Spot the difference

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

102

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

Few things in motor sport are more evocative than watching a solitary car lapping an otherwise empty circuit. Senses trained on a distant, fast-moving shape pursued by the howl of a highly tuned racing engine, the purity of the scene only serves to intensify the experience.

Private tests such as this are something I’ve witnessed probably a hundred times, but none has been quite like today. For starters it’s in Majorca (for reasons I will explain shortly) and, in place of an internal combustion engine working through its raucous ascending and descending scales, there’s a constant, piercing whine. Like a flightless helicopter without the thrashing rotor blades, this otherworldly noise is the shrill soundtrack to Audi’s new-generation Formula E racer. And we’re here to drive it.

Why Majorca? Because the compact, sinuous circuit is very close in character to the tight, twisty street circuits that are part of FE’s USP. It is a slightly odd place; a bit rough around the edges and with a somewhat improvised feel to it, it’s like a scaled-up kart track. This makes it ideal for a FE car and a great place to get a feel for both the old- and new-generation machines in a relatively safe yet representative environment.

The Gen-2 Formula E racer is styled much more adventurously than the car it supersedes

We covered the difference between this and the car it replaces in the December 2018 edition of Motor Sport, but in case you missed it I’ll recap the most salient points. The altered look is very obvious, the new car somewhat self-consciously channelling a sci-fi future where the original car remained rooted in the present. There’s a massive diffuser, but it’s a bit of a red herring as FE is resolutely not an aero formula. Drag has been reduced thanks to enclosed wheels, but the original car’s aero wheel rims have been banned.

The tub is a spec design by Dallara and built by Spark Technologies. Teams were already allowed to develop their own powertrains – a big incentive for the major automotive players to get involved – but they are now also free to develop aspects of the rear suspension, including the dampers and packaging. Active brake-by-wire systems are now allowed (on the front axle only), with teams free to develop their own or use an off-the-shelf system.

Power management software has always been the freest area of FE’s otherwise tightly controlled technical regulations, so while testing is limited to just seven days per season and many areas of the car are standard or subject to development restrictions, the brain of the powertrain inverter can be developed during the season.

Biggest news is the latest battery pack. Produced by McLaren Applied Technologies, it has 54kW/h of useable energy; almost double that of the previous car. This means each 45-minute ePrix can now be completed without the need to swap cars – a big step in terms of credibility and a significant strategic shake-up.

Power is up compared to the Gen-1 cars, with 200kW (approx 268bhp in old money) available in race mode and 250kW (335bhp) in qualifying. That 50kW (67bhp) bump is also available through the familiar ‘FanBoost’ in-race vote process, and a new ‘Attack Mode‘ – the specifics of which (that’s to say the number and duration of shots) will be announced to the teams only an hour before each ePrix to add an element of unpredictability. Spectators and viewers know when Attack Mode has been engaged thanks to a special lighting system on the halo. 

To help demonstrate how the fresh technology and power increase translate on the track, Audi has brought Lucas di Grassi’s Gen-1 car fresh from Season 4 along with the team’s first Gen-2 car, which was being used for official FE testing ahead of the first race in Saudi Arabia last December. It’s a rare privilege to drive a car so early in its racing life, and no small risk for Audi if the car was damaged during a handful of media tests.

“The Gen-1 car is a real handful in the braking areas, it rarely seems to behave the same way twice”

We start by driving the Gen-1 car. I’ve watched enough FE to know the outgoing car would be tricky, but if I’m honest I didn’t think it would be quite such a challenge. This has nothing to do with its pace, for it really doesn’t feel that fast. All things are relative, however, and it’s worth noting we are doing none of the energy management or almost continual brake bias adjustments the FE regulars have to cope with while racing.

This Gen-1 car is a real handful in the braking areas, for it rarely seems to behave in the same way twice. This is evident from the racing, but such is the shift in brake balance, not just lap to lap but sometimes from corner to corner, that you’re constantly reacting, correcting and modulating your braking efforts.

I’ve grown used to there being few if any transferable skills from historic racing to the modern realm, so the irony of feeling very much at home in a Formula E car is not lost on me. Especially when the rear wheels decide to lock under braking going into the chicane at the end of the longest straight. It’s quite a moment – one almost immediately followed by a similar lock-up into the chicane directly adjacent to where the Audi Sport guys are constantly monitoring my progress.

