Formula E

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

104

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Current page

197

Current page

198

Current page

199

Current page

200

Current page

201

Current page

202

Current page

203

Current page

204

Current page

205

Current page

206

Current page

207

Current page

208

Current page

209

Current page

210

Current page

211

Current page

212

If there’s one criticism that cannot be levied at Formula E, it’s that it doesn’t deliver close and open racing. One look at the stats from last year will tell you that.

Nine drivers from eight teams claimed at least one victory across the 13 races of the 2018/19 season. And a further seven made it onto the podium. Eight times the winning margin was less than a second, and the average over the season was just 1.4s. Currently, Formula E delivers entertainment by the bucketload.

But could that all be about to change?

Mercedes and Porsche will take their place on the grid when the new campaign – season six – begins in Saudi Arabia at the end of November. Both have a reputation for domination in our sport, for spending big and reaping the rewards.

Mercedes arrives off the back of five straight Formula 1 drivers’ and constructors’ title doubles and will have sealed a sixth by the time the new FE season begins with a double-header on the streets of the Ad Diriyah suburb of Riyadh on November 22/23. Porsche, meanwhile, claimed a hat-trick of World Endurance Championship crowns in 2015-17 and three Le Mans 24 Hours triumphs on the trot in the same years on what turned out to be a quickly curtailed four-year return to the highest echelons of sportscar racing. The history books, too, reveal any number of examples of its domination.

The new Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow 01 that will be its rival for top newcomer

Yet both German manufacturers remain humble as they enter a highly competitive arena in which there are now seven major car makers, plus niche electric marques NIO and Venturi. Ian James, who heads up the Mercedes FE programme, reckons there’s no chance of the marque repeating its F1 domination, or anyone else doing likewise.

“I don’t think you will ever get into that situation, because of the concept of the vehicle and the amount of components you can influence, combined with the format of the racing,” he explains. “We are talking about tiny margins.”

Porsche’s rhetoric today mirrors that ahead of its WEC entry in 2014 with the 919 Hybrid that ended a 15-season hiatus from top-line sports car racing. Then as now, it talks about respecting its rivals already incumbent in the series.

“The level of competition is so high – it is clear we have quite some respect [for the opposition],” says Malte Huneke, technical project leader of the Porsche FE programme. “There will be a leaning curve; how long the learning curve will be is very hard to predict.”

Yes, Mercedes and Porsche are being humble, but there are good reasons why their arrival isn’t going to change the competitive landscape in FE.

The series, of course, calls for a spec chassis, the Gen2 Spark SRT05e, allowing its participants to develop only the powertrain and associated parts. And there are strict limitations on what they can do in that department. What distinguishes FE from almost every other category of international motor sport is a cap on engine power.

Maximum power output is 250kW (335bhp) in qualifying and 200kW (268bhp) in the race. An extra 35kW (47bhp) is allowed when the cars are in so-called Attack Mode – an innovation for season five when the practice of drivers switching cars mid-race disappeared from FE. It is triggered when a car runs off-line through a prescribed section of track. FanBoost and the five-second boost of 25kW (33bhp) it gives to five drivers chosen by a public vote also remains part of the FE format.

Mark Preston, head of the Techeetah squad that claimed the season-four title with Jean-Éric Vergne as an independent using a Renault powertrain, suggests that the power limitation will prevent anyone running away with FE races.

Formula E already boasts a strong manufacturer presence, with DS Virgin (left) and BMW two star teams

“If like Mercedes in F1 you can apply the massive resources you have, you can get an extra 10 per cent or whatever from your engine,” says Preston, whose team became the factory operation of Citroën sub-brand DS Automobiles in 2018/19. “Lap time is directly related to power because you can either go faster down the straights or faster around the corners with the extra downforce you can carry. It’s proportional, basic maths. By limiting power you keep it fair.”

Audi FE team principal Allan McNish has a similar view.

“Seventy per cent of the car is the same for everyone,” says the three-time Le Mans winner. “The regs restrict what you can do, and development of the powertrain is restricted. That is always going to make close racing.”

The rulebook got tighter still over the off-season. An innovative twin-motor power unit developed for Nissan in season five employed one of the motors as a secondary energy storage device in addition to the mandated battery supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies. It was homologated before the season by the FIA, although an addendum to the regulations inserted during the season closed what was clearly a loophole. Twin motors were promptly outlawed for season six.

“There will be pressures to increase the technological scope”

But opening up the technological restrictions has been on the agenda since the very beginning of FE. The original technological road map allowed for battery development in year three of the series, a direction that was quickly abandoned. It remains very much on the back-burner today. FE founder Alejandro Agag, who has segued into the chairmanship of the series with the appointment of a new CEO, isn’t in favour of allowing teams and manufacturers to develop their own batteries when the next rules cycle begins, which will most likely be in season nine in 2022/23. But there will be pressure from manufacturers to increase the technological scope of the championship at a time when they are placing increasing onus on EV vehicles in their road car fleets.

