Formula E has been picking up the buzz in the last few weeks. Going by their pace, it looks almost certain that the organisers are on track to host the first race in the second half of next year. The idea of Formula E has been inspiring, while the Europeans would be wondering as to why this wasn’t introduced a bit earlier, people in many other parts of the World including India would be pondering about the concept itself. For sure, Formula E is a sure shot to success in certain parts of the World, but in places where this idea would be debated, it needs an X factor to be noticed by others, and make it an integrating part of motorsports.
Despite of their attempts to distance themselves from Formula 1, comparisons would be made to the pinnacle of motorsports. Formula E is an intriguing concept, 10 teams, each with two drivers will fight for the glory. As their webpage suggests, the series will give the constructors to showcase their electric energy innovations, as the series will operate as an open championship. Many cost cutting features will be followed, including the limitations of the pit crew equipment, as there is no pit-stop for tyre changes, rather the drivers are allowed to change their cars in the two mandatory pit-stops. The teams will use the four spark-Renault SRT_01E single seaters, with the transportation done by Formula E themselves. Another significant change is that Practice, Qualifying and Race will all be done on a Single day. Qualifying is also another innovating concept on paper, as the drivers will be given two timed laps, apart from an In-Lap and an Out-Lap, but the cars won’t go all out at once, instead the driver setting the fastest lap in practice will be allowed to chose the running order for Qualifying. Although the drivers are allowed to use the full power available during the Practice and Qualifying, the cars will be limited to 180bhp/133Kw during the race, and an option to boost the power using a ‘push to pass’ button will be enabled during certain occasions on the course of the race. So far, three teams have been confirmed, and the rest will be announced within the end of the year. The confirmed teams have a rich history, and going by their selection, it will certainly spice up the curiosity levels for the formation of the complete grid. The confirmed teams are Drayson Racing, China Racing and Andretti Autosport who certainly looks to be the strongest of the lot with their ample amount of experience in racing. China Racing is led by Steven Lu, it’s the same contingent that led the Team China in A1 GP among other International series. Drayson Racing is led by the Former Science Minister of UK Lord Paul Drayson. It’s noteworthy that Drayson Racing has six years experience in promoting the green racing in various racing leagues across the globe, and have built their own hyper EV race car, the 850hp Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, which has set the fastest speed recorded by an electric vehicle. The proposed cities that will host the races in the first season include, Berlin (Germany), Bangkok (Thailand), Beijing (China), Buenos Aires (Argentina), London (United Kingdom), Los Angeles (USA), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and Rome (Italy). This would have been an ideal list, if they could have included France and Japan as well. As per the reports, the pace of the car would touch 220 Km/h.
Motorsports have always been a pioneer in promoting technology in Automobiles. It has happened in the past, where tons of advanced components have moved into the specialized roadcars. At this point of time, technology transfer has almost stalled for variety of reasons, and this is the time when Formula E can play a pivotal role in shaping the Automobiles of the future.
Hybrids and Electric Cars:
Conventional gasoline engines are finding no major takers in most parts of the World due to a variety of reasons. Of those people, who have picked an Electric/Hybrid vehicle over the conventional engine, We are not sure if these people have understood the environmental impact of gasoline engines or if they are finding the non-conventional vehicles as cost effective on the long run. Nevertheless, the sale of the cars with conventional engines are on the decline while the non conventional cars are on the rise. Globally, we might be talking about the 0.2% of the people who are buying these non conventional vehicles, but the penetration of the electric cars are significantly on the rise in the Countries like Japan, USA, France, and Norway. Japan has registered a 28% market share of these Globally sold electric vehicles, while US leads the hybrid vehicles band as they have registered a 70% share of these vehicles sold around the Globe. Many Countries have started to push for the sale of these electric vehicles by offering incentives, which has led to many automobile brands to seriously consider this phenomenon.
