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Opinion
Formula E Sao Paulo ePrix

First impressions of the radical Formula E shake-up

OPINION: Formula E’s Gen3 racer is lighter and more powerful than ever before. But how is it to drive, and what could be improved?

Lucas di Grassi, Mahindra Racing, Mahindra M9Electro, Jake Dennis, Andretti Autosport, Porsche 99 X Electric Gen3

The new Formula E season has meant a lot of adaptions for me – to a new team in Mahindra, and an even bigger change in the Gen3 car. It’s very different to drive than what we had before, which is no surprise as the car has moved on in many respects.

The main technical improvement comes from having motors front and rear, which have a combined regen capacity of 600kW – 350kW rear and 250kW front, for regen only. New battery architecture was needed, as the Gen2 unit only allowed for 250kW of charge and regen. The new battery has less energy, from 52kWh to 40kWh usable, but much more power, up from 250kW to 600kW. And the battery is lighter too, reducing overall car weight.

The power definitely exceeded my expectations. I raced with 1000 horsepower in the World Endurance Championship with Audi, so 350kW (470hp) doesn’t sound like much by comparison. But as it’s continuous power, it’s a lot. The complexity of the car to set up and get the software controls in the window also exceeded expectations.

The increased regen capability completely changes the driving experience – it behaves like an ABS system where the motor can automatically increase or reduce torque to control the dynamics of the car. Under this circumstance, the car’s software becomes more important than the hardware – and it can lead you to brake much later or earlier if you don’t have a good system.

You get a certain feedback from having a motor on the front axle, which I experienced before when Audi ran four-wheel drive in LMP1 from 2014 to 2016. The car behaves differently with that, and the Gen3 is harder to drive because it has less mechanical grip with the new tyres from Hankook, so we’re sliding more. The car is slightly faster than the Gen2 was, but we lose too much lap time due to the tyres being harder. Also the car has more drag now because the wheels are exposed. When Red Bull designed a futuristic car to beat every record, the X2010 had covered wheels – just like Gen2!

Hankook was asked to produce a product that lasted for up to two complete events. If we had a tyre the same as Michelin’s last year, we would have much more apex speed. The harder tyre puts less rubber into the surface so track evolution is reduced too.

Because we now have much more power and torque, we must be very precise with throttle application. Going flat out at any speed from zero to 120km/h (75mph) will lead to wheelspin. The way you apply the throttle is almost like an F2 car in the wet, in terms of how delicate you need to be, so it takes much longer to reach full throttle.

Drivers now have to be very careful how they apply the throttle to avoid wheelspin due to the reduction in tyre grip

Drivers now have to be very careful how they apply the throttle to avoid wheelspin due to the reduction in tyre grip

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

The ratio between grip and power has really decreased a lot from Gen2 to Gen3 and I believe the disparity is too big now. The car is much harder to drive because you’re always on the edge of crashing. Now we’re not power limited, we are grip limited.

I agree with Jean-Eric Vergne that instead of losing grip from the tyre we should have gone to a slick or semi-slick. We could go four or five seconds a lap faster and have many more overtakes with a soft tyre compound. It’s still possible to have good racing with more grip, as softer tyres won’t give that same level of grip all the time. That’s what we have now with a super-hard tyre which is consistent through the whole race regardless of how you drive.

We could go four or five seconds a lap faster and have many more overtakes with a soft tyre compound

It wouldn’t have to be massively more grip, proportionally to what we had before would be fine. On the Michelin last year we had to drive differently in attack mode because the higher energy put through the tyres would overheat the rubber, which was challenging because you needed to use your extra energy and look after the tyres.

Moving forward on Gen3, I would like to see more grip and make the power become modular. At certain races, it could be limited by software changes so you could find the optimal power to grip level for each track – and we could even bring back Paris! I’d also like to see the wheels partially closed, to reduce spray in the rain, and introduce four-wheel drive in attack mode to create new and exciting overtaking scenarios.

Di Grassi enjoys the challenge of driving the new Gen3 cars and took a podium first-time out in Mexico, but believes the platform can be improved

Di Grassi enjoys the challenge of driving the new Gen3 cars and took a podium first-time out in Mexico, but believes the platform can be improved

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

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