McLaren puts itself at the heart of Formula E innovation
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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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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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???


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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).



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.


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.


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?


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!


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.


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!


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.


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


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?


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 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.


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.


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.

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