This is seriously an amazing phenomenon, but this was partly led by the global recession which pushed the people to think beyond the conventional cars. The major problem of the lacklustre sales of these vehicles prior to the 2000 recession is the high upfront cost which is still seen as the hurdle by many people across the World. All the major countries have to push for the sales of these vehicles by offering incentives. While the superpowers of the future World, India and China have been largely silent until recently when they understood this phenomenon. As always the Chinese Government made its first move in 2012 when they announced their plans to make their Country a true leader of Electric/Hybrid Vehicles. Meanwhile, India as always is playing the waiting game by not announcing any major subsidy for electric vehicles just yet, however, various State Governments have issued subsidy on these products. Citizens of Delhi were one of the few to enjoy duel subsidies, as they were eligible to the subsidies both from the state Government as well as one from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) before it was withdrawn by the new minister in charge of MNRE earlier this year. Delhi was a true leader of electric vehicles, and had a maximum user base as compared to the rest of the cities in India, but the withdrawal of subsidies will certainly hurt the sales of these vehicles, which will in turn hurt the proposed expansion plans of the manufacturers.
Novel concepts, troubled execution!
One of the major talking point of the Electric vehicles is the working range. Most of the vehicles that is currently on sale is limited to be used in the city only, which is significantly reducing the targeted audience. In Countries like India, where traffic is a major woe, charging points are the need of the hour, or an option for a range extender, which in turn significantly increases the ownership cost.
Recently launched BMW i3 comes with the option of a range extender, and also an option of additional mobility. The range extender is an option provided via the gasoline engine, which is used for the generation of electricity, which in turn increases the working range to 320 Km from the normal range of 130 to 160 km or even up to 200 km in the most efficient driving mode option. While the additional mobility option is provided purely to convince those buyers who travel long. In this option, a conventional vehicle will be provided for certain days over the course of the year.
In India, Mahindra launched their first ev after acquiring REVA in May 2010. The product Mahindra E2O was pulled off from its scheduled launch over the course of last one year, mainly due to the lack of openness from the Indian Government on the subsidies of these vehicles. However Mahindra decided to unveil the vehicle in March 2013 with varying price tag depending on the place of purchase. Previously known as Reva NXR, it had a few interesting concepts ranging from Roof Mounted Solar Panel to the remote access of the car’s energy management system which serves as virtual backup battery. It would have been really interesting if there was a Solar Panel mounted on its roof for the immediate recharge of the batteries in the production model, although it would have been pushing the boundaries way beyond the current scenario. Under Reva, the NXR was tipped to have a solar panels, which would store energy in the Reva’s battery, with an option of turning the car into a mini power plant by connecting an inverter to the battery, and transmitting the electricity generated to the grid. However the company now offers a regular solar charging dock which is priced at ₹1.5 lacs. The high cost of the vehicle is only due to the high cost of lithium ion batteries, which costs 30-40% of the total cost of the vehicle, and has to be replaced every five years.
However, we still feel that the EV’s have a troubled execution, and there will be an elephant in the room, which one is supposed to ignore when considering these EV’s. It’s about the time to do a full charge, and also the working range, which is an most important factor for many. In case of additional mobility plan from BMW which should be seen as a desperate attempt to convince the masses, there is a long way to go before these products become mainstream. Although, the need of the hour is for these products to go mainstream, which will eventually change the face of this planet, if everyone chooses these products over the conventional engines. But still, it has to be noted the real change will occur when the electricity required to charge these vehicles comes from the renewable source of energy, rather than coal or gas. If one has to charge the EV and still uses the electricity coming from the coal based power plant, the issues might just get multiplied, and the EV’s which comes out as a solution, becomes the problem. Simply put, Countries like India which sources 90% of power from the non renewable sources of energy, simply doesn’t have scope of these vehicles just yet.
The Pinnacle of Motorsports:
It’s not a mandatory requirement that Formula 1 should be the epicentre of innovation, it can also be an area where the innovations happening elsewhere are used in Formula 1 for further development of the product, and to show the World that there is a real potential in the innovated product. Some of these products were extensively developed in Formula 1 during the yesteryears, and some of them aren’t used in Formula 1 at this time.
