The look of Formula E’s race car for season five—the full second-generation version of this racer—has been revealed. Seeing it colors in more hints and details at how this all-electric racing series will evolve into the new season, which starts late this year, although the series hasn’t yet revealed many of the technical details for the car, which will make its official debut at the Geneva auto show in March.
Formula E started out as a geeky counter to Formula 1—the sort of motor racing that might appeal only to electrical engineers, Tesla owners, or slot-car racers. The series remains as geeky as ever; but with strong attendance, healthy competition, and mammoth investment (if not profitability quite yet), it has come a long way in just 36 races to date, with 43 scheduled by the end of the current (fourth) season. Yet with the entrance of legendary names—Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche will all soon be involved, with the latter leaving behind its winning streak in Le Mans racing in favor of Formula E this year—it’s here to stay.
Each season has brought about some significant evolution in the technical realm. Season one started with an eMotor supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies, plus a Hewland five-speed gearbox attached to the motor housing and a pneumatic paddle-shift system. Drivers only got one dedicated powertrain, and it had to last the full season. It got a lot more interesting in season two, when it was left up to each team to set up its own motor, gearbox, and differential. That led to a wide range of approaches, with some teams going transverse with their motor/gearbox layout while others went longitudinal; likewise, some teams used two or three gears, while others used just one. That continued into seasons three and four, with more power and some about-face approaches for several teams that made the cars quite different from year to year.
Given what has been announced and detailed so far in this car, built by the French company Spark Racing Technology, here are some key differences that should make season five of this work in progress a little more fun to watch:
Formula E cars for season five finally look less like a Formula 1 car that has been reworked in a mad scientist’s garage and instead like something that breaks further free of F1 constraints. To our eyes, it’s closer to what a comic-book superhero would drive. There’s a lot of Ferrari’s 2015 Formula 1 concept car here, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Better Driver Protection
In the side profile of the new car, the use of a Formula 1–style Halo is unmistakable. The aim is to protect the driver in a crash—with some energy-absorbing deformation—yet be set up in a way that doesn’t introduce too much aerodynamic drag or weight.
Light, but Loaded with Batteries
The chassis will remain carbon-fiber intensive, and fundamentally, its specs remain very close to those of Formula 1, with an overall maximum length of 196.9 inches and an overall max width of 70.9 inches. Formula E cars weigh a few hundred pounds more, though, due to their battery packs—and they’re due to get even heavier. While the Gen 1 cars weighed about 1760 pounds, the Gen 2 (season five) car will add up to roughly 1950 pounds.
No More Car Swaps (or Battery Swaps)
Today’s Formula E races require two identical, fully prepped vehicles—both with fully charged 28-kWh battery packs—to finish the race. And that means that it’s a race to be won not by driving all out through the race, but through careful power management and some very aggressive strategies for recovering every potential watt-hour along the way. With the move to a larger 54-kWh pack, there will be more room for strategizing and micromanaging the energy flow from lap to lap.
Formula E will get an all-new battery with season five, supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies rather than Williams. Technically, it’s a three-way partnership that includes Sony and Lucid. The 54-kW pack has to be capable of being fully charged in 45 minutes or less, so Lucid will be using it to prove its technology for cell monitoring and pack cooling during 350-kW ultrafast charging and racing-speed energy recovery under braking. This pack will be used for at least two seasons, and then, for season seven, Formula E might turn individual teams loose to develop their own.
The battery and power electronics will be capable of supporting 250 kW, versus a maximum of 180 kW in race mode and 200 kW in qualifying rounds in the current cars. Even given the weight gain, the cars are expected to accelerate quicker and top out at higher speeds. Regen power has also edged up each year.
Not all of us are converts to Formula E around here; some simply can’t get over the lousy soundtrack. To a lot of motorsports fans, it’s not just the engine roar and the smokescreen that will be left behind, but many of the intangibles that have made racing what it is.