Formula E race cars

Allan McNish, ex-Formula One driver, about the fascination of Formula E

James Wang, the CEO from KUKA in China, met the ex-Formula One driver, World Champion, three-time Le Mans winner and experienced technical expert in the Formula E Allan McNish on the Formula E race track in Hong Kong. He got the Formula E experts insights in precise electrified technology that makes the Formula E race cars so fast and efficient – and in the end, what makes the difference in order to win the championship.

James Wang: Mr. McNish, nice to meet you. Can you tell me: What makes the difference between the Formula E race cars technically?

Allan McNish: The car essentially consists of two main pieces. One is the same for every manufacturer. That’s the chassis and also the battery. And then for us, in Audi, all of the development we do is on the electric motor, gear box, the rear suspension. So effectively the electric drivetrain – The power delivery. And there we’re now working on several items of performance: One is that we always want to reduce the weight and size. That allows us a better exhilaration, but also less mas to move. So it’s better for energy.

James Wang: And it the key to speed up the Formula E race car.

Allan McNish: Exactly. And the next thing is recuperation of energy. So when we’re in the breaking phase, you can pull back more energy and put it into the battery. In Mexico when we won right on the last meters, when Lucas di Grassi overtook, we recuperated about 35 % of energy from the battery. So you got the energy of the battery and then 35 % more. So that´s an area where we are developing a lot.

James Wang: That´s great! Does the driver directly gets that information during the Formula E race to easier handle the energy management?

Allan McNish: I was a driver before. So I know that the feedback for the drivers is very important. Same like with KUKA in the development of automation solutions – everything has to be absolutely precise. The drivers have to be very precise with the race lines on the street circuit as well as because of the energy management. We only have 52 kilowatt hours of energy. Therefore before every race, you sit together to define the strategy with the drivers – when to go fast and when to go slow. Before every race – both drivers have normally about, in total, three days in the simulator. And then we come here and have a meeting to get the feedback. We discuss it from an engineering point of view. Some of this is pure engineering – Some of it is the feeling.

Formula E engineering team on the car
Formula E engineering team on the car

James Wang: So experience is a very important part.

Allan McNish: It’s the key. And, then we have got a free practice, which is the first time we can run full power. And then we will be able to work from there, to understand how our simulation was and how we can develop in our strategy.

James Wang: I believe that the driver is very important for the success of the race. From a technical point of view – which part of the car is very important to win the race?

Allan McNish: You know your automation solutions. The activation, the mechanical workings, the software and then the software development are important for your automation solution. For us it is exactly the same. Everything is important, but from our point of few, we’re especially focusing very much on the area of the electric motor and its development. In comparison to last year, when we won the championship – It’s 95 % new.

James Wang: 95 percent – it was renewed almost completely?

Allan McNish: Yes and its ten percent lighter now. So I think from an engineering point, you know how difficult it is to make everything lighter – And still keep the strength and reliability. So that’s the type of focus from our perspective. But I am a big believer that it’s about the people: The people design the software, the people design the hardware, and their philosophy and way of working, to make sure we have a car that is complementing each other – and then in the end the driver.

James Wang: Are the specification for racing cars totally different to them from road cars or are there any similarities?

Allan McNish: What we find is, there are a lot of similarities. When we launched the Audi e-tron in Honk Kong, we unveiled it for the first time. I was asked about the similarities between e-tron racing and e-tron road car.  And you take the regeneration of energy, now in the racing car, when we lift off the throttle, we automatically regenerate, when we break we automatically regenerate. But also the driver on the stirring wheel has a pedal, where he can also manually regenerate. And this philosophy is already on the e-tron. You can lift, you can break, but you can also drive it with a manual regeneration. This is supported by break by wire. We got an electronic break by wire system, which is developed in our Le Mant car. The e-tron is the first production electric car with break by wire. It was included because Audi realized the benefits which we gained from racing.

James Wang: Are the cars of the Audi ABT Schaeffler drivers Daniel Abt and Lucas Di Grassi exactly the same, or are they different? Are they specially developed for the individual driver and matched to the driver’s preferences?

Allan McNish: It’s basically the same. But each driver has a bit other preferences. That´s why it is in terms of the suspension setup a little bit different. One likes the front a little more sharp, the other one likes it a little more stable. But the lap time is identical. Software and electronics is basically the same. Because efficiency is efficiency. And powered is powered.

James Wang: Continuous improvement is the key. How do you achieve your goals and get even better and better?

Allan McNish: Well, our business is almost the same: We always thriving for excellence, we always want to be the best.

James Wang: Thank you very much!

Behind the development of the first all-electric Formula E racing series is the desire for sustainable mobility. It serves as a “playground” for car manufacturers and suppliers.Learn more about Formula E – The new era of motorsport.

Especially in the field of e-mobility, the demand for energy storage is of paramount importance. Learn more about the battery, the heart of an electric vehicle.

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