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Formula E: Decoded!

Vehicle racing has been around for decades now. There has always been something magical surrounding the idea of competition. The thrill of the chase, the rush of adrenaline and the glory soon after; All these separate but interrelated sensations all culminate to give birth to an experience inimitable by anything else. And with the invention of the motorcar, this competition was further extended to encompass games involving one’s skill behind the wheel.

Soon after, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) was set up as a governing body to manage numerous auto racing events. Among these events, Formula One is of the highest class and serves as the ultimate proving ground for many a racer. However, over the years, the rising concern for the environment and the fast depletion of naturally occurring non-renewable resources, Formula One has been increasingly looked upon as an indulgence we cannot afford. As a result, Formula E was conceived as a means to satiate our thirst for competition without undue damage to the environment.

Formula E's official insignia
Formula E’s official insignia


Conceived back in 2012, Formula E kicked off its first season in 2014 with official support from the FIA. For the series’ first season, eleven races were held in ten different cities with the last two rounds held in London. The season kicked off on the 13th of Spetember in Beijing’s Olympic Green Circuit. The street track is noted for being one of the longest (3.43 km) in Formula E. The track runs along the circumference of the Olympic Stadium used during the 2008 games. Lucas di Grassi, a part of Audi Sport ABT’s team became the very first race’s winner. ABT Sportsline is an auto tuning and motor racing company headquartered in Germany. Although the team managed to clinch the first spot in the very first race of Formula E, Audi Sport ABT ended the season in the third position.

Nelson Piquet Jr: The world's first Formula E Champion
Nelson Piquet Jr: The world’s first Formula E Champion

The winning team of world’s first Formula E championship was Nelson Ângelo Tamsma Piquet Souto Maior, better known as Nelson Piquet Junior. Son of three time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet, Nelson Piquet Jr. has had a long history in racing including representing Renault in Formula One. Sadly however, due to a scandal orchestrated by the senior members of the team, Piquet Jr.’s career came to an unfortunate and abrupt end in Formula One.

With the Piquet name bowing out of one of the most prolific race events in human history, Formula E offered redemption. Representing China Racing, the Brazilian stole the championship from Buemi and Di Grassi, the season’s other front-runners. Other notable names that entered the very first season of Formula E was Nicolas Prost, Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld.

The Car

Coming to the actual car, the first season saw every team race with an identical machine. Dubbed the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, the chassis is composed of a lightweight carbon fiber composite with the driver enclosure made of aluminum that offers better crash protection. The entire chassis is designed and built by an Italian firm named Dallara.

The Spark SRT_01E race car
The Spark SRT_01E race car

Similar to most racing cars or track only cars, the steering wheel or “command center” of the Formula E racer consists of a radio button, speed limiter for the pit lane, a button that engages a boost mechanism, a knob for adjusting the electric motor’s power outputs, paddle shifters and a display indicating the current battery levels.

Since the races occur in both tracks and common streets, the SRT_01E features a set of 18 inch wheels designed for all weather performance. The battery pack, consisting of 164 Li-ion batteries was designed by British racing firm Williams F1. Producing 30 kilowatt-hours, the battery pack does not offer more than 20-30 minutes of range. As a result, each team comes with two fully charged cars. Once the battery in one car almost discharges, the driver makes a pit stop and swaps out his current unit with the fully charged unit.

In any electric car, the BMS (Battery Management System) plays a pivotal role in the efficiency and power delivery rates. The BMS is also required to ensure that the battery is in normal working condition and is operating within permissible levels of variation. The task of building a BMS for cars used in high intensity racing brings a whole new level of difficulty due to the rapid charging/discharging of the battery. For Formula E vehicles, the BMS consists of a dizzying number of sensors (far more than any conventional electric vehicles’s BMS). Each second of battery use sends somewhere around 350,000 discrete values regarding the battery to the software that handles the health and performance of the battery pack. The motor, sourced from English automotive heavyweight McLaren is the same motor used in the P1 hypercar.

Current Status

With season 2 currently underway, Formula E has not fizzled out in its opening inning. The electric racing tournament has also seen the entry of English premium car maker Jaguar in the latest season. With Jaguar returning to motorsports, other car makers that had backed out of racing events may soon see a return; Hopefully in Formula E.

Jaguar has made an entry into Formula E
Jaguar has made an entry into Formula E
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