Roshan Thyagarajan, July 28, 2013, DHNS :
It is a known fact that within 50 years fossil fuels will be in short supply, and quite obviously that does not bode well for the automotive industry and as a result motorsport -- the type that intends to continue running on fossil fuel at least.
Every form of motorsport is gearing up for the change in its own way with Formula One making a more direct and innovative impact than others. The most followed form of racing in the world has come up with several innovations in the past few years and is unlikely to stop stepping it up in an effort to reduce its carbon foot print.
Fuel efficiency, energy saving techniques, and numerous other innovations are all aimed at not only assisting the sport’s survival, but helping the car industry towards the same goal. The brains behind Formula One have further intensified their ‘green run’ with a set of sweeping regulations which will come into effect from 2014.
Engine sizes are going to be reduced from 2.4 litres to 1.6 and limited to 15,000rpm. Thermal Kinetic Energy Reserve System will be built into each engine to act as an additional power source by capturing the heat from the car’s exhausts and from their brakes. And of course, they are going to work on aerodynamics to reduce drag so as to decrease the effort the engine needs to put in to churn out more speed. In other words: an increase in fuel efficiency.
It seems like Formula One’s valiant efforts are born out of necessity as much as a desire to help the environment. But in the end, it all boils down to sustainability, and that’s something Formula One cannot do for long. However, that is something Formula-E is designed to do.
Since early 2012, plans were on to have a full fledged electric car series, and before you knew it, it was all put together by the FIA and the organisers. Come September 2014, the first race will be flagged off and the world will be witness to a very interesting spectacle.
“We are in no way competing with Formula One. They are a completely different form of racing,” said Ali Russell, Formula-E Head of Teams and Media rights. “We are what we are and we came into existence because of something we believed in. I really think this is going to be a fun series. And the fun bit aside, it is going to be very competitive. I really think the crowd is going to love what they see.”
The sleek looking Formula E car weighs a under a tonne with the driver seated inside and churns out 200 kilo watts -- 270 brake horse power. But how that power translates is what makes it more fun. Given that the races will be held in the heart of cities, the limited top speed is 225 kmph but it’s the acceleration that gets to you. Zero to hundred in three seconds, and it is only going to get faster with better batteries and time.
Three teams -- Drayson Racing, China Racing and Andretti Autosport -- have already confirmed their participation while seven others are yet to come out in the open. Each team will have two drivers and each driver will have two cars per race.
The one question springs up is whether the crowd would miss the smell of gasoline and the noise -- something that gives a kick to everyone in the motorsport fraternity. The organisers however have ensured that it is loud enough, and as for the smell for fuel, there isn’t going to be any.
The cars are far from the ‘silent stream’ we associate electric cars with. Formula-E cars will sound a little louder (80 decibels) and way more futuristic than a petrol car. That is nothing compared to a 150+ decibel sonic boom that a Formula One car produces but good enough given the locations the races are to be run at. Formula-E has also come up with a way to keep the pits well informed and safe. They will be using an artificial sound when the car enters the pit to ensure they can be heard by mechanics and officials.
To add to that interesting measure, they have also made pit stops fun. Instead of the cars rolling into the pits to be serviced before heading back out, the drivers will now enter the pits, get out their car, run 100 metres and climb into the second car before completing the race. This little exercise has to do with the fact that they have not been able to device a powerful yet light enough battery to serve the purpose, but it also coincidentally makes for entertaining viewing.
“We are focused on delivering something entertaining and at the same time something that is environmentally friendly. There is still a lot of work to do on the car and on the chassis and basically everything else but we are only going to grow. We have big plans for the future and they will only keep growing. Also a lot of former Formula One drivers have shown keen interest in the championship. That bodes very well for this championship,” Russell said.
Think of it like this: you hit a switch and the lights come on. Now imagine a switch that hurls a 800-kg machine forward at break-neck speeds while leaving behind no residue that is going to harm the environment.
That is what Formula-E is all about.
* There will be 10 teams, 20 drivers and 40 cars. Each team will include two drivers and four cars
* It will be held in 10 cities -- London, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Miami, Beijing, Putrajaya (Malaysia), Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Berlin -- starting from September 2014.
* Circuits will be approximately 2.5 km to 3 km long.
* Cars limited to a speed of 225 km/h and will reach 0-100 in three seconds.
* Pit stop will involve a change of car: when the battery runs out, the driver will make a pit stop, then will run hundred metres to climb into a recharged car.
* Race day format: Early morning: free practice session. Late morning: Qualifying: one lap time each driver with both cars. Afternoon: 2-hour break to recharge the cars. Evening: Final race.