Back in 2012, an idea was born. Motor racing was about to be taken to a whole new level. But… there was the competition to think about, racing series like Formula One, World Endurance Championship, World Touring Cars Championship are tough to compete with. But Alejandro Agag had faith in his all-electric series. The inaugural season began in mid-2014 with all teams running equal specs.
Understanding Formula E
Back in the day, Formula One was considered the ultimate arena for manufacturers to settle the age-old question of who was the fastest of them all. But somewhere along the way, it became less about manufacturers and more about privateer teams getting in the mix. As of the 2017 season, only four teams are actual manufacturers, namely, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Renault. If you include Honda, there are five manufacturers involved. Since Formula One was becoming far too expensive, manufacturers like Toyota and BMW departed the sport.
Formula E on the other hand, have started off with a decent number of manufacturers and more of them have expressed interest in joining the series. Major manufacturers like Renault, Audi, Mahindra, Citroen and Jaguar have already boarded the electric train. With season 3 done and dusted, everybody is looking forward to season 4 where BMW will join the party. BMW have announced that they will partner the existing Andretti Formula E team and the following year, have their own entry. Season 5 is expected to be bigger with the inclusion of Mercedes and Porsche in the fray. So it begs the question, “Why is Formula E so lucrative?”
Relevance to Road Car Technology
With the number of petrol and diesel dependent cars reducing, the focus is on clean energy and electric vehicles. In the United Kingdom, new laws are being introduced where the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars will soon cease from 2040. Formula E provides a means for manufacturers to explore the electric automobile industry and develop the technology.
Mercedes had even announced that they would cease their DTM program at the end of the 2018 season to enter Formula E. In the 2016-17 season, Jaguar had made its debut in FE. Team director James Barclay said
“The core of why Jaguar goes racing is to prove new technology and apply that to our future production cars. We go back to the use of disc brakes at Le Mans; Jaguar tried them out, won the race and we put them on our production cars. As the future becomes more electric, and to develop and engineer the technology that will apply to our future road cars, Formula E is the right formula at the right time for Jaguar.”
Volkswagen Emission Scandal
The Volkswagen scandal was a controversy where the Environment Protection Agency discovered that many Volkswagen vehicles had a software that could detect if the car was being tested and accordingly alter the vehicle’s performance to meet the standards. So subsidiaries like Audi and Porsche were also affected. So entering Formula E is also a way of finding alternative sources of energy other than fossil fuel.
To run a team in Formula E, it costs around €5-10 million, while the German Touring Car series, DTM, costs between €50 million and €70 million. The Faraday Future Dragon racing team has also said that it costs around €300,000 per car, and the team uses four cars in the race. In other words, each team is spending around €1.2 million on all cars in a team. Similarly, Porsche and Audi’s annual budget for the World Endurance Championship ranges from €80 million to €150 million.
In an interview with Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board Research and Development at Porsche, he said that “The series is developing in an interesting direction. Think, for example, of the rear axle with the electric motor, which manufacturers are able to design themselves within the regulations. Or take the inverter and the battery management, where there will also be more freedom. In the relatively short term, it is expected that a better battery will be used in Formula E, which will eliminate vehicle changes during the race. There are also planned increases in drive performance. And brake-by-wire is coming, along with other things. We have seen the roadmap on the technical side. The regulations will start to open up and the planned developments are very interesting.”
Formula E is there to stay
Steiner also said that the newfound interest in Formula E reflected the shift in the direction of the motorsport industry. Even 2016 F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg has admitted that Formula E is the future of motor racing.
No Technological Arms Race
With the number of manufacturers increasing, there is a likelihood of a technological arms race if the teams were allowed to design their own batteries or aerodynamic parts. But Agag has shot down such claims by stating that there are ‘safeguards’ to prevent increasing costs.
“We designed Formula E for this and we when we went to the drawing board on day zero we designed a championship for what is happening today,” said Agag “Our structures and our rules are such that they will accommodate and everyone can be comfortable within those rules so we can avoid an ‘arms race’. We will not accept any change of that framework by anyone. You either accept the rules or you don’t come here. Manufacturers themselves are telling us don’t change anything because we like it as the way it is: don’t allow the costs to go high, don’t change the fact we have to provide a powertrain at a set price to a privateer team. I’m not worried at all that the manufacturers are coming, I am encouraged and I am happy that they are a great addition to the championship.”