The world of electric motorsport has taken a step closer after the FIA announced that it has awarded the promoter contract for the new Formula E series to a group called Formula E Holdings, involving French company Formulec, former UK science minister and champion of green racing Lord Drayson and GP2 entrant Alejandro Agag. It is also being funded by entrepreneur Enrique Banuelos.
The series will start in 2014 with a race in Rio de Janeiro after some demonstration runs in 2013 and will feature 10 teams each with two drivers. The prototype car, produced by Formulec, will have a Lithium Ion batteries and a maximum speed of 220km/h and will run for 25 minutes between charges. Entrants will be able to use a Formulec car but are also allowed to design and build their own cars to FIA regulations. This leaves room for Toyota, Honda and other interested manufacturers to enter the series.
One of the ideological struggles of the past year or two has been the debate about how far down that road F1 should go with its 2014 new engine formula, with some parties like Renault keen to really push the boundaries and move far away from the gas guzzling V8s used today. Others believe that F1 should remain all about conspicuous consumption, despite the obvious evidence that the world is running out of oil and thus its cost is increasingly unsustainable.
An uneasy compromise has been reached with the V6 1.6 litre turbo engines, which are already being dyno tested by Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. These will be 30% more efficient than the current units, will have a large proportion of regenerative energy from braking and will run on electric only in the pit lane.
Talk of the new engines not sounding like proper racing engines has dominated the debate, with many parties once again guilty of short-term thinking. The sound will be one of the key things the Formula E promoters must get right from the outset, using synthesised noise.
However the arrival of Formula E allows the FIA to have something to point at to highlight its work in this area and it is a response to pressure from the European Commission chiefs, among others, for the governing body to do more to provide the platform for manufacturers to push innovation in technologies around electric vehicles. Racing has long been proven to be a very effective test bed for the automotive world.
The Formula E races will take place in cities which are leading the sustainable motoring agenda; to maximise the population reach and to underline those cities’ desire to promote environmentally friendly motoring.
FIA president Jean Todt said, “This new competition at the heart of major cities is certain to attract a new audience. We are pleased with this agreement with Formula E Holdings as they bring a very strong experience in motor sport. This spectacular series will offer both entertainment and a new opportunity to share the FIA values and objectives of clean energy, mobility and sustainability with a wider and younger audience as well.”
It will be interesting to see whether the FIA is able to persuade the promoter of F1, Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM, to find a way to showcase Formula E in front of its huge global audience, which would help to spread its influence more quickly, or whether it will have to stand on its own feet.
Will battery powered cars be the future of electric motorsport? I put that question recently to Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, now engaged in work on the future of mobility and transport. He pointed to an experiment in Korea, which he thinks will provide the future model for motorsport.
“The weight of the batteries required to do 15 laps is too much,” he said. “So I think the online vehicle technology, which is a very exciting new technology, only recently developed, for me is the most likely.
“In Seoul, under the tarmac of the road an inch down a primary coil is installed. In your car is a secondary coil. There’s no electricity coming from the primary until your car is over it, so it’s very little energy loss; 93% energy transferred to the secondary coil. And the car is driven on that energy. You have a small, low weight battery in the car and that battery is always fully charged until you drive off the track. Then you use the charge left in the battery.
“I know that sounds like Scalextric. But I think the future of F1 is going to take up these amazing new technologies. ”
It’s a fascinating theory and one we will watch out for. Meanwhile Formula E will start a process of shifting the perception of the way men (and women) race cars and we will see where it leads us.