This upcoming weekend marks the start of the fifth season of Formula E, bringing even more automakers to the grid thanks to the arrival of BMW and Nissan. Meanwhile, the 2019-2020 season will see Porsche and Mercedes-Benz join in as well.
For them, racing in Formula E is more about what they could learn about this technology and its potential applications in future production models, as reported by Automotive News Europe.
“Last year was our first works team,” stated Audi Formula E project leader, Tristan Summerscale. “Therefore, what we develop on the race track has not yet found its way into the production-car side of things. Long term, that will change.”
One of the challenges, for example, is that Audi uses a drivetrain that’s specifically tuned for a McLaren battery pack with a range of 900 volts, which is a lot more than what you have with production electric cars. Another challenge is that as per Formula E rules, the motor-generator unit, inverter and the transmission are all sealed for the entire season – this in turn means that teams can’t perform frequent upgrades, thus delaying overall development.
However, the sealed components also help keep costs down, which is why Formula E is so appealing right now to automakers who are generally used to spending hundreds of millions of dollars/euros on Le Mans or Formula One racers.
“It’s very cost-effective at the moment,” added Summerscale, referring to Formula E regulations that stipulate no car can cost more than 817,300 euros ($929,400). By comparison, a complete LMP1 [Le Mans] car would cost millions.
Eventually, Formula E teams will want full development control over the battery pack, which in turn should help this advanced EV tech trickle down into regular production models.
“For the next six years it’s not going to be possible, but in the long term it has to go in that direction. It’s marketing for your product, and you want to highlight your technology advantage over rivals. Ultimately, the battery is the main way to do that,” concluded the Audi exec.