By Hannah Elliott
In December, Formula E is set to kick off its fifth racing season in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. Whereas Formula One has a history of charismatic drivers and long-standing team rivalries, the all-electric series centres much of its hype on the unique design and engineering of the cars themselves. They are whippet-thin, 1,700-pound machines capable of roughly 335 horsepower, with front ends shaped like blades. The collective racing note sounds like a horde of hornets whizzing by the grandstands.
BMW is scheduled to enter the year as a manufacturer, teaming up with Andretti Autosport, and Mercedes affiliate HWA will join as a precursor to Mercedes’s official entry next season. Renault is out; Nissan is in.
But the biggest change this season is the car. Unlike Formula One, E-version supercars are all pretty much the same—allowing for minor tweaks to brakes, gears and wheels. All those refinements hint at the systems coming for consumer vehicles in the years ahead. Here are nine things to know about the new season.
Hard to believe, but earlier drivers had to change to a new car halfway through each 45-minute race. This year, each team will use a standardised 385-kg lithium-ion battery developed by Williams Advanced Engineering. With twice the energy storage, it offers twice the range—enough to cover the full distance of each course.
Formula E cars can sprint to 62 mph in 2.8 seconds—about the same as their gasoline-powered brethren. But F1 cars can reach top speeds of 230 mph; in Formula E, the maximum speed is 174 mph.
The car’s shape, including the needle-like nose and the huge wing in the back, efficiently directs and controls airflow.
Wheel design has also been deregulated in Formula E, meaning each team can fine-tune the performance of their spoked 18-inch rims.
Each team uses the same hydraulicallyoperated braking system made by the Italian manufacturer Brembo. Formula E cars typically have carbon brake discs, which can reach temperatures as high as 1,000-degree Celsius. Heat management is crucial: Running brakes too hot means they oxidise and wear out quickly; running them cold reduces how well they stop.
The motor can spin at 20,000rpm, which produces 250kW (about 335bhp). An F1 car is limited to 18,000rpm.
A team may tailor the suspension to its liking. Most feature a double-steel wishbone suspension with twin dampers, plus adjustable anti-roll bars. Formula E cars generally ride higher than F1 cars and come with multiple suspension settings, since most Formula E races are on city streets instead of racetracks. Each team uses the same carbon-fibre-and-aluminium “survival cell” (the protective framework around a driver), manufactured by Italian chassis designer Dallara Automobili.
Unlike the battery and power apparatus, the motors and transmissions aren’t standardised across the race field—each team can make them to its own specifications. Some teams use a one-gear solution, but others still use two or three.
At a Formula E race, the noise is a mixture of tyres, the whish of the cars moving through the air, and the whir of their drivetrains. At top speeds, an electric race car reaches roughly 80 decibels—a little more than what a normal car produces at 70 mph. An F1 car can reach 130-db or more.