When I come in for my mid-stint pause, the chief technician has some fairly stern words of caution for me – and a look to match. Audi test driver Benoît Tréluyer is less scary and even offers a wry smile when attempting to calm me down, but the message is clear; please don’t push any harder. To be honest I’d already had that word with myself, but it was fun to push hard and to feel genuinely how tricky the limit is to find.

Meaden settles into his unfamiliar surroundings

After my mild dressing-down in the old car, I approach the new one with a little more circumspection, for crunching it really wouldn’t go down well. It’s a very different car to behold, and a very different car to board thanks to the halo. Instead of stepping into the car I’m ushered towards what horsey people would refer to as a mounting block, from which I can step directly onto a specific area of the cockpit surround that’s solid enough to bear the weight of someone standing on it. From here you hoist one leg then the other over the halo’s sturdy metal hoop and stand on the seat before lowering your way in, remembering to keep your legs out straight so they thread down into the pedal box.

Initially you go a bit boss-eyed focusing on the halo’s central support spar, but once on the move it’s a relief to find you genuinely look through it. Initial impressions are of an immediately tighter, more responsive car. It feels bigger and visibility is severely impeded by the enclosed front wheels, to the point where I find it hard to place the car close to apex cones with the same confidence, even though I know the circuit by this point.

As with the original car there are no gears to shift, so it’s a case of pointing and squirting. The new motor and battery cells deliver more shove and a sharper, fizzier whine, but there’s the same sense of immense torque from rest followed by a linear, uninterrupted rate of propulsion. Like the Gen-1 car it reaches a plateau sooner than you expect, so while it’s still accelerating happily into the braking area along the FE test circuit’s longest straight, the impression of speed is moderate, as you’d expect in a 900kg car propelled by 268-335bhp.

Meaden took a more cautious approach with the new car – but very quickly found four tenths

Despite appearances there’s little to no downforce generated by the Buck Rogers bodywork, so you know you’ve only got mechanical grip. Ordinarily this is well inside my comfort zone, but there’s not a great deal of feel from the new iteration of Michelin’s treaded, all-weather rubber. They might be softer, but they have to go a race distance (unlike the old ones, which only ever did half a race) and you never get the reassuring sense they’ve switched on in the manner of a nice, grippy slick. In hands new to the peculiarities of a FE car, the effect is a little spooky.

This remoteness most readily manifests itself under braking, where it’s still easy to lock a wheel when slowing into a tight hairpin, at least early in a run when the tyres are still cold. According to feedback team principal Allan McNish has received from his drivers, the brake-by-wire system reduces the single trickiest car control-related aspect of driving a FE car, but it can still be a devilish job to get even temperatures into front and rear tyres, or even across each axle. It’s encouraging that these new cars require a driver not only to have feel, but a readiness to react and improvise.

I’ve already made a pact with myself not to drive as hard as I did in the old car. Still, it’s interesting to note that according to the steering wheel data screen, my best lap is nearly 0.4sec faster than my quickest in the old car. While far from an absolute benchmark, it’s an illustration of the new car’s greater pace and increased drivability. Though not as committed on the brakes, I’m enjoying the new car’s willingness to wag its tail under power; something the drivers won’t be doing for the fun of it, but will most likely have to embrace at the end of the race when the Michelins are potentially wrung out.

“It’s still easy to lock a wheel when slowing into a tight hairpin”

Driving both Formula E generations was as much a test of my own feelings on the future of motor sport as it is a simple evaluation of a new racing car. This explains why at the end of the day I was fascinated and better informed about FE, but still conflicted by what it offers. Both as a spectacle for fans and as a formula for the big manufacturers.

Unquestionably FE retains a laudable commitment to shaking things up. An opportunity to avoid well-worn motor sport tropes is one of the few luxuries FE’s founders enjoyed and, as electric propulsion becomes a greater part of the wider automotive industry strategy, its position as a marketing platform becomes exponentially stronger. These are two things F1 can’t claim.

