The next generation of Formula E racing cars promise to deliver a more exciting experience for viewers, with new specifications that include more power, more “regen” and, if the technology allows it by then, 600kW ultra-fast charging.
Season 6 of the Formula E racing series has been put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic, with drivers instead turning to virtual racing to keep the spirit of the race going until live racing can resume.
Formula E’s second generation racing cars introduced full race batteries in order to do away with the mid-race car swaps of Seasons 1 to 4, which did nothing to assuage range anxiety.
The Gen 2 Formula E code also introduced more flexibility, allowing teams to develop their own powertrain to tackle the 45 minute race without stopping.
And while the doubling of battery capacity sought to bring the Formula E a step closer to its raison d’etre – fostering an interest in electric mobility – by assuaging fears of range anxiety, the third generation hopes to take the racing code a step further.
Early specifications for Gen 3 reported by Motorsport show a new tack by the race organisers including more power, more regen and, if the technology allows it by then, 600kW ultra-fast charging.
Although the introduction of the third generation of Formula E electric racing cars will now be delayed a year to appear in Season 10 in 2023 due to Coronavirus, the new specifications give us an indication of the direction the race will head in the future.
They will address four main areas: power, battery weight and size, regenerative power and most notably, charging speed.
Gen 3 Formula E vehicles will be required to qualify with 350kW output, which is 100kW more than the second generation vehicles. This is equivalent to 469 horsepower, up from 335 horsepower pushing the Formula E series up the series ladder to sit between the Formula 2 and 3.
Battery Weight and Size
The new Gen 3 Formula E rules will require the battery cell weight to be nearly 100kg lighter than the Gen 2 series, at 180kg, and 120kg lighter overall for the entire pack. This will drastically reduce the weight of the vehicle overall and allow for longer range.
It is expected this will in part be achieved by lighter components around the cells, and that the actual power capacity will only be reduced by 5.5% to 51kWh.
A key part of ensuring Gen 2 cars last the full 45 minute Formula E race, regenerative braking will upped for Gen 3 from 150kW (on the rear axle only), to a huge 350kW.
Additionally, Gen 3 will introduce a front axle regeneration system that links to a second motor generation unit (MGU). As Motorsports points out, this will require a rebuild of the front suspension and chassis, and will also mean challenges for the design teams to deal with the extra heat and stresses created from the extra regen capability.
While the above tweaks will all add up to a faster, more powerful race that is sure to get crowds more enthused than previous seasons, it is the recharge rate that has us most interested.
Recharging a battery at 600kW potentially creates significant challenges, as it stresses the cells, leads to early degradation and creates considerable safety risks.
Currently, the highest passenger car chargers are rated for a maximum 350kW charge rate, and the only vehicle that is technically capable of reaching anywhere near these charge rates – the Porsche Taycan – is currently limited to 270kW.
In December 2018, BMW and Porsche in collaboration with tech giant Siemens achieved a three-minute charge at a 450kW charge rate, adding 100km range in 3 minutes.
Swiss-Swedish electrification company ABB – which is the main backer for the FIA Formula E – does have 600kW capable chargers operating in Geneva and Nantes, that it is using to charge electric buses in quick bursts along routes.
If the Gen 3 Formula E is able to implement 600kW charging it could make the race more akin to the Formula 1 races of old, with a technician stepping in to hook a cable for a few minutes to boost range.
Where to from here? According to Motorsport, next steps will entail Formula E partners sitting down to develop the next-gen vehicle. With an extra year now to develop Gen 3, expect to see a robust design that spells a strong future for electric Formula racing.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.