Formula 1 has recently captured a global audience thanks to the viral success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive and the relative competitiveness of recent seasons. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have pushed the sport to new heights and are finally getting the recognition they deserve as athletes.
However, F1 isn’t the only formula classification pushing the boundaries of motorsport and innovation. Formula Electric (FE) is the world’s highest-profile electric racing series and is gaining ground on more traditional series.
The FE series also serves as a testing ground for new electric vehicle (EV) concepts. The competitive nature of FE means that teams are always looking for new ways to improve their cars, extend their battery lives, and produce a more stable driving experience. This serves the EV market well and can build appeal amongst fans who may have overlooked EVs in the past.
Formula E is a relatively new classification that has already made a serious impression on the motorsport world. Unlike F1 cars, which use some electric energy for power, FE cars are exclusively powered by battery engines. FE cars are smaller than F1 cars, too, which makes for tighter, bumper-kart-like racing.
This is great news if you happen to enjoy street races on tight classic tracks. In recent years, F1 cars have ballooned in size, meaning that street circuit races like Monaco quickly become high-speed parades as drivers need more room to overtake. Formula E solves this problem by offering racing that fits neatly within the confines of smaller tracks and features plenty of risky overtakes.
Formula E has recently moved away from an endurance-style 45-minute race to a 33-lap race. This style of racing is more popular with spectators and changes the strategies that teams can employ. However, drivers will still need to make tactful use of their batteries lest they be reduced to a trickle of power and trundle around the track while being overtaken in the final few corners. This adds an interesting wrinkle to racing that motorsport fans are sure to enjoy.
In the inaugural season of FE, every car was identical and provided by Spark Racing. Manufacturers like Renault, McLaren, and Williams collaborated on the design, and Renualt’s Nelson Piquet Jr. was crowned champion after the ten-race season ended. Since then, Renault have gone on to win a record 3 championships, making them the proverbial New England Patriots of Formula E.
Gen 3 Cars
The formula E experiment has grown quickly since its inception in 2014. We’ve recently entered the third generation of Formula E, which features smaller chassis, increased power, and improved energy recovery. This advancement represents a leap in the motorsport world and produces faster, more exciting racing for spectators.
Gen 3 cars have experimented with front and rear powertrains, too. This may seem like an innocuous change at first, but motorheads know that shifting the powertrain to the front or rear has a profound impact on a car’s handling and acceleration.
The decision to experiment with powertrains has had a big impact on commercial EV design, too. Without a combustion engine to work around, EV engineers have ushered in the return of rear-wheel drive. This means that designers can redistribute weight and ease the burden usually placed on tires. This design also means that some of the issues typically associated with rear-wheel drive, including fishtailing or poor performance in slippery conditions, are significantly less likely.
The Future of FE and EVs
Gen 3 Formula E cars are designed to be pushed to the limits of performance and are held to rigorous standards. Even a few millimeters of warping or miscalibration can have a detrimental impact on a car’s drag, acceleration, and handling.
That’s why industry leaders like BMW, which powered FE titan Andretti until the 2021 season, use industry 4.0 principles to reduce variation and increase the reliability of manufacturing. Smart manufacturing principles increase the efficiency of the production process and minimize costs. Developers can also bring in programmers to use AI and the IoT to test their prototypes in virtual reality before sending the designs to fabricators.
It also means that teams spend less of their time and money on wind tunnels and can gain a competitive advantage over the competition. This is key, as FE teams are beholden to a cost cap that cannot be breached under FIA rules. This team-centric approach would make NASCAR’s Micheal Waltrip proud.
These changes appear to have wooed commercial car buyers, too. Global EV sales are at an all-time high currently as drivers can see the cost savings and high performance that electric vehicles offer. Sales have increased 1220% since FE’s inaugural season and sales trends seem to indicate that the EV market won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
This has attracted major manufacturers like Jaguar and Nissan to the motorsport series. While FE and EV cars are developed differently, these global brands recognize the value of showing spectators that they can produce EVs that pack a serious punch.
Formula E has come a long way since its inception in 2014. In that time, manufacturers have pushed the boundaries of design to produce cars that are both fast and reliable. Things are shaping up well for the upcoming season, too, as the Gen3 spec cars offer tighter racing, faster acceleration, and improved top speeds.
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