi­ciency and cool­ing – and it’s no co­in­ci­dence those are the same chal­lenges en­gi­neers face when mak­ing road­go­ing EVs. That means run­ning a team in For­mula E will pro­vide use­ful R&D for road-car de­vel­op­ment, as well as an even more di­rect spin to the ‘race to road’ an­gle that car man­u­fac­tur­ers love to wheel out. The tech goes the other way too, with teams in­clud­ing Nis­san and BMW keen to em­pha­sise how their road-car pro­grammes can ben­e­fit their race ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ei­ther way, plenty of big names are in; there’ll be 11 two-car teams on the grid, in­clud­ing Audi, DS, Jaguar, Nio (the Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer), Nis­san and a Mercs-backed HWA team. Porsche and Mercedes are poised to join as fac­tory teams in late 2019.

Will there be room for de­vel­op­ment?

With bat­tery power a con­stant, and teams’ pow­er­trains ef­fec­tively frozen through­out the year, soft­ware and the way in which en­ergy is man­aged will be­come the big tech bat­tle­ground.

‘The sys­tems and the soft­ware are nearly the big­gest per­for­mance tools you have,’ Nis­san’s Se­bas­tian Buemi told CAR at pre-sea­son test­ing. ‘So we work a lot on that and we keep im­prov­ing the car by adding new sys­tems through­out the sea­son. We bring up­dates ev­ery day. Ev­ery day we drive we have some­thing dif­fer­ent on the soft­ware.’

With new cars, new rules, a well-funded grid and some of the world’s best driv­ers (eg Felipe Massa, Nel­son Pi­quet Jr) the 2018/2019 sea­son is shap­ing up to be the spec­ta­cle For­mula E has been threat­en­ing for the last four years. We’ll find out if it de­liv­ers when the sea­son kicks off on 15 De­cem­ber.

GROOVY RUB­BERUn­like F1, which uses di€er­ent tyre com­pounds as well as wets, slicks and in­ter­me­di­ates, For­mula E uses a sin­gle tyre. Pro­vided by Miche­lin, it’s treaded and comes in just the one com­pound. The re­sult? They look more like road tyres, which is great for Miche­lin, and there are fewer tyres totrans­port. FAC­TORY BACKEDThe grid will in­clude works teams from BMW, Audi, DS, Jaguar, and Nis­san (re­plac­ing Re­nault). Mercedes is heav­ily back­ingHWA. BRAKE BY WIREThe Gen 2 cars’ brakeby-wire sys­tem will use soft­ware to more eas­ily bal­ance re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing from the elec­tric mo­tor with ac­tual (hy­draulic) brak­ing. Its cal­i­bra­tion will play a key role in each team’sen­ergy strat­egy.

VOLTS WAGONPower is up by 25 per cent, and the Gen 2 car willac­cel­er­ate from zero to 62mph in just 2.8sec, with a top speed of 174mph. The new car is ive per cent quicker, so typ­i­cally a cou­ple of sec­ondsfaster per lap. MARIO KARTThe new ‘Hyper­boost’ func­tion will grant driv­ers an ex­tra 33bhp, but only if they drive in a des­ig­nated area of the track oŒ the rac­ing line. The length of these boosts and the num­ber avail­able are yet to be de­cided.

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