The fast evolving machines of Formula E

They mightn’t be anywhere near as fast as F1, but this upstart race series is seducing big names like Jaguar with its all-electric formula

BY COLIN OVERLAND

SHALL WE USE THE L WORD? Panasonic Jaguar Racing came last in the Formula E (FE) team standings for 2016-17, their first season in the electric single-seater race series. But looked at another way, they were the first of the premium manufacturers to commit fully to the series. And that means they’ve had more chance to learn how to make electric cars go fast, reliably and economically. That could prove to be priceless as Jaguar readies its i-Pace race series, which starts at the end of 2018.

The new car, the i-Type 2, is driven by FE’s first champion, Nelson Piquet Jnr, and 2012 GP3 champ, Kiwi Mitch Evans. Team director James Barclay is quietly optimistic about their chances of some decent results, which is already proving true for the 2017-18 season given the second-gen car is a much better racer.

“We learnt a lot in our first year back in racing and we have been working really hard to put that knowledge and experience to the test,” he tells us. “We have made some improvements to the Jaguar i-Type 2, the driver line-up and technical team.”

It’s the right series at the right time: “Formula E continues to grow exponentially. As the first premium manufacturer to join the series we feel that decision has been vindicated with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche set to join.”

“Whereas the previous car was put together in a hurry, i-Type 2 has had more considered input from Jaguar and technical partners Williams Advanced Engineering. “The improvements have made the Jaguar i-Type 2 a more efficient overall package, allowing the drivers to extract maximum performance.

Key areas of improvement are the weight of the car, which is now far lighter, and the car’s centre of gravity has been lowered to improve its dynamic balance. We have also worked to improve the efficiency of our powertrain with a new design.”

And what works on the track will shape electrified road cars. “The race program provides Jaguar Land Rover with the opportunity to bring learnings from extreme performance conditions to the road – benefiting the range and performance of our product lines as we look ahead to the launch of further electrical vehicles,” says Barclay.

“One of the main challenges for Formula E is the use of street circuits. In other motorsports, races are completed on wellmaintained tracks. In Formula E we are racing on temporary circuits. In addition, energy management is a key area during the race for the drivers and engineers to optimise.

“It’s important that the series uses street circuits. It opens up the sport to a whole new audience, and makes it more accessible. We get to go to places like Hong Kong, New York and Paris only because we are racing with electric cars.”

And winning? “This season we are being realistic about our success. Our aim is to be regularly competing for points. However, this is only our second season and we know the competition is fierce.”

UPPING THE POWER AVAILABLE DURING THE RACE FROM 170KWH TO 180KWH, WHILE REDUCING THE CAR’S WEIGHT BY 16KG, HAS PROVED A CHALLENGE

TINY TECH CHANGES HAVE A HUGE IMPACT

Unseen boffins are the real stars of Formula E

APART FROM a new livery, the electric single-seaters look and sound very much the same as in previous years for the 2017-18 season. But appearances are deceptive, as there have been some subtle, but tellin changes to the cars’ tech spec.

It might not seem much, but upping the power available during the race from 170kWh to 180 while reducing the car’s weight by 16kg has proved a challenge for the teams’ engineers and designers, as DS Virgin Racing’s tech chief Sylvain Filippi explains: “You can only find that sort of weight reduction in the powertrain and that’s tricky because it’s about shaving mass off the motor, inverter, transmission, the bell housing, etc, whilst increasing power for the race. That’s what Formula E is all about, improving the overall electrical efficiency. We’re using less energy for every mile travelled – which, in racing, means more time spent on the throttle rather than lifting.” Formula E currently makes extensive use of common components and rules: the same design of carbon-fibre tub, front suspension and aerodynamics, and a common-spec battery pack supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering.

Teams have free rein to develop the electric motor, inverter, transmission and bell housing with rear suspension pick up-points, and the software strategy. With an electric motor’s ability to deliver maximum torque from the onset, the conventional wisdom is that a single-ratio gearbox is the natural choice.

However, DS Virgin has gone the other way, moving from a single- to a multi-speed ’box. Does a shorter first gear deliver a more aggressive launch with subsequent ratios maintaining the electric motor at its peak efficiency? Or does that come at a cost, with peak power and torque dipping between changes? And how does that affect the regenerative braking? Just a few examples of the challenges facing the teams venturing into a series where so much is still experimental, with everyone on the steepest of learning curves.