Formula E: The electric vehicle moves to the racing circuit

Article By : Steve Taranovich

In Formula E racing, there is no engine “roar” or odor of high octane fuel in the air as powerful electric engines fire up on the track.

Formula E racing is running on 10 different city streets worldwide. When the announcer says, “Gentlemen, start your engines”, maybe a soft click along with the squeal of tires may be heard, but essentially there is no engine “roar” or any odor of high octane fuel in the air as powerful electric engines fire up on the track (Ordinary commercial automobile noise: 70 dB; bus: 90 dB; Formula E: 80 dB; Formula One: 150 dB). See this video.

Having these races in major cities around the globe makes sense, since it is those very cities that can begin benefits of a new paradigm in air quality with the Electric Vehicle.

I had the privilege of speaking to Roger Griffiths, Co-Team Principal for Team Andretti and Judith Henzel, TE Connectivity, Mechanical Engineer working alongside the Andretti team.

Figure 1 Roger Griffiths, Co-Team Principal for Team Andretti

As Co-Team Principal, Roger serves as Andretti Autosport’s Director of Motorsport Development, working with all areas of Andretti Autosport competition including the INDYCAR ladder and Andretti Formula E, as well as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross. With an expanded role as Co-Team Principal for Andretti Formula E, he also operates as a key figure within Andretti Technologies, helping to shape the future of electric energy in motorsports.

Every 6 months a new TE engineer relocates to Indianapolis and travels with the team to carry out the mission of the partnership.

Figure 2 Judith Henzel, TE Connectivity, mechanical engineer works alongside the Andretti team.

Judith Henzel is one of only three female engineers working in Formula E. Prior to assuming the role, she was a project manager for TE’s automotive business where she oversaw global technical infotainment projects for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Judith graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Currently the Andretti team, headed by team owner Michael Andretti, is in 13th place in the standings; 13 is a lucky number in Italy (Figure 3). The Andretti team had just finished a July race in Brooklyn, NY (my hometown), one of the major worldwide cities chosen for these city-street racing events. This was part of season three.

Figure 3 The TE Connectivity Andretti Technologies Formula E Test Car (Image courtesy of Team Andretti)

Electronics and sensors help the team reach new levels of speed, while utilizing the TE Connectivity Andretti Technologies Formula E Test Car as an innovation lab on wheels; race track to the road– developing sensor and connectivity solutions that make vehicles more reliable, engines cleaner and tomorrow’s cars more connected.

I remember when I was a teen living in Brooklyn, and we would go down to the Brooklyn dock area to watch unsanctioned drag races (everything was unsanctioned in Brooklyn in the 60s) on a Saturday night. It was jam-packed with young people, some there to race and most there to watch the spectacle. Formula E racing has brought those memories back with the sanctioned track at the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn—the same place I watched drag races.

Please keep in mind that typically with any motorsport vehicle, electrified or not, there is very little published information as it usually highly confidential; however, I will endeavor to give you a thorough technical overview of the Formula E vehicle in the following pages from tech info I can find.

The first three seasons1

All ten teams in the first season were using virtually the same hardware—that made the first race very close until the very end.

Season one 2014/15

During season one, all teams used the same specified chassis and powertrain. The chassis was built by Spark Racing Technology (via Dallara), vehicle battery was supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering, the motor and inverter were from McLaren Advanced Technologies (based on the firm’s P1 supercar), and the five-speed gearbox was supplied by Hewland Engineering.

The Battery energy use was set at 28kWh; peak permitted power was 150kW in race mode and 200kW in qualifying mode. Competitors found race-winning advantages in chassis set-up and energy strategies rather than powertrain secrets. The entry of all-new tracks made modelling and simulation only of limited use to race engineering teams.

Season two 2015/2016

In season two, teams who had been approved as constructors could now build their own drivetrains; of the 10 teams who began the season, seven raced with their own solutions. The battery continued to be supplied by Williams and the same chassis will remain in use until the end of the sport’s fourth season. Mahindra’s M2Electro evolved from their season one car to a powertrain designed with McLaren, combined with a four-speed Hewland gearbox along with a few innovations to further increase efficiency. See the following video.

There were many new configurations as well from other teams with transmissions ranging from direct drive through to five speeds. Most teams used a single motor but two teams chose to try out twin-motor solutions. Peak permitted power was raised to 170kW in races and continued at 200kW in qualifying; permitted energy use was not changed and remained at 28kWh.

Season three 2017/2018

We are in season three right now. The chassis and battery suppliers still remain the same; the race batteries have been refreshed and upgraded by Spark (via Williams), although the energy and power figures remain the same. The rate at which energy can be recovered under regenerative braking has jumped, however, from 100kW to 150kW. See the Regenerative braking section below.

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