F1 Winter Break
McLaren puts itself at the heart of Formula E innovation
McLaren Honda
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Nov 2012   |  8:30 pm GMT  |  113 comments

McLaren is putting itself at the heart of the FIA’s new adventure into electric vehicle motorsport via a deal for its McLaren Electronic Systems division to supply electric engines, transmissions and electronics to the new Formula E series, starting in 2014.

The company, which has the contracts to supply the standard Electronic Control Units to all F1 and NASCAR teams, is joining forces with Frederic Vasseur, the man behind ART Grand Prix, with whom McLaren placed Lewis Hamilton for his successful Euro F3 and GP2 apprenticeship.

Vasseur’s Spark Racing Technologies company is building the cars for the new series, which is set to race around city centre tracks in some of the world’s most prominent cities.

The Formula E initiative came out of a request in 2011 from the European Commission to FIA president Jean Todt to set up an international EV series which would have sufficient promotional assets and backing to put EV racing on the map and to engage motorsport engineers in order advance the development of technologies, which will help with road cars.

“It will be a single-seater but I want this single-seater not to be like Formula 3 or Formula 2 but to have a design which is quite visionary, a car for the future, probably with covered wheels, with a cockpit which should be different,” said Todt in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

The FIA appointed a promoter recently, Alejandro Agag and he and his backers are putting together a calendar of events starting with Rio de Janeiro (below) in 2014.

Todt said, “The promoter at the moment is working on a calendar. I know that a lot of big cities in Europe, in America… Big interest in America. I know that New York has been contacted, Washington DC has been contacted, Miami has been contacted, Los Angeles has been contacted.

“In Canada Vancouver has been contacted. A lot of European countries. And the idea, the promoter will come with a kind of big package to implement in the cities to organise… You know, it’s a bit like the circus. They will come and build the layout in one existing part of the city. The great thing is that it’s electric power and electric power has only for me a future in the cities. I don’t believe at all in one electric car going from Paris to London.”

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20 minutes racing followed by a 12 hour pitstop to recharge the duracells .


If the 20 minutes are as furious as WTCC can be, then I'm all for it.


Spoken like a true visionary.


I'm really looking forward to this! Really hope this can be where technology can be pushed to it's limits, improving battery performance etc.



Definitely exiting( the spectators) rather than exciting eh?


With more and more car manufacturers building pure electric versions of their cars in the next few years, F1 better wake up. The writing is on the wall.


Oh, yeah. With <1% of the consumer market after decades of research and attempts to commercialize such a wrong-headed approach to powering the automobile, this is a scary wake-up call indeed. :/ Who knows... in the next few years they may actually earn a (heavily subsidized) full 1%.

One can only hope that an all-electric F1 would be less of an economic failure than the current consumer market for electrics before they concede failure.


Except that the trend in efficiency of energy storage is pretty constant - and batteries are now the only hurdle to a fully competitive electric car.

Within a decade, electric cars will probably be at over 50% of the market.


Which is what people have been saying for decades...

I see much more of a future in hybrids than in pure electrics.


Funny that he wants a "visionary car for the future" but at the same time he doesn't believe in electric cars going from Paris to London.


Not agreed. The world's population has been moving to the cities for a long time now. Humans live in cities.


Not actually true anymore. Urbanisation is still happening in industrialising countries but in the industrialised countries people are spreading out. Largely just to suburbs so you could argue the cities are spreading but that still requires an increase in range in electric vehicles to cope with the urban sprawl.


James, any idea how these cars will sound?


I seem to remember reading they were going to use utterly pointless synthesised exhaust notes. I cant wait for the day when someone puts in the wrong CD and we get Metallica instead!


Well pretty much silent. Which is pretty cool. Not that I'd want F1 to be silent but this is a different class and should have its own feeling. Unfortunately there was talk of inventing some artificial engine noise. For once, pretty much every member of this site was in agreement that this was a bad idea. I hope it's been dropped!


Probably something similar to this. 😉



It will be like "zzzzzzzzzz", definitely not "Vrooooom" 🙂


like electric cars?!


