Formula E reveals powerful new Gen3 car – has electric racing truly arrived?

Electric racing

The new Formula E Gen3 car is smaller, lighter and more powerful – does it signal the way for electric racing by bucking the trend?

Formula E Gen 3 car

Formula E's Gen3 car bucks the current motor sport design trend by being faster and smaller

Formula E

The trend for race car design is that electrification means bigger, heavier cars but the all-electric series Formula E is going the other direction: smaller, quicker, faster charging, more intense for its third generation.

The Formula E Gen3 car, unveiled today in Monte Carlo, defies the trend of electrification not by throwing a V8 in the back of an electric-ready chassis but by bucking the trend for cars to be bigger and bigger and heavier. Range has been achieved in EVs by putting absurd kilowatt hours of battery into them, the Hummer EV carting its four tonnes of weight on 212kWh of electricity.

Future EV concepts from the likes of Audi are immense vehicles, the size of buses, encasing occupants from the environment. Formula E is supposed to be the opposite of that; scrappy, street-fighting, the scruffy underdog that many people have come to love in the FIA’s arsenal of motorsport.

Gen 3 2

Not quite as sleek a design as the Gen2 machine

Formula E

Which is why it’s important that Formula E’s third evolution has stripped the batmobile shell of the Gen2 car right back. Rather than increase the size of a car which makes Monaco (which it hits the streets of this Saturday) look like a raceable circuit – and therefore make it big enough to compete with its gasoline peers on size alone – the Formula E car has in fact shrunk.

The distinctive wheel covers that made Gen2 look sleek are gone and we now have, perhaps ruably so, an open-wheel design which appears much less refined and more similar to its Gen1, hastily-assembled predecessor. But the car is also radically slimmed down in bodywork with the sidepods heavily trimmed in and the monocoque almost isolated in its profile.

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The horsepower is massively increased for Gen3, with a combined 600kW between the front and rear axle motors – not in drive capacity but in what it recovers to the battery, a crucial system for any electric car.

The Gen3 battery, designed by Williams Applied Engineering, is set to be smaller and lighter than either previous generation, despite a massively increased power output and input. Formula E’s Gen3 adds regeneration from the front axle as well as the rear, with the goal for 40% of race energy to come from regenerative braking.

A more extreme implementation is that the car will not use mechanical or hydraulic brakes on the rear wheels, instead relying on regeneration. In theory, this is much better for tyre wear and potentially for a reduction in tyre particulate emissions (which are particularly generated by braking events) but does also pose the question of what a driver will do if their powertrain fails at full speed.

Gen 3 3

The car will use its regen system to brake, but safety questions remain unanswered

The car would coast to a stop theoretically but of course there are sometimes unavoidable walls ahead, especially on a Formula E circuit. Drivers seem broadly positive about the machine, though; Gen2’s improvement on Gen1 was clear but there was plenty of mileage to go in stretching what an electric race car can do.

In theory, at least, that is what FE’s Gen3 sets out to do with massive regenerative capacities pushing far beyond any current road car and fast-charging seeking range and performance in ways that go beyond the current EPA standard.