Having tried both cars I know first-hand that they are challenging, though the new car feels far more polished than the one it replaces. This tells me that as the series matures and the cars evolve, FE will inevitably face the same problems as F1; namely the big brands’ desire to dominate, the engineers’ impulse to improve things and the racers’ instinct to go faster. As we’ve seen in F1, this cycle doesn’t guarantee better racing and often masks the drivers’ skill.

Brake-by-wire systems are now allowed in Formula E, but only on the front axle

Another aspect I believe will become increasingly hard to reconcile is FE’s desire to peg the pace of development – and avoid an arms race. Not least because that’s precisely what the big automotive players (incumbent and emerging) are engaged in with road cars. Battery technology is something even the largest automotive brands prefer to develop in partnership with pure tech companies, so it makes sense for FE to keep teams focused on how to wring the most from what they have, rather than chase better battery tech.

Yet can we really expect some of the most illustrious, proud and fiercely competitive brands in the history of motor racing to remain committed to playing nicely, in order to nurture Formula E’s greater wellbeing? They might be happy to offer platitudes for now, but after going toe-to-toe in the World Endurance Championship’s hybrid era or battling (and beating) Ferrari in F1, how long will the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes (HWA) and Porsche suppress the feeling that they are going racing with one arm tied behind their backs?

Powertrain capable of lasting full race without car swap is biggest change beneath the skin

Confining the cars to inner-city street circuits enforces a certain Darwinian evolutionary fitness for purpose, but it’s also a tacit acknowledgement that FE cars simply don’t cut it on full-scale tracks. Newcomers to motor sport see this as a plus, but although I understand the inner-city concept I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it pales compared with the majestic scale and dazzling speed of internal combustion racing at traditional venues.

I’ve not been a fan of FE, though I’ve always been impressed by the best drivers’ abilities to go wheel-to-wheel within the wholly unforgiving confines of concrete-lined streets. It’s certainly refreshing to see racing in an environment where track limits are physical rather than philosophical. Having now experienced the original car, I’ve got even greater respect for the tricky and surprisingly old-school challenges they presented by having manually to manage their mechanical and regenerative braking systems.

It’s too early to say what effect the new Season 5 machines will have on the excitement of FE, but with a greater level of predictability under braking and without the need for a mid-race car swap, the unique variables thrown up by the Gen-1 car’s limitations have gone. Attack Mode will introduce dynamic, potentially race-changing opportunities, while fresh tactics to get the best from the available battery energy and tyre life will emerge as sim-honed strategies are fused with real-time race data.

Diffuser is more style than substance – there’s little aero grip

Those drawn to motor sport by FE’s urbanite, family-friendly approach and futuristic technology will still find plenty to like about the latest cars and E Prix events. The fact there’s no longer the need to swap cars should boost battery racing’s credibility among traditional race fans, a demographic that has struggled to engage with FE emotionally. I’d count myself among that group.

Being brutally honest, driving Audi’s old and new FE cars hasn’t brought me any closer to loving them – they remain essentially cold-hearted appliances – but it has taught me this much: that racing is racing and racers are racers, whatever the means of propulsion. I’ll be tuning in to the rest of Season 5 with interest.


The new Formula E car doesn’t just look different to it’s predecessor it’s more advanced under the skin too as this comparison of Jaguar’s two cars shows.

UNDER THE SKIN: GEN 1

Battery capacity: 28kWh
Battery weight: 310kg
Number of cells: 165
Max. power (qualification): 220kW (295bhp)
Max. power (race): 180kW (240bhp)
Charging time: n/a
Min. weight (with driver): 880kg
Length: 5000mm
Width: 1780mm
Height: 1050mm
Max. speed: 225kph (140mph)
Acceleration (0-100kph): 3.0sec

UNDER THE SKIN: GEN 2

Battery capacity: 52kWh
Battery weight: 385kg
Number of cells: 209
Max. power (qualification): 250kW (335bhp)
Max. power (race): 200kW (268bhp)
Charging time: 45mins approx.
Min. weight (with driver): 900kg
Length: 5160mm
Width: 1770mm
Height: 1050mm
Max. speed: 280kph (174mph)
Acceleration (0-100kph): 2.8sec


DIGITAL EXTRA

You may also like

Related products