Add a boom box and it can be whatever you like. It can be powered by the KERS capacitor! Aston cross Catepillar or inter galactic star buzzzzzzaer ... thing anyone? 😀


I can't wait for formula E. Its going to pave the way for future electric road cars (that people will actually want to buy).


They've been trying to make a commercially viable electric car for as long as they've been selling gas-powered cars hand over fist. Why would a poorly attended electric series make so big of a difference?


Because people see the iMev or Nissan Leaf, and think that EV's are merely enclosed golfs carts with no capacity for style or performance. But a successful racing series that is all electric could change perceptions, and with that an increase in demand.

As demand goes up, so do economies of scale which will eventually bring prices down to comparable levels with traditional ICE equipped cars.



Once EVs gain more interest, the investment in them also grows, technology develops at a geometric rate and we're off and ruinning.

Whilst I'm not a massive fan of Todt, he has clearly done well here. He took a close look at what car manufacturers are doing and he is trying to create something that is appealing to them so that the racing stays relevant to the


"I can’t wait for formula E. Its going to pave the way for future electric road cars (that people will actually want to buy)."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Any F1 engineer

will tell you that the days of significant tech trickle-down

from F1 to road cars have been over for decades. If you

don't believe me ask Adrian Newey, John Barnard, or

Gordon Murray. You may as well imagine that jet fighter design will trickle down to the prams used by mothers to

carry infants. There is about as much similarity !


Um, incorrect mate. You will find that KERS is a technology a lot of manufacturers are working on for their road cars now. I hear Jaguar's in fact is quite advanced and imminent for mass production. I'm also sure Pirelli will disagree with you. And your analogy about jets and prams is obviously a silly one, but jets and jet liners people use every day?..

Formula E will hopefully do one thing, and that's help car manufacturers accelerate the improvement of batteries and battery life. Once that happens we will finally have an alternative to petrol guzzling. At last we can leave the industrial revolution behind.

Electric cars will be exciting in their own way.


Your points are interesting buy you guys are missing the point I'm afraid.

Competition always improves the breed. The tyres in F1 may be different to road tyres but the philosophy overlaps - durability, strength, economy, so on. Also the engineers employed under a racing series will attain a vast amount of working experience which can then be applied to real-world products once these guys are transfered back onto mass produced products.

Competition can only help develop electric cars. It definitely won't hinder the technology, lol.


"Formula E will hopefully do one thing, and that’s help car manufacturers accelerate the improvement of batteries and battery life"

Probably not.

The existing development spend on battery technology hugely exceeds anything FE is likely to do. It will certainly showcase that improvement, though.


"I’m also sure Pirelli will disagree with you"

They're now starting to manufacture road car tyres that intentionally degrade over a short time span? Or what?


I would love to be able to ask those guys some questions. Don't think I'll ever get the chance.


I remain sceptical, none of the performance figures I've seen banded about on the net remotely excites me.


I think this series is important for motor sport in general. F1 has been slightly guilty in recent years for developing in a way that has been very aero driven which is generally of little commercial value to manufacturers. A pure E series probably from engine/battery technology alone has the potential to significantly add to manufacturers expertise/capacity in that area and might paradoxically allow teams a wider remit on the aero side because of the obvious benefits elsewhere. In my view the sound will probably be less of an issue than people think, especially if you get enough crowd noise.


Don't understand , if you want innovation for electric shouldn't there be lots of different ideas instead of one supplier or is McLaren supplying one team


the sound of racecars are 70% of the excitement.

This e-serirs wil be DOA or close to it.


I'm not a fan of electric but surely this going to be the biggest development for motor racing and street car development. You can just imagine the development once the top brains start developing the technology - it won't be long before batteries will be smaller,weigh less, and last longer.


This is a myth. Since their invention, nobody ever stopped developing batteries. They are used in a plethora of applications and have been for over a century. Automotive engineers don't invent new battery technology nor do they develop it. That's the domain of electrical and chemical engineers, who have been working on electric storage longer than any current F1 fans have been alive. Automotive engineers only borrow such technology and adapt it to their unique problem (see below).