However, inspite of the fact that the modern World is much more advanced than what it was in a decade or two, it has to be said that the technology transfer between Formula 1 and the common roadcar isn’t progressing at a pace as one would have liked to witness. While some products that were extensively used in Formula 1 are available in an normal hatchbacks, certain products like Carbon Fibre which was used in MP4/1 nearly three decades ago, isn’t significantly used, and is restricted to luxury cars. i3 again scores a clean score over its rivals, with the usage of carbon fibres which significantly reduces the car’s weight, and thereby technically increasing its working range.
When we talk of a long period like three decades for a product used in the pinnacle of Motorsports to become mainstream, it has to be wondered if the technology innovations happening at Formula E would take similar timeframe to reach the masses, which would seriously hurt the clean, and cost effective World, that we are all waiting to see. Although, it wouldn’t be the case, as ‘green racing’ is happening for quite some time in various other forms of racing, Formula E is an ideal test berth for the greener, more efficient and the cleaner innovations that the various Governments is planning to switch for the future.
We are not sure if running the Formula E as a separate series will have its effects on the automakers, or if the general motorsport fan would be interested to see this new category in motorsports. From the looks of it, Formula E seems to be an ideal promotional series, rather than an exhausting series, as many would have preferred. However, running Formula E as a feeder series, or integrating the series into Formula 1 would certainly increase the pace of the innovation, along with the technology transfer, as making this series more relative would make way for breezy innovations, which could just be incorporated into the cars for the masses at a rapid pace. Although this idea would be far from feasible, there are ways for integrating these series in the near future.
Working Range and Quick Charge are the major liabilities of EV’s. It's one of the reason why Formula E has two mandatory stops, where drivers swap their cars to allow the teams to recharge the batteries. It's the aim of Formula E to use one car per driver throughout the race, and that's what the teams would be hoping to innovate. Things like KERS could significantly improve the working range, when optimised and innovated further. Although the Lithium ion is the most used battery on EV’s, may be Formula E can help us look beyond these regulars for an more performance oriented batteries of the future. The innovations would seriously come at a rapid pace, when you are competing with the likes of Adrian Newey and co.
Although, it’s worth advisable that the initial two seasons of Formula E be kept as a separate feeder series, to avoid the massive differences between the two, the series can eventually be integrated when the dust settles in for the third season. Upon integrating the two series, things like DRS or any other artificial forms of racing could be incorporated into these new breed vehicles, and the traditional championship could be eventually freed from these artificial flavour. Formula 1 has been subjected to the high criticism in the last few seasons or so, due to lack of innovations, or due to the lack of support for the mighty brains. Things like F-Duct, Double Diffuser, Reactive Ride Height Suspension, and Exhaust Blown Diffusers have seen the light in the last few years or so, only for it to be banned in the following season. Formula 1 has become the controversies favorite child, as it has become more desperate, in a bid to increase the viewership. The sport has been ruined with tyres bursting for no reason, with the pay drivers adding more woes to the already known issues. Many people have maintained that Formula 1 doesn’t require backmarkers, and needs people who compete with each other in a fair World where ideas are encouraged instead of a protest. This would make the teams in the midfield even more tough to compete, but they can be given additional freedom in the regulations, or by segregating them into more classes, they can stay relevant and earn more income via sponsorships which would be more feasible if they are relative to the sport. Thus pay drivers wouldn’t be a concern as one would imagine.
A novel concept like Formula E should be beyond the promotional runs, a lot depends on the teams that are taking part in the series, and also how they make the series more relative to the World of Motorsport fans. At the time when Formula 1 is struggling for rapid innovation, Formula E can act as a saviour. Many people are hoping that the Formula 1 stays away from the artificial racing, obviously viewership will increase when there is a close battlefield, but making the racing as artificial is not a brave idea. By the looks of it, Formula 1 might go more hybrid in the near future, but integrating the series with Formula E will eliminate the questions concerning the importance of Environment in Formula 1. There would be a class of teams which strives for ultimate performance using conventional engines, then there is a class of teams which strives for the welfare of the Environment.