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Racing Refresh Tech Tuesday: Formula E 101

(Image via @FormulaE)

On July 1st, Racing Refresh became a member of the ABB Formula E FIA World Championship media corps which gives us more access to open-wheel racing and more content for fans such as yourselves. Which got me thinking; does the reader even know what Formula E is? Well, I sure hope you do. Let's just get the obvious out of the way, Formula E is an all-electric series and is the first major motorsport series that has ditched the internal combustion engine that has been used in motorsports since motor racing was formed. In this deep dive of Tech Tuesday, we will look at the history of Formula E: How the cars work and the technology and engineering that provides a glimpse of the future of racing as we know it.

Like most things in life, ideas are brought up over a fancy dinner and a glass of wine. Well, that is exactly how Formula E came to fruition. It was in the "City of Lights" Paris, France where three men: Alejandro Agag, Jean Todt, and Antonio Tajani met in March of 2011 to plant the seeds into the blooming flower that is Formula E. Tajani and Agag were both prominent politicians at the time. For Todt, he was the President of the FIA. Their idea: to demonstrate the potential of electric vehicles and to facilitate new solutions to combat climate change. In 2015, the stage was set for the first race in series history in Beijing to start the 2015-2016 season.

First things first, we should talk about the cars because without them, there would be no motorsports. The development of the first generation of Formula E car dates all the way back to September 2012 when Formula E was in the prototype stage of development. During this time, it was announced that McLaren would provide the electric motor, transmission, and electronics for all Formula E cars for the inaugural season. The battery was supplied by Williams and the body of the car was developed by Dallara. After a year of development, the Spark-Renault SRT_01E was announced at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show and time trials began in 2014 at Donington Park, England.

In 2016, while the first-generation car completed its first season of competition, McLaren announced that they were going to be the supplier of batteries for the second generation of Formula E. The biggest difference between the two generations of cars was that the Spark SRT053 (later Spark Gen2) was that this generation of car could complete a full distance race. In the first years of Formula E, a driver would have to make a complete car change to complete a full distance race. With new regulations, the series made more changes. Electric motors were now designed by teams within FIA regulations, or a team could buy one for $297,400. The series also made the Gen2EVO, which was a small update to the second generation that saw the introduction of the Halo. The test driver for the car was the late French Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert. It made its introduction to the series in the 2018-2019 season.

The third generation of Formula E vehicle is set to debut in the upcoming 2022-2023 season. The Spark-Gen 3 is going to be lighter and smaller than the first two iterations of the cars we have seen before. The cars will be the first FIA open-wheel cars with no rear brakes on the cars and will be seen as the most efficient race car ever made. With the introduction of a front and rear powertrain, the performance will lead to a decrease in lap times by up to four seconds.

All electric power units are capped at 250 kW (350 kW for Gen 3) which is equal to 330 HP. Power output is all dependent upon what type of on track session is going on at the time and what power scenarios are available. Current cars have a top speed of about 280 km or just under 173 mph which is regulated by the FIA (Gen 3 will be just under 199 mph). Formula E is all about torque thanks to the efficient electrical motors which gives a 0-to-60 time in just under three seconds. From the first generation of Formula E, cars can be charged either with a wired power source or from a conductive charger in the floor of the car to be charged wirelessly. Each battery is a 54-kWh battery that is still supplied by McLaren. Generation 3 will offer up a mind-blowing 600 kW fast charging system to charge batteries between sessions.

So we know about the cars, so how does a race weekend shape up? Well much like any other Formula One weekend, there is a practice, qualifying, and the grand prix that determines a winner. On most weekends, the series has all three events on the same day with at least two 30-minute practice sessions before qualifying. Qualifying has a very different style to most other series in motorsports today.

Qualifying consists of the field of 22 cars that split into two groups of eleven drivers each using the current championship standings. From that point on, each driver tries to set the fastest lap in a ten minute session. From there, the top four drivers enter a bracket style qualifying procedure

  • A1 vs B4

  • A2 vs B3

  • A3 vs B2

  • A4 vs B1

Each of the drivers get a one-shot qualifying attempt to then earn pole position.

So now we know how practice and qualifying works. On to the Grand Prix, each E-Prix lasts for forty-five minuets plus one lap until a full race distance is finished. Tracks very in length from 1.2 miles to 2.6 miles set out by the FIA regulations. During the race drivers are set to a max engine output of 220 kWh, or 297 HP. Before the race, Formula E fans can vote for a driver to get "Fanboost", which allows a 25 kWh boost for five seconds that a driver can use in the second half of the race. Another way to gain power is through the "Attack Mode" activation point. Attack Mode gives a driver a 30 kWh boost to the motor which allows a full engine output of the 250 kWh engine. Since the FIA gives teams only one hour to prepare for race strategy before a race, it is always interesting on how drivers attack each race. One fun fact on Formula E is you can see visually on the cars which driver is using Fanboost or Attack Mode. On the HALO is a series of LED lights that go around it, if it flashes blue, the driver is in attack mode. If it glows purple, the driver activated fan boost.

There is alot more on what makes a Formula E car tick, but if I explained it all in one article I would run out of things to write about. Thank you on joining us for another edition of Tech Tuesday, join us next week as we take a look in the world of NASCAR.

For more open-wheel racing content, listen to our podcast, "Early Apex" on Spotify.


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