Neither is the problem of storing enough electrical energy to power a car new or underdeveloped. The “top brains" in science have been wrestling with it as long as they have been with internal combustion engines.

There is no reason to believe that F1 will produce more major breakthroughs with electric technology than they could with today's fossil fuels technology. Both are nearly equally mature.


Michael, up until the 80's Alkaline and lead acid batteries were up to any task that had a big market segment, it is only the advent of mobile phones and portable computers that have spiked development in batteries, electric cars like Prius are increasing demand and driving innovation, Formula E will help with mindsets of millions of people that don't understand that electric motors are much more powerful and faster than a ICE will ever be.


Just out of curiousity Michael, could you tell me how many people were working on batteries vs. how many were working on internal combustion engines in say....1955?

Cool Hand Luke's Brother

I know what you mean, no amount of development by F1 types will change the fact that these type of things are limited, at the end of the day, by physics.

You cant change the laws of physics, even if you have an F1 budget.

E=mc2 and all that kind of thing?.......


Supply and demand. If there's an industry that all of a sudden doubles the world's requirement for batter power (bearing in mind that a car bater is a little larger than the average AA), then there's double the amount of money available in the industry for research and development.


When I say top brains in F1 - That includes their technology partners like Mclaren Applied Technology and other joint venture partners-like GE with Caterham.

Your right that these technologies have been around a while but now we see it applied in the auto racing field with a highly practical competitive application - this is the sort of collaboration that accelerates innovation.


Silent racing is on its way! The Environmentalists will be happy about that!


They are also are pretty happy to remain in total ignorance as to the size of that carbon footprint left by each e-car.

So depressing, when you think how much money was used to develop e-cars up to this stage. When considering how much more effective traditional systems have become, if only there was more focus on that. Maybe when fuel prices will go over $10/l development will start moving 🙂


Spec cars, spec ecu,,,,,, dull, dull and dull


In the same way that F1 has been dull this year?


Since they have gotten close to figuring out the spec tires it's become pretty processional. I'd call the last three races pretty dull yeah. Any time you make any part spec you make it less interesting. I have no problem with my initial post.


Nope, I saw them. Don't recall mentioning a premonition that they would be awful events. They would be more interesting if the cars didn't achieve their lap times in largely the same manner.

I haven't called F1 a spec series but the trend is there. If you want to watch spec racing the world is rotten with it. Almost anything in the US, most all of the open wheel feeder series, bla, bla, bla.

My point is that spec cars don't interest me and it's been done way too many times already. I want to see a series where innovation isn't highly restricted. F1 is probably too far gone to ever have that be a reality. I imagine there is too much money and influence there for that to happen.


I assume you missed Abu Dhabi and Austin then?


I don't know how well that would go off in DC, but it could work quite well as a support race for the Indy car race in Baltimore.


As we can't tell what 'this' is without seeing it I think the answers will all be yes.


I don't think people relies how much polution is created in making this type of battery + the fact they have very limited longevity so what do they do with the used ones? They are not easy to distroy or recycle. James can you possibly do an article on this as there is a lot of miss information and spin out there about this technology.


Really? How much pollution is created in making 'this type' (what type?) of battery?

What exactly makes them not easy to recycle?

The 'misinformation and spin' is obvious to me.


Look into how lithium is mined, how the batteries are produced, and their end of life procedures (commercial). Any “environmentalist" in favor of this technology obviously is wearing rose colored glasses. But I think we knew that already...


They're Litium-Ion batteries, do you have any idea how poisonious lithium is?


Shhhhhh! We're not supposed to talk about how UN-green this tree-hugger friendly technology is!


I imagine fast Formula E cars would have a whooshing whirring shound not unlike something out of Star Wars. And the crowd'll be high on ozone.


Not sure that battery powered cars are the way forwards some how, not for racing fans and not for the environmentalists either but I wish them well.


I am surprised that there is an expectation that motor sport will solve the battery problem, motor sport, even one as well funded as F1 doesn’t do much pure research.

Teams don’t have a history of developing new technology, instead they take obscure and expensive technology and apply it, for example Carbon Fibre.

The battery issue is different, it is a pure research problem, not an implementation problem.


