“I hope 10 years from now the smell of exhausts from cars will be a thing of the past as much as the smell of cigarettes in restaurants.” Richard Branson, DS Virgin Racing team owner.
What is Formula E? No… no, I don’t mean the plural for formula, nor am I discussing code. I’m talking about Formula E – fully-electric single-seater racing on the streets of the world’s most recognisable cities. Think Monte-Carlo, but at every stop on the map…
Formula E revved into life on September 13 2014 in Beijing set around the grounds of the Olympic Park and the Bird’s Nest Stadium. The concept was initiated by FIA President Jean Todt as a means to demonstrate the potential of sustainable mobility. Inspired by this vision, Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag took the idea and created a global entertainment brand with motor racing at its heart.
To get this ambitious project off the ground required an enormous amount of effort, but by working with world-leading partners in the motorsport industry such as Williams, McLaren, Michelin and Dallara, and inspiring global blue chip brands such as DHL, Qualcomm and TAG Heuer to back the project, in under two years Formula E turned from a dream into a reality.
Formula E aims to represent a vision for the future of the motor industry, serving as a framework for research and development around the electric vehicle, accelerating general interest in these cars and promoting clean energy and sustainability.
In the first season of Formula E, all 10 teams used identical single-seater cars – designed and built by Spark Racing Technology (the Spark-Renault SRT_01E) together with the expertise of a consortium of leading motorsport companies.
For season two, Formula E became an ‘open championship’ allowing teams, and manufacturers, to develop their cars. This began with the development of new powertrain solutions – incorporating the e-motor, inverter and transmission – with future regulation changes allowing for battery development.
Working to the technical specifications set out by the FIA, teams will focus their efforts on improving and developing powertrain and battery technology, with the aim of this filtering into the everyday electric vehicle market.
One of the biggest consumer anxieties surrounding the use of electric vehicles is the charging process. Where is the power coming from? How long does it take, and how often do I have to charge it?
Since the inception of Formula E, the championship and its partners have been looking to the future with the introduction of wireless charging technologies.
Qualcomm Incorporated is the world leader in 3G, 4G and next-generation wireless technologies and joined the electric racing revolution at the very start of the journey as a founding technology partner. In Formula E, Qualcomm has incorporated wireless charging to be used on the course cars. But how does it work?
Graeme Davison, Vice President of Technology at Qualcomm, explains the physics behind the process. “I could spend 10-15 minutes explaining and quite possibly 10-15 hours! The system itself is actually quite old technology. It’s from early days of magnetics, motors and transformers. It all boils down to stuff that was done 150 years ago in very basic format.
The theory goes that if you create an alternating electrical field, alternating a current through a wire and then put that through a coil, you then create a magnetic field.
“That magnetic field will reflect what you do with the current. Magnetic fields can move through air, kind of like how a compass works for instance, you can then use a simple coil and wires to collect that magnetic field and if that field is moving you can then create electrical energy in that coil.”
The BMW course cars, both the i3 and the i8 – including the Qualcomm Safety Car, park at the end of the pitlane at race events ready to take to the track. Qualcomm set up charging stations in FIA-controlled areas, which includes a power supply, a base pad and a vehicle pad.
Both Formula E and Qualcomm are looking to the possibilities of dynamic charging – managing to harness the electrical energy while the car is driving at race speeds on track. It’s an idea that could revolutionise electric motor racing and could potentially lead to a 24-hour race without the need to stop to recharge. But how close is the technology from making this a reality?
“We may not be able to do charging at 150mph but we could perhaps do charging at slower speed,” Davison admits. “We could implement wireless charging on slower parts of the track. Even in the pitlane, off the racing line or even charging sections where drivers will have to decide whether to drive flat out or slow down to pick up charge. Anything is possible!
“The research on dynamic charging is underway and we don’t see it being that far away. It’s obviously difficult to put a date to it but probably within five years or so you will absolutely see vehicles charging while moving. The question that is difficult to predict is at what speed would they be charging and how much energy will be required!”