The future of racing? Formula E, a series on the cutting edge
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The rise of Formula E has attracted some of the world’s major car manufacturers and the “electric revolution” is being driven, as in the early days of motor racing, by competition and motor sport.
There is no better way of developing new systems for road cars than the cutting edge of racing. And, despite a bumpy start, Formula E is helping to push forward battery technology.
In time this will trickle down to road cars as did the innovations that appeared on early racing cars.
Formula 1 is not far from this push to improve efficiency, power, longevity and reliability from battery power.
A powerhouse of that sport, McLaren, in the form of its subsidiary McLaren Applied Technologies, is the sole supplier of the 54kWh batteries to Formula E, as well as supplying the “E-Motor” and the “Motor Control Unit”. In simple terms, all the bits that make a Formula E car go fast.
In the early days of the Formula, drivers were required to hop out of one car and into another halfway through a race as the battery power available was not sufficient to complete a race with one car.
No matter how it was marketed, that was not a good look. But the problem was solved for the 2018/19 season.
Now the 250kW of available power can be increased by 25kW for short periods — and when “Fanboost” is used, that power is good for a whole race.
The series is attractive enough that, new for the 2019/2020 season, Mercedes and Porsche are joining the major car manufacturers such as Jaguar, BMW, Nissan, Mahindra, Renault and Audi and pure racing organisations such as the Penske Corporation (Dragon Racing), Andretti (BMW) and specialist luxury carmaker Venturi.
The impressive list confirms Formula E is on the minds of car companies for the future.
Jaguar Land Rover stole a march on the other big names and established the first production car race series, the FIA Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy.
The series runs with Formula E over a 10-round season spanning the Northern Hemisphere.
Both series feature prominent names, including Kiwi brothers Mitch and Simon Evans.
Mitch has been with the Jaguar Formula E team since its inception and has been one of the top drivers in the series.
Up to the last round in New York, Evans was one of a handful still with a chance of winning the title but a crash, not unusual in Formula E, robbed him of that.
The races in Formula E are held mainly in or around city centres so the temporary tracks are often tight and narrow with unforgiving concrete walls lining the route.
Discussions about bringing a round to Auckland are ongoing.
Accuracy as well as skill and racing nerve are essential in navigating what is always a close battle with drivers who believe in the adage that “rubbin’ is racin’”.
That saying applies equally to the I-Pace series and Simon Evans, driving for the Team Asia New Zealand outfit and with his experience racing in New Zealand in the V8 series, is well used to that.
Formula E is still regarded with some scepticism by traditionalists — of whom I am one — but there is no denying that the racing is close and competitive.
Will Formula E displace Formula 1 as the pre-eminent world single seater racing series?
Will it survive as new technologies come along to reduce the already-low carbon footprint of F1?
Whatever the future, Formula E and Jaguar I-Pace racing are what is happening now and are driving EV technology forwards at a pace never seen previously.