Off topic, James, any worries in the paddock about the violence in Sao Paulo?


Much better last year, I think they have cleaned things up ahead of the World Cup and Olympics, they don't want any bad messages like the Button hold up


140 murders in the last recently according to HuffPost. 90 police officers.


Electric racing cars... yawn!

Sometimes, just because something can be done, doesn't mean that it should be done.


Same could be said for any type of racing.


I'm not saying electric cars in their current form is the answer but what do you want, to carry on as normal then one day everyone wakes up to "Ah there's no more petrol/oil! No more racing then!" (though racing would be the least of the troubles)?


Mind out for that Brontasaurus


Here's another one for electrics that came out today: Nissan finally admitted that it will miss their already abysmally low sales target for the electric Leaf (20k units) by 66% (selling only 6,800), failing also to meet even last year's sales (almost 10k) by 15%.

By all typical automotive commercial yardsticks, this is an utter failure and huge loss financially for Nissan. It clearly demonstrates that public interest peaked in it's first year, an event that occurred way sooner than Nissan budgeted for. Yet another EV dinosaur on its way to extinction, probably arriving alongside the heavily subsidized Chevy Volt. And EVs (unlike men) always take lots of cash to the grave with them, with almost nobody left to attend the funeral.

Electric F1, behold your template.

Why doesn't thechargingpoint.com report these stories? They are legitimate news items for EVs, highly relevant to those intending to purchase one as well.


A dinosaur? Or maybe a realist!

Explain to me how Electric cars burn less energy (think about how the electricty , are more economically efficient and are more environmentally friendly to manufacture?


This seems to happen every time an EV discussion occurs on your site, James:

The CEO of EV producer Better Place just resigned as the company suffers from disappointing sales and poor cash flow. It seems to be heading toward extinction with all those other EV dinosaurs.


James, people are of course resistant to change and most of these fellows here (ie hard core formula 1 fans) stuck in the "good ole days" seem to think fossil fuels are god's incorruptible gift to the human race for ever and ever amen.

Forget about the environmentalists' with an agenda. Do you want to whine about having a potentially technologically superior engineering replacing your cancer causing, noise generator or support interests that promote innovation; which is what i thought formula 1/FIA was a promoter of, anyway.

Ye olde folks keep holding back the progress of the technology complaining about the limitations of electric power. Note that if the amount of resources that has been poured into traditional fueled cars over the centuries was put into EV technology , it would be incredibly far more advanced than it is today.

Fact is, it is in the interest of those with the resources to maintain the status quo. (Ahem**Oil Companies**Ahem)

Formula E is not meant to replace Formula 1 but electric cars will replace fossil fuel family cars eventually. Its the future....wake up and smell the clean air.


this could be an interesting race to watch but could never be as exciting, efficient nor environmently friendlier than an f1 race. hence, car manufacturers don't invest too much in electric cars. electric cars cannot make their own electricity. the efficiency of making electricity is only 27% and electric motors are 70% efficient, that is 70% of 27% which is 19% overall.f1 cars on the other hand are 37% efficient and a lot more if you count the sound from the engines. the only waste in f1 enginess is heat.

electric cars are not environmentally friendlier than the internal combustion engine if you consider the production and transportation of electricity to electric cars. they will never stop the world from evolving. climate change is a. natural evolution of the earth.


How do you know thw efficiency of generating electricity is 27%? Is that from coal? Natural gas? Hydro electric? Nuclear?

And the 37% efficiency you claim for F1 is actually a theoretical limit to the efficiency of internal combustion engines, most commercially available engines are about half that, and I would guess that efficiency is pretty low on the list of F1 engineers.

And yes climate change is a natural evolution of the earth - just very slowly. We are speeding it up to frightening pace - and just so you know - the world was fine when it was warm in the past and will be fine when it is warm in the future - it is humans who are screwed. Forget saving the planet, let's save the people 🙂


Never mind the figures PM, so far, the most efficient engines are internal combustion engines simply because the fuel is readily available and doesn't require much to refine unlike electricity and hydrogen.

