FIA Seeks Proposals For Formula E Battery And Chassis In Season Five

Formula E is different from its big brother, Formula One. The senior series places heavy emphasis on aerodynamics to get the maximum performance out of the cars. Because each team designs and builds its own cars, each is forced to spend tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars designing the most complex, intricate, and arcane aerodynamics possible. A gain of just 0.01 seconds a lap can be the margin of victory in a 60 lap race.

Formula E

Formula One cars today are really airplanes that fly upside down. Aerodynamic forces are so great, they can add up to 5,000 pounds of downforce to the cars, pushing them into the pavement and increasing the grip available from the tires exponentially. At speeds over 100 mph, a modern Formula One car can actually stick to the roof of a tunnel without falling. Of course, for fans sitting in the stands or watching at hone on their televisions, aerodynamics are completely obscure. We can’t see it. All we know is that in the era of aerodynamics, the racing tends to be a processional rather than a competition we can get excited about.

The idiocy of this approach is one of the things Formula E wants to avoid. From the very beginning, it has placed its entire focus of its competition on the fact that its cars are powered by batteries and electric motors. It wants to avoid the aerodynamic wars at all costs, first to keep the costs of competition down and second to avoid diverting attention from its main mission — promoting the advent of battery powered cars in racing and for daily use.

To accomplish that goal, it requires every team to race the same car built by the same supplier. At present, Dallara builds the chassis for all Formula E race cars. The teams are also required to use a battery provided by a single supplier. In this case, a division of Williams Engineering is the sole battery supplier for the sport.

But Formula E has one major drawback at present. The cars do not have enough battery power to last an entire one hour race. Drivers must come in during the competition  to exchange cars for another one with a fully charged battery. The sport is anxious to eliminate that restriction. Starting March 8, it will accept proposals for batteries that will last an entire race. That requirement won’t go into effect until the 5th season of Formula E competition which begins in 2018.

The FIA and Formula E are also accepting offers to build the next racing chassis for the series, also beginning in 2018. Both Williams and Dallara are welcome to offer their proposals. According to  Electric Cars Report, the move follows the philosophy adopted in the evolution of the regulations regarding the powertrain: a single supplier to begin with, then open to competition in the next phase. The plan is that once the original contract period is over, entrants will be able to either develop their own battery or continue using the existing one, as is the case this season with the original powertrain.

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag says: “Opening up the tender for the season five battery supply will inspire further development in the key element of electric car technology. The new battery will be more powerful and have a longer range than the current unit. This is exactly the type of technological step change that Formula E was created to inspire. By keeping with a single supplier, we will also ensure that costs are kept under control and create a solid foundation for the continued growth of the series as a global entertainment brand.”

The decision to continue with one battery supplier and one chassis manufacturer maintains one of the unique characteristics of the championship  Its defining focus is on the energy source– the powertrain and battery — rather than aerodynamics. With this in mind, the duration of the chassis contract will be linked to that of the battery supply.

Formula E is one of the fastest growing forms of motorsport competition, with some polls showing it has already become more popular with fans than Formula One. The older series is well on its way to becoming an irrelevancy, thanks to disastrously poor management from leaders like 85 year old Bernie Ecclestone and team owners. Someday it may disappear completely. Some wonder if it would even be missed.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.