Powering Formula E
We’re big fans of the Formula E race series here at GreenCars. Thanks to the cars being zero-emissions, and also relatively quiet, Formula E brings single-seater excitement to places you couldn’t normally hold a race. Many races are held in densely-populated urban areas, and expose motorsports to a whole new audience of city dwellers.
Many high-profile manufacturers are currently participating in Formula E, using the series as a test bed for their electric vehicle technology. Brands you might recognize include Jaguar, Maserati, McLaren, Nissan, and Porsche, alongside Europe-only brands like DS Automobiles and Cupra.
The Formula E cars themselves are fascinating pieces of engineering. Now in their third generation, Formula E single-seaters have extraordinarily lightweight carbon-fiber chassis, a central safety cell with “halo” for the drivers, and two drive units – one at the front and one at the rear. They can charge at an ultra-high speed of 600 kW, twice as fast as any electric street car, and generate so much regenerative braking power that they don’t even have rear brakes.
Common Front Drive Unit
For the 2023 season, every Formula E car on the starting grid will have a common front drive unit. The drive unit is made by California’s Lucid Group, who also manufactures the ultra-long-range Lucid Air sedan, which we’ve reported on here at GreenCars.
Composed of a motor, inverter, differential and transmission in one tiny package, the new motorsports drive unit produces 469 horsepower. This despite a weight of just over 70 pounds. It is capable of a maximum speed 19,500 rpm. Lucid says the drive unit has the same state-of-the-art high-voltage continuous wave winding and microjet cooling system that can be found in its street cars.
Lucid is rightly proud of the tiny power unit’s impressive efficiency. It claims a power density of 14.7 hp per kilogram, meaning it is light as well as powerful. The drive unit builds on technology developed in-house by Lucid and already in use on the Lucid Air on the road. The company says that it hopes to use lessons learned from the unit’s motorsport application to further improve Lucid’s road cars.
A highlight of Lucid’s power pack is its regenerative braking ability. In a Formula E car, the front power unit is responsible for capturing energy under braking that would normally be wasted. Positioned in the nose cone of every car on the starting grid, the Lucid drive unit captures a huge amount of energy, and it’s anticipated it will provide up to 40 percent of the total power used during a race. The regenerative braking ability allows the elimination of conventional rear brakes, and significantly enhances the race car’s performance and efficiency.
Just as the motors in the Lucid Air are designed, engineered, and produced entirely in-house by Lucid, the new racing drive unit is completely proprietary. Lucid built upon its expertise in electric motor engineering, power electronics, computer simulation, and design engineering to create the cutting-edge package. Each drive unit is manufactured at Lucid’s headquarters in California.
How to Watch
The 2023 Formula E race calendar kicked off on January 14 in Mexico City. Throughout the year, it will visit almost every continent. The next stops on the calendar are Diriyah, Saudi Arabia; Hyderabad, Pakistan; Cape Town, South Africa; and Sao Paulo, Brazil before the series moves to Europe with stops in Berlin and Monaco. In June, the series goes to Jakarta, Indonesia, before its American stop is in Portland for round 12 on June 24, 2023. In July, the series culminates with stops in Rome and London.
Practice sessions are available free to watch live on YouTube, and a Formula E App gives viewers an in-depth, behind the scenes experience.