I am not sure how we could be speeding up the evolution of the earth faster than nature. We are a very small part of nature and our activities couldn't be compared to those of nature. A single volcanic eruption could cause a lot more damage than 100 years of human activity. All the materials we use are on earth, we don't bring them in from anywhere else so those people scaring others are very successful. Remeber the millenium bug?


Surely it would be more productive to create a hydrogen powered series, that way it would push the speed of development in this area as it is emission free power. If batteries are the way forward the issues surrounding them would have been already solved by now as the car manufacturers have immense research budgets. If hydrogen production can be made cost effective it would answer all our vehicle and possibly domestic power needs. Is this not a better way to spend money on greener racing. Especially if the money spent on electric motor research was diverted to hydrogen research too.


You don't really want hydrogen powered cars to crash at 200 mph...


I'm sure they can create a fuel cell that can withstand an an impact of the sort seen in F1. That is why the research is needed. I have seen prototypes of cells that split water to extract the H2 as it's required so you wouldn't need to drive a bomb round the track. This tech would revolutionise the automotive industry and possibly have implications far beyond.

I understand you couldn't just bolt in this type of power plant but with the correct planning and 5 years of forward thinking it could be possible and no power loss compared to what we have now.

It was just a thort to be thrown into the mix


I'm not sure exciting it will actually be to watch, but I'm definitely in favour of an electric racing series with a high profile.

In many industries, particularly computers and electronics products, technology is advancing at a huge speed but is being held up and let down by the relatively poor improvements in battery technology. The more smart people working on that, the better.


More televised racing is always good. It's the racing that I'm after not the message or the sound.

From the Toyota tests linked above you can hear the tires much clearer, we might even be able to hear them shouting at each other too!

I'm happy to give it a go, besides if it turns out that I don't like it, no one is forcing me to watch it!


What an interesting concept. Unfortunately electric cars are not as efficient as internal combustion engined cars simply because the electric cars cannot make electricity. This is the reason electric cars have not been a success. A lot of energy is lost when electricity is made and further energy is lost when electricity is converted into motion in the electric motors while petrol and diesel cars turn energy from the fuel into motion losing about 70% as heat and sound to the environment. Even fuel cell technology is not as efficient as the internal combustion engine.

Climate change is not even caused by human activity, it is a natural evolution of earth's atmosphere. Same as the millenium bug scare.


Surely the inclusion of KERS technology would make electricity just as well in an electric car as it does now in an F1 car.


If that were true, we'd have a perpetual motion machine.

And no - you can't convert the heat from the brakes into steam and make electricty that way either.


I forgot to add that f1 uses innovations and development from the science and engineering world to solve their problems. F1 does not offer technology to road cars. it's all a myth!


Also f1 uses innovations and development from the science and engineering world to solve their problems. F1 does not offer technology to road cars. it's all a myth!


You are wrong there. While F1 does indeed borrow ideas from other areas, the pressures of racing drive the technology with the injection of cash from big budget teams to speed up the development cycle and make it usable in consumer goods. All cars have gearboxes, but my sister's car has sequential paddle shifters as a result of F1. F1 pushed the development of antilock brakes. F1 developed the active suspension systems available on some sports cars. F1's incentive to the teams to develop KERS (regardless of cost) has resulted in Williams developing it to the point where it is now a commercially viable side line for them. F1 may not invent much - but it definitely drives development of the systems they use with rewards for the rest of us.


I think you would find that the electric motor and generator have been around since 1834. F1 only gave it the name "KERS". secondly sequencial gearboxes existed in road cars before they found their way into f1. even DRS existed long before it was introduced in f1. I remember seeing it on a porsche, bugatti andd mercedes cars long before it was introduced in F1. F1 took telemetry to a new level but useless on road cars.


That's interesting Pat M, i am keen to read from you, which f1 team introduced sequencial paddle shifters in f1.

I was under the impression that the design of F1 cars were based around FIA regulations. I was also under the impression that kERS existed as generator and electric motor since 1834. I also thought F1 teams use readily available materials and technologies to make their cars go faster within the regulations. I wasn't aware they had time to develop technologies. Was KERS not on road cars before they found their way into F1? I think they called them electric hybrid cars. How long has KERS been in f1?


