EXCLUSIVE: Why Formula E Drivers Will Swap Cars Instead Of Batteries



Due to the limitations of battery technology, the high-performance electric racers of the upcoming Formula E series can’t complete an hour-long race on just a single charge. One would think that Formula E teams would simply swap batteries, but instead the FIA is mandating drivers switch their entire car. Many EV racing fans, ourselves included, have wondered why, so we reached out to Formula E in this exclusive interview for answers.

The response we got to our questions comes from Carlos Nune, Technical Director of Formula E. His answers shed light on why the FIA decided drivers should swap cars, and not just batteries.

1)    How does sealing the battery unit make the Formula E racer safer?


The battery (which is part of the RESS ‘Rechargeable energy Storage System’ Compartment) must be made of a fire resistant and fluid-tight material, and must be certified to UN Transportation standards. This is the highest standards currently possible. On top of the above standard tests, the car must pass the FIA crash tests related to the car impact structures. (See 2nd para here:http://www.fiaformulae.com/guide/safety)


2)    What other precautions is the FIA mandating for Formula E racers that might differ from more conventional race cars?


We will have a number of specific rules related to the Formula’s electric safety side, just as other series have for fuel using cars.  However, apart from that, there are no major differences with everything tested to the highest possible FIA safety standards (basically F1 standards).


3)    How will the car-switching system work? 


Race pit stops will be carried out just outside the garages (in the pit area/lane) as and when the teams feel it most advantageous to their battery charge state / race strategy. Although still to be confirmed, we will most likely have a fixed minimum time for the pit stop to allow the change of car to be done without short cuts again so the highest possible safety standards are met.


4)    Is there any hope for one day seeing a battery-swapping method instead, or is the future of Formula E in durable batteries and super-fast recharging? 


Battery swapping is not a practical solution due to size/safety etc. More importantly though, this is not our aim. Formula E aims to develop the battery duration and the charging side, as well as the drivetrain motors to eventually only have one car per driver and longer races. In short we want to push the technological boundaries of what is currently achievable rather than use a temporary measure.


Thanks to Tom Phillips and Carlos Nune of Formula E for helping clairify that for us, and let us say once more how much we’re looking forward to the inaugural Formula E season.

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Johnny Test

    Old Elon could do the battery swap, they showed that it can be done @ a filling station, so why not do it in formula one.

  • Campisi

    Battery swapping may be possible, but most people would rather just have a battery that is good enough not to require swapping in the first place. The FIA recognising this bodes well for the series, as it shows they’ve put a lot of thought into how the series will work in the long-term.

    … Plus, manufacturers don’t like battery swapping, and want to show off their EV-technology prowess. These rules are tailor-made to appeal to factories.

  • Drivesolo

    Thanks for taking the initiative to get more info on Formula E regarding their plans on car swapping. it sounds very positive that they seem to be looking to push battery technology forward. It raises the question; will the batteries continue to be supplied by just one manufacturer (i.e.: Williams) or will they open it to other manufacturers like engines in Formula 1? Seems like the later, assuming there is enough interest, could really push the drive for better batteries forward at a dramatic rate.

  • Todd Perkins

    Sorry, I still don’t buy it, and think they’re missing the boat. Battery swapping is a viable technology; proven, and safe. It in no way affects the ability of a team or manufacturer to develop better battery technology that permits more range. The two go hand-in-hand because as the battery technology progressed, swaps would become less critical creating the need for teams to develop in-the-moment strategy on whether to back off and preserve “fuel”, or go for a quick “fill-up” and push harder – just like the ICE cars have to do. Too bad someone like Elon couldn’t have been a respected and valued consultant for this series

  • topkill

    Thanks for chasing down this info Christopher as I’ve been wondering about their reasoning and it’s really good to hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak.

    I’m not sure I agree with them as they could do a GP2 type format with two shorter sprint races. If they really want to show off their tech, they should focus on increasing the length of the two sprint races each year until one day they are at F1 length.

    The sprint races is a wildly popular format in many other series, so why not do it here?

    Also, they could go for AWD and get a lot more regen back by adding it to the front. Those Yasa Motors only weigh 25kg but give you another 200kW of power and would let them extend the length of the race by getting more regen energy back from the front tires as well as the rear.

    But all that being said…I’m extremely happy to see the series and look forward to watching it. I just hope someone in the US will show the races!!!

  • turrboenvy

    How much of the car has to be swapped? Since getting drivers in and out is a time consuming process, could you develop a two-part car where the driver cabin separates from the batteries/drivetrain allowing you to shift the cabin from one chassis to another with new tires and a full battery?

    Depending on how much of the car has to be swapped, you could potentially even do this within the “swap the car” rules.

  • susannaschick

    that sounds ridiculous! why not just make the races shorter, like eRoadRacing/TTXGP? They could do 2 races in a day, with a support race in between, while they drink up some juice for race 2. Maybe eRoadRacing itself. The transport costs alone are going to be beyond what even the average oil baron can justify spending on a hobby.

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