The first and only open-wheel electric racing series in motorsport, it’s clear that the ABB FIA Formula E Championship is very different indeed to all other forms of motorsport. Yet the uniqueness of this fascinating series runs much deeper than just battery development alone.
Motorsport Tech caught up with DS TECHEETAH Sporting and Technical Director Pedro de la Rosa to find out what makes this championship to special.
MT: Please tell us what your role at TECHEETAH involves, Pedro.
PDLR: To cut a long story short, I help the team in performance, really in any area. In the sporting side it is more driver related and the technical side is related to the performance of the car itself. That’s basically my role.
MT: You’ve been involved with many forms of motorsport, especially Formula One, for a long time now. Just how different is Formula E?
PDLR: It’s very, very different to Formula One or any other category of motorsport I’ve been involved in. The performance level of all the teams is very evenly matched. Therefore, the biggest differentiator, which actually is very different to Formula One, is the car itself. This is because all the cars are mostly the same in FE, except for the power train from where the battery ends to the rear end and the gearbox. So, the power train is what is the differentiator.
Apart from the power train, the rest of the car is the same between all teams. So, what I like most about this championship is the fact that the FIA really checks all the cars and makes sure there is a catalogue and all cars must comply to the catalogue. They are very strict on that. If you change one bolt, which is not part of the catalogue, you are disqualified. This is firstly about making the series more affordable and, more importantly, making sure spectators are enjoying very unpredictable races.
MT: Are there any strict rules about how far the manufacturers can develop the power train?
PDLR: The powertrain is free to develop, which is the gearbox, the invertor and the electric motor which is all the chassis. Then comes the battery, then the powertrain is the rear of the car, where the engine is. But it’s free, so you have some limitations as part of the regulations but at the end of the day it’s all about efficiency. The beauty about this championship is that you qualify with 250kW, there is no one engine that has 251, not like in F1 when you can say one engine is clearly better. Here, all engines are capped at 250kW. Between the engine and the wheel there are some losses, and basically that’s what the manufacturers have to work on, to maximise the efficiency level. But actually, maximising the efficiency level we are talking about 0.2%, which is nothing. So, who puts the car on pole, really, is the fastest guy. It’s a lot about the driver.
MT: So, Fan Boost is important, then?
PDLR: It’s critical. At some circuits it’s more important than others because at some circuits overtaking is very difficult. So, if you have Fan Boost and the guy in front doesn’t, you know you will gain one position if you apply it in the correct way. It’s very, very important to have Fan Boost. And we have two fantastic and very popular drivers.
MT: You just signed a new technology partnership with Acronis. How important is this to your team?
PDLR: I think it’s very important. In one Formula E event, everything happens in just one day. You have no time to analyse any data, everything just goes so fast. And you don’t have enough people either. You have just 20 operational passes for mechanics and engineers. So all the storage you can do is of vital importance because we go to the factory and get all the data, analyse the data in detail and also we need to use the data to use our simulator. So actually we reproduce races in the simulator to learn what happened, what we can do better and also we need to use the data year to year because we have to prepare for the next race with all the data we have accumulated the previous season so I think this partnership we have with Acronis is important and it’s the start of something that could be technically very important for us
MT: And is data sharing between drivers important too?
PDLR: A very, good question. With this team we always share one hundred per cent of information between one driver and the other because that’s the only way of improving. So, we need to compare data to ensure we develop the cars in the correct way. We have two drivers that get along very well, which is vital to the data sharing. In MotoGP, for example, things are very different even between teams such as Honda and Ducati – they have something which is called ‘the wall’. One side of the garage has their own data as does the other. They don’t share. We share absolutely everything, and we don’t conceive a team where data is not shared. It must be this way. It’s the only way to improve.
MT: Finally, what are the targets and goals for the rest of this season?
PDLR: Absolutely we can still win it. We haven’t had a great start but both drivers are still in the hunt. We have a very quick package really, so we shouldn’t be too pessimistic. We are not leading but the important thing is that we are leading at the last race. We still can do it.