Battery Packed: The Formula of E-Racing

The race of the future has no fuel but is more charged and Stuff gets a pit lane pass!
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Regardless of the climate change crisis which some heads of state are debunking as propaganda, there is no debate on the limited edition nature of fossil fuel.

Petrolheads may have their last hurrah with Formula One and WRC but engine downsizing and its side effects mean motorsport fans are headed for more rule changes than HSN codes for GST.

Thankfully, FIA, the governing body for some of the biggest global motorsport events has raked in the rights to host the Formula E Championship around some of the tightest and most interesting street circuits of the world.

The calendar is smaller than F1 but for a sport that’s only in its fourth year, it has been selling out $600 weekend tickets to packed grandstands and ardent fans that seem to prefer the closeness of racing that Formula E is bringing back to motorsport.

Electric partnerships

Being all-electric, it lends itself perfectly to some of the most iconic cityscapes in the world without altering their critical air-quality index. New Delhi? Perhaps. Some day. Maybe. But for now, the identical cars are separated only by a critical software management system that manages the battery and thermals.

These two play a vital role in the performance of a Formula-E car and Mahindra has secured a partnership with Renesas this year, a Japanese company that specialises in making silicon that is smart enough for these sci-fi machines.

The new rules of racing

But why are we talking about it now? Besides having a pit lane and garage access to the top team of the season so far, we’re also excited that the said team happens to be proudly desi. Pioneering the personal mobility electrification with its E2O compact car, Mahindra has been dabbling with some form of mild hybrid technology even in its full-sized SUVs for awhile now. But this is the pinnacle of electric car tech and Mahindra has been making its own powertrain, gearbox, suspension and other non-oily bits with great success. In fact, with the 2018 season car, Mahindra has done away with multiple gears, saving weight and complexity.

Finishing the last season in the top three for constructor’s championship, the team enters the 2018 season with more juice in its batteries.10kW more to be precise, so the drivers now have 180kW (240hp) at their disposal from each car, which, when depleted, calls for a physical change of cars for the drivers, making for interesting race strategies. Unlike F1, there are no tyre changes and like F1, the balance of power and weight is crucial, only reversed. Power from the internal combustion engines in F1 doesn’t deplete with increasing laps but the weight does go down as fuel levels dip. As opposed to this, Formula E cars don’t drop in weight during the course of the race but see a significant drop in power, depending on how well the drivers have nursed their cars to the finish line. Be more aggressive in the opening laps and you run the risk of running out of energy on the last lap; be conservative and you might just fall behind, beyond the reach of the podium.

This game of poker is what Mahindra team principal Dilbagh Gill has mastered over the years and he managed to gauge this to perfection at the inaugural E-prix in Hong Kong too. The more recent win at Marrakech (Morocco) proves that he and his posse of engineers are the ones to watch out for in the 2018 season as they are already leading in the points tally in the Constructors Championship!

Celebrity, budding aviator, entrepreneur and bonafide speed freak Gul Panag was lucky enough to get behind the wheel of the Mahindra Formula E machine and also vouches for electrification on the streets by being an active user of the Mahindra E2O.

I've been following Formula E from the first season because to me it represents the future of motorsport, and that of mobility as the rate of transfer of technology from the track the road is much faster than with traditional IC motorsport. Personally I've been an early adopter of electric mobility, now driving a full electric for over 3 years, and I find that over 80% of local my transportation needs are met, and I end up using my IC car only for the occasional out of town trip. I'm confident that with all the innovation we're seeing , range issues will soon be a thing of the past. 

 

THE FUTURE OF THE FORMULA

Spark Racing Technology, the supplier of chassis for the current crop of Formula E cars has already shown sketches of what the 2019 cars could look like and they’re more akin to the Batmobile than a racing car. Even if you aren’t the Justice League fan, you might be tempted to become a Formula E convert with even closer racing promised by lighter cars, more powerful batteries and the end of car changes due to extended range.

There’s even an aerodynamic windscreen for added safety and aggressive aero kit around the wheels, giving it the ‘ready-for-take-off’ look. Formula E, as a sport will be seeing more interest from traditional luxury-car makers in future seasons too, with names like Porsche and Mercedes-Benz being added to the fray. Electrification is a commitment that no major manufacturer can ignore and developing tech at the pinnacle of electric motorsport only helps as a catalyst for the tech used in street-legal cars. We can’t wait to see these silent killers stalking our streets someday.

 

THE MEN BEHIND THE M4 ELECTRO

Bagging a pole position, fastest lap, podium finishes and a win, all on the first weekend of Season 4! Mahindra’s foray into the world of open-wheeled racing is already a head-spinner, thanks to them.

Dilbagh Gill (Team Principal/CEO)

Known as the “your go to guy” in the industry, this mastermind began dipping his toes in motorsport as an amateur rally driver much before he mastered the art of Information and Communications Technology. 12 years into Mahindra, he is now the key driving force behind the rise of their FE team and has been responsible for building the entire team from scratch. With the teams now being allowed to build their own powertrain, Dilbagh’s skill is being tested to the limit with management of various electrical and mechanical choices.

Nick Heidfeld (Driver)

There’s probably not a racing car out there that quick Nick hasn’t driven the wheels off of. Right from the age of 8, he’s been honing his skills in karting championships. But you probably best remember him from his F1 career, which included drives for Prost GP, BMW-Sauber, BMW-Williams, Jordan and Lotus-Renault. He jumped into the Mahindra Formula E seat from the second season onwards and has helped the team achieve a strong result in Season 3. He managed to secure a podium finish in the inaugural race this year so he does know how to use his batteries!

Felix Rosenqvist (Driver)

Supposed to be the street specialist, this prolific driver has been on the road for 320 days of the year last year driving everything he could get his hands on. In his second season with the Mahindra Formula-E team, he’s already managed to reach the top spot of the podium, adding an elated sense of  achievement. His faster pace and eagerness to move up places on the grid gels well with Nick’s more experienced and mature driving style. 2016 was when he first tasted Formula E success but this year seems to be more within his dreams.