Motorsport with batteries: what Formula E contributes to production cars 3 minutes spent reading

Motorsport with batteries: what Formula E contributes to production cars

Timo Völker
Timo Völker is head of the motorsports section at "Die Presse", a daily newspaper in Austria.

Why do car manufacturers race? The usual short answer is: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” That is not necessarily the case with all racing series. Formula E has turned out to be the most important development lab for putting tomorrow’s technologies on the road.

There is a bigger picture, but we need to take a few steps back to see it. Back to the horse, to be precise. In the early days, car races were mainly endurance races, where just making it to the finish line was considered a victory. The car had animal competition—at that time, the car had to prove that it could get its passengers to their destination as reliably as a horse and carriage. And that wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Mountain racing was a special discipline, where the challenge was not only to climb up to the highest point, but also to make it back down in one piece. And as the old carriage was part of the brake technology, this required even greater efforts.

From motorsport to series production?

Motorsport made a career as a public attraction, with the synergetic side effect that the extreme racing stresses provided valuable information for series production. This faded into the background the more racing technology matured. Formula 1 has not output anything that could be used in series production for quite some time. This technology is far too expensive for regular cars and doesn’t give them hardly any useful advantages.

Formula E technology platform

We come back to the same place again. Formula E is a highly up-to-date experimental field in which everything revolves around the essentials: the drive and storing electrical energy. With an increase in battery capacity to 54 kWh, the new Gen2 cars can complete an entire race this season on just one battery charge. The technical challenge is fast and efficient discharging and charging of the batteries, i.e. drawing energy—we can just call it stepping on the gas—and energy recovery during deceleration. Balancing this interaction and keeping the batteries in good form (e.g. through thermal management) under difficult conditions (vibration, heat) is also decisive for efficiency on the road and ultimately for the range. All Formula E racing cars have the same chassis and battery, but the teams have quite a bit of leeway in other areas, including the drive train, the brake-by-wire system, transmission, drive shafts, the load-bearing structure and chassis parts on the rear axle, as well as the cooling system and control unit.

Formula E as a test field for the series production vehicles of tomorrow

If you want to get involved in the future of e-mobility, it is crucial to be involved in this fast-paced racing development lab. The commitment of the major car manufacturers speaks for itself. Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, BMW i Andretti Motosport, DS Techeetah, Nissan e.dams, NIO Formula E team and, starting next season, Mercedes and Porsche, are all represented in the ambitious motorsport series. Jaguar even has its own racing series as a supporting program. This means that at the end of 2019, eleven manufacturers will be on the starting line. Among the Formula E technology partners, you will find familiar names such as McLaren, Dallara, Pankl, and Williams. Since the 2018/19 season, voestalpine has also been a partner of the world’s first fully-electric street racing series and the main sponsor of the European races. For voestalpine, the dynamically growing branch of electromobility is an important growth field, and together with Formel E, the goal is to further develop electromobility and promote technology transfer between automotive suppliers, manufacturers, and users.

Timo Völker