“There is a desire to incorporate new technologies as they come on stream,” says McNish. “But at the same time there is an understanding among all the participants that FE is still a young championship and needs to develop gradually. As much as Audi wants to win, it also wants other manufacturers to race against.”

Ian James heads up the Mercedes FE programme, and has the benefit of picking the best from the AMG family, and the HWA team from last season

What he is hinting at is that the number of manufacturers might quickly dwindle if FE descends into some kind of technological arms race. Mercedes and Porsche are both singing from the official series song sheet when it comes to greater freedoms, both publicly and, according to their rivals, in the smoke-filled rooms of the rules meetings.

James insists that Mercedes is comfortable with the level of development currently allowed.

“We need to take a look at where EV technology is developing and making sure we remain relevant with the Gen3 concept,” he says. “What I do not think we should be opening up is the battery, the aerodynamics or things that would drive millions of euros of additional cost.”

Huneke suggests that Porsche isn’t in favour of opening up the battery either, describing the prospect as a “big threat to the series.” Development of the power source, he says, would be a major differentiator that would potentially allow a manufacturer to dominate. Instead, he reckons, FE “needs to stick to its DNA”.

Yet the resources that Mercedes and Porsche can bring to FE could have an impact in more subtle ways. The regulations mandate that a team can have no more than 20 operational staff at the track. But there are no limits on the personnel or technical systems deployed back at base on any given race day.

There have been attempts to limit what are described as remote operations — drivers on simulators, test cars on shaker rigs, computers constantly crunching numbers — on race day by putting restrictions on data transfer. Plans for a limitation for season six were shelved, but it is still under discussion for season seven.

James isn’t sure that it is a major issue, partly because of the compressed, one-day format of FE race weekends.

“Does it make sense to have 200 people back at base crunching numbers? No, I don’t think so, because you simply haven’t got the time to react,” he says.

Huneke echoes James’ view on what he calls a “tricky topic”. “It is very difficult to transfer information back and forth, and then react to it,” he explains. Or as Preston at Techeetah says, “there’s only so much information you can pour into the funnel in a short space of time on race day”.

The two German big guns have approached their respective FE entries from different angles after announcing they would be joining the grid within days of each other in July 2017. Mercedes has pulled together a team that incorporates elements from around Europe. Mercedes Grand Prix and Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, both in Northamptonshire, and HWA in Affalterbach near Stuttgart all have a hand in the programme.

Huneke is confident in Porsche's ability

Porsche, on the other hand, is doing everything under one roof at its Weissach research and development facility, an approach that served the marque well during its WEC LMP1 campaigns. The powertrain for the Porsche 99X Electric to be driven by André Lotterer and Neel Jani, both veterans of its WEC programme, has been developed there and the cars will be run out of the same workshops.

James regards combining the resources that it could bring into play from around “the Mercedes motorsport family” as an advantage when entering this new challenge. That’s despite an apparent disconnect between development operations in the UK and the HWA race team in Germany running the two Mercedes EQ Silver Arrow 01s.

“It gave us an opportunity to get the best of the best from that group in terms of what we needed for FE,” he says. “We had the opportunity to cherry pick expertise from all sorts of different areas.”

That includes getting hold of the talents of one of the key figures in the development of the Mercedes’ F1 hybrid systems at HPP, Pierre Godof. He is now leading development of the powertrain in the marque’s FE challenger, which will be driven by former McLaren F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne and new FIA Formula 2 champion, Nyck de Vries.

Porsche’s Formula E entry has been done off its own back, rather than partnering with an existing team.

“The co-ordination is a huge challenge,” concedes James. “It is not an easy thing to do, but if we can find the right recipe to bring all of those ingredients together, then we have got a good opportunity.”

Mercedes has also had a foot in the FE camp for the past two seasons, whereas Porsche has not. The HWA squad had an engineering link-up with Venturi in season four and then joined the FE grid in 2018/19, keeping the grid slot reserved for Mercedes warm, with an assault under its own banner using the French marque’s powertrain.

Porsche did have a brief tie-up with the Penske-owned Dragon Racing squad, now known as Geox Dragon, ahead of the start of season four. During pre-season testing it had engineers present in the pit of a team that had signed Jani, but a deal for the German manufacturer to embed its staff in the Dragon operation for the season quickly fell over.

“Even if Porsche and Mercedes win, they’re unlikely to dominate”

Huneke makes no attempt to hide the short-lived relationship with Dragon, but he stresses that there was never an intent to make a staged entry in the manner of BMW with the Andretti team or Audi with Abt.

“There was a link early on with one team. It didn’t continue at a certain point, and then we just focused on our own effort,” he says. “It was the plan from the beginning that we would enter as a Porsche team, knowing that we have not got the experience of all the other teams. On the other hand, we have a team that is already working well together and is, you can say, dialled-in.”

Whether that’s dialled-in quite well enough to start winning in its debut season of Formula E, Huneke doesn’t know.

Even if Porsche or Mercedes can notch up victories during their respective maiden campaigns, neither is likely to dominate the sport. Not in the short-term, and potentially not in the long-term either.


digital extra

You may also like

Related products