Battersea races to mark end of first chapter for all-electric series | By Gary Watkins
London’s round of the FIA
Formula E Championship in Battersea Park on June 27/28 won’t just bring the inaugural season of the electric-vehicle series to an end. It marks the last time it can correctly be called a one-make series: Formula E is setting out on a course at the start of the 2015/16 series that could lead to a truly ‘open’ concept by its fifth season in 2018/19.
Formula E has laid out what series boss and founder Alejandro Agag is calling a “five-year road map” that will result in the Dallara-built Spark-Renault SRT_01Es becoming faster over the next three seasons. The aim, and it is just that at the moment, is that as EV technology develops the championship will be opened up for year five when the practice of swapping cars is due to be abandoned.
The development race
Agag believes that Formula E pace will take a step up for the 2015/16 season due to start this September. That will result from modifications to the Spark chassis, focused on the suspension and the carbon brakes and the addition of aerodynamic turning vanes, plus a step up in the power. The road map allows for teams to develop in season two their own powertrains to replace the spec motor built by McLaren Electronic Systems and the five-speed Hewland gearbox. At the same time the maximum power allowed during the race will rise from 150kW to 170kW.
Eight of the 10 Formula E teams have registered to become so-called manufacturers to gain the right to produce their own powertrains. The e.dams team has done so in conjunction with sponsor Renault, while the Trulli team has forged a joint venture with Italian technology company Motomatica under the Tecnomatica banner, while NEXTEV TCR is a company set up by China Racing boss Steven Lu. Virgin Racing, one of the eight manufacturers, is understood to have entered into a relationship with Citroën.
Think out of the box
None of the eight groups has gone public on their approach for 2015/16. The likelihood is that some will choose to do away with a multi-speed gearbox.
“People may decide to do without a conventional gearbox as the torque goes up,” says Roger Griffiths, director of motor sport development at Andretti Autosport and joint team principal of its Formula E operation.“There isn’t an obvious answer. We could perhaps see solutions with two, four and six speeds.”
The original plan for year three in 2016/17 was to do away with the single battery supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering, a move that the teams have managed to veto on grounds of cost. The energy content of the battery will still go up, from 28kWh to 33kWh, along with a further increase in race power to 200kW, but it has now been decided that there will be a new battery with teams sharing the cost of its development.
“We needed a less expensive solution, partly because the technology we would have been developing would not have been relevant to road cars,” says e.dams managing director Francois Sicard. “That is why we will share the costs.”
Dropping the car swap
The big changes could come after a year of stability in 2017/18. “I believe we can retain a single chassis for four seasons, but I don’t think that will be possible if we are to stop needing two cars for each race,” says Agag. “Teams will go for quite radical technologies, which means they will need their own chassis.”
It is envisaged that at this point battery energy will rise to more than 40kWh, although motor power will stay at 200kW, and energy retrieval will become a bigger factor in one-car races.
4WD on the cars
“The likelihood is that we are going to need four-wheel-drive, because we are going to have to retrieve off both axles,” says Griffiths. “That’s going to be harder to do with a single-seater than with a sports car or prototype.”
The teams have questioned whether the series can support the investment required to develop their own cars. They have put forward a proposal that would permit development of the existing Spark chassis in much the same way as IndyCar has with its Dallara.
The idea of bespoke cars for each team in year five remains up in the air. “If the original suppliers step up, maybe Formula E could support it,” Griffiths says, “otherwise it is a question mark.”