Electric power might be viable for F1 in about 20 years time but I can't say I want to watch the painful development process unless the technology is ready to be watched (i.e when electric power is producing equivalent lap times to current petrol engines). Still doesn't excite me though.



F1 has become decidedly low tech, especially regarding the power plant. I wish the organizers well and will plan to attend if they come by the American northeast.


there are lots of middle-aged dads with jeans too tight for their paunches commenting on this post.

go back to your jeremy clarkson dvds.

electric cars and e-racing have to be a big, exciting part of the future. and this is a big, important step towards that.

plus, some of the electric cars at le mans have been way more exciting than the traditional ones.


Electric cars at Le Mans? Pull the other one, it's got bells on!

If you're on about the Audi and Toyota, they've got KERS, same as F1 but admitedly with better systems (Toyota use super capcitors for starters).


The electric TT race on the Isle of Man broke the 100mph lap barrier in 2012 in 3 years from the start of the class. Bikes ridden by top riders and eery bit as watchable as the main races.

It took the petrol powered equivalents decades to break the 100mph lap barrier.

Four wheel boys years behind as ever..... 🙂


Not really a fair comparison. Electric bikes didn't develop the chassis, construction, tires, brakes, shocks, aero and suspensions that was needed to go that fast. They just copied all the advances of the past and substituted their own propulsion.


The IoM race is only over 1 lap - a whole 37 miles. What's that, 10 laps at Silverstone. I can't see that being very exciting. Especially as people forget that electic cars will weigh exactly the same at the end of the race, as they do at the beginning - so they will be running slower at the end of the race, unlike real racing cars.


Interesting that they are looking at city circuits. Unless the speeds are going to be pedestrian, surely the logistics, costs, and safety concerns are no different to those for F1?

For example, if they can host Formula E in New York or Paris, then why not F1?



I live in a city that had an Indy/Cart race. Street circuit. Wasn't shut down due to the costs of setting up barriers and fencing.

All shut down due to noise complaints. Thousands of people moving into condo towers downtown got the city to shut it down fairly easily.


I believe the point of running this series in cities is to raise the profile of EV's in the eyes of Joe Average more than race fans.


Noise pollution is one barrier.


What will it sound like?. Play Mr. Ed's You Tube attachment & you'll get a good idea. It's definately not silent!. I never really appreceiated before how much other noise a race car makes besides the engine noise. Just listen to the tortured sound of those tyres on the Toyota prototype every time it brakes. Add the wind noise too.

Thanks Ed.


Told you here a couple of years ago, James. THIS IS INEVITABLE....will I get credit? no....to all you naysayers, here we are.....and there is much more to come. We are in Austin too, deemed impossible by Mr Allen as well.


It can be done in any city, you don't have to worry about pollution or more sound then the public cars.

Would be really interesting to see them drive without gears.

Full punch all the way.

And if they just do a battery and driver swap and drive on.


McLaren have one of the best KERS systems in their car. As it's made and supplied by Mercedes, I'm surpised they are not getting involved in Formula E. Mercedes appear to have the skills required to make a very good electic motor.


Cars will never outperform a good team of Horses, cars have to stop to refuel whereas my horses can eat by the roadside...


Without stopping???


Battery powered electric cars are a no-go for most people. Hydrogen cars are the way forward. Basically an electric car with a quickly refillable tank instead of a battery.

No more dangerous than an LPG converted car and only produces 'pollution' called water.


unfortunately energy is required to make hydrogen in hydrogen fuel cells and not all that energy is recovered when the hydrogen is burnt. the only technology more efficient than fossil fuels is solar power at the moment.


Pat m or jack, you're wrong., why change names?


You don't have to look like Popeye, just build enough muscles to help

you speed up the fat-burning ability of your body.

And how and why does lifting weights lead to muscle growth.


Air conditioning goes a long way to relieve this,

but it doesn't make entering the car any easier. The

list includes approximately 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks,

3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and

supply. Developments of this kind have really worked to

give the Toyota a brand new image and it has also ensured that their

newer releases are popular with consumers who want a

car that goes the extra mile.

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