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Two brands on an electric mission

The race cars rev up their tires at their respective starting positions, the team engineers have left the roadway. Excitement is mounting among spectators, along with the noise level in the stands.

The pilots are in their cockpits and therefore do not even realize what is going on around them. They are focusing their sights on the light above the starting line. Then the red lights finally go out: At the start of the race, the tires squeal, the cars zip off. Just one crucial detail is somewhat unusual: The sound that usually goes right down to the core is missing. After all, this is not a Formula 1 race, but rather a Formula E race. The electric engines sound more like a swarm of bees humming. An unfamiliar noise for long-established motor sports fans, but most spectators are pleased with it.

Electromobility is finding its way into the auto racing world as well.

Well-known race-car drivers such as Nick Heidfeldt or Nelson Piquet Jr. (son of the three-time Formula 1 world champion Nelson Piquet) have already switched by now and prefer the emission-free and quieter version. Furthermore, Audi, as the first German manufacturer and Porsche (starting 2019) are focusing on Formula E as a field of development. Experiences stemming from motorsport over the past 30 to 40 years have continually been incorporated into production vehicles. Technology such as Quattro, TFSI and TDi are just some of the examples at Audi. Or recently at Porsche, for the 800-volt technology, which will be incorporated into the future road version of the Mission E concept car and extremely reduces battery charging times. These findings have become an integral part of production cars nowadays.

The same applies to Formula E. The focus here is on aspects such as battery cooling and control electronics. In the case of electric auto racing, manufacturers receive data even faster than with test operations on the road. Similar to laboratory testing conducted in test tubes, Formula E allows you to push the limits a bit more, thus ensuring even faster results. Therefore, Audi is currently delving even deeper into the development in preparation of the new season. Following the title win from Audi pilot Lucas di Grassi, hopes are now set on the manufacturer’s title.

The electric racing series has attracted increased attention throughout the world. To make sure the “boom” continues, various ideas have been submitted regarding how to make Formula E even more exciting. Should the enhanced charging capacities be used to achieve more speed (currently 225 km/h)? What happens with the pit stop along with changing cars? One thing is certain for the upcoming season: New batteries and nearly double the capacity eliminate the vehicle change. In addition, the cars will travel speeds of up to 300 km/h.

Starting in the 2019/20 season, Porsche will join the racing series in addition to Audi. The Zuffenhausen-based brand is pursuing a consistent restructuring strategy with regard to motorsport. The premier competition for electric auto racing not only ideally matches the company’s own Mission E, but also the Volkswagen Group’s Roadmap E.

In terms of technology, Porsche expects the commitment to Formula E and the associated findings will lead to improvements in terms of performance and efficiency for drive systems. Due to the fact that all Formula E competitors use the same battery, each and every percentage point can play a decisive role in determining victories or defeats. The efficiency defines the portion of the amount of energy, which is ultimately used for propulsion of the racing car proportionately to the originally supplied energy. In comparison to gasoline engines with merely approximately 40 percent, this figure amounts to more than 94 percent for electric drive systems. This could increase even more, thanks to extensive development work.

Another important step in this direction: Porsche will keep on all factory drivers and employees, following departure from the LMP1 program (le mans prototype) at the end of the 2017 season. The new Formula E team will be formed based on the core of this well-established team. The company's own personal factory team from Weissach should generate important findings from Formula E, which can ultimately be incorporated into electrically operated production vehicles. “Porsche relies on alternative and innovative drive concepts,” says Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board, Research and Development at Porsche AG. “We consider Formula E as the ultimate competitive environment to drive the development of high-performance vehicles with regard to environmental friendliness, frugality and sustainability,” he adds. The first steps have already been conducted in the secrecy of the workshop. Just as the case with other racing series, Porsche also wants to compete at a high level at Formula E. 

Technology is one thing, but emotion is another

The manufacturers want to emotionalize the electric vehicle product. Electric vehicles should be removed from the “eco scene”.

Instead, brands want to bring the still young racing series to a younger, more urban audience. The goal is clear: To dismantle or even vanquish reservations. The chances of achieving this even look somewhat promising. Spectator interest has increased, which is underlined by the races in metropolises such as Paris and Hong Kong being sold out for the most part. And thanks to a more comfortable level of background noise, racetracks in city centers and colorful entertainment programs, Formula E racing events truly offer something for the entire family.

The Formula E (official name: FIA Formula E Championship) was launched on September 13, 2014. The idea was from Jean Todt, the former race-car driver as well as past Formula 1 team manager, who has been FIA president since 2009. Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), an international sports federation for auto racing, is the organizer of Formula 1, and is also responsible for staging Formula E as the first-ever purely electric racing series. Venues are located in metropolises across the entire world. Specifically designed street tracks throughout city centers are intended to heighten people’s awareness for the topic of electromobility.