Lucas di Grassi knows a thing or two about electric racing. He’s not only the current reigning Formula E champion, but he’s also a passionate EV ambassador and is the CEO of autonomous racing initiative Roborace.
At 33 years-old, di Grassi is one of the most experienced drivers in Formula E having raced in every major series from Formula 1 to WEC and has expressed an interest in running for FIA presidency once his racing days are over.
It will come as no surprise then that di Grassi has big ideas on the future of motorsport, and believes Formula E has a huge role to play in that.
“I think the Generation 2 car is just the first step towards a new concept of electric race car for the future,” says di Grassi. “It’s better on aerodynamics, better on braking, more power, more torque, softer tyres – but still far away from what we could have done.
“The big, big step will be generation three,” he declares.
Already di Grassi is talking up Formula E’s ‘third generation’ car when the second one hasn’t even raced yet. But what exactly will that ‘big step’ look like for Formula E?
Di Grassi doesn’t even hesitate before delivering his response, “Four wheel drive, no mechanical brakes in the rear, acceleration, 0-200kph as quick as or quicker than F1, 50/50 weight distribution, forced cooling, active bio-dynamics, higher efficiency through ground effect and aerodynamics, electronic setup.”
“There’s huge potential, but you’ve got the keep the cost low,” he adds.
“At the moment, they are using a basic formula concept, but combustion and electric cars are completely different from a philosophy and an architectural point of view.
“Electric cars will be much faster, much easier; you can recuperate much more energy, the races can have different kinds of entertainment, it can go to something crazy.”
Having raced in the WEC with Audi prior to its withdrawal, di Grassi knows better than most how crucial cost control can be when a championship becomes flush with manufacturers. He warns that Formula E must now be stricter than ever to safeguard its future.
“It needs to be a good combination of technical development, entertainment and cost control. These are the three key points for the future of the series,” says di Grassi.
“From an engineering perspective, the sky’s the limit, but you need to do it in the right way so the costs are controlled.
“Manufacturers tend to push the rules in the direction that suits them, and most of the manufacturers, the guys that decide the rules, are engineers. They get excited by engineering which is top of the line, edgy, very specific engineering. Then the costs explode.”
Restricting car and powertrain development has not only protected Formula E from a potential manufacturer arms race, but it’s had the knock-on effect of producing a very competitive field as di Grassi explains.
“The drivetrain is free, the aerodynamics are fixed, the brakes are fixed, tyres are fixed, chassis is the same, the battery is the same for everyone. Between a good drivetrain and a bad drivetrain, the difference is maybe half a second, so the worst car to the best car on the grid here is half a second.
“In F1 [the gap] is five seconds. The driver cannot take five seconds but he can maybe work in this half a second operation window.”
Di Grassi maintains that road relevance must be central to Formula E’s technological roadmap, and the Brazilian believes he knows why F1 has struggled to attract new manufacturers in recent years.
“You have four manufacturers [in F1] now for five years; nobody really wants to join. They join in a different way like Aston Martin, they come in with a logo and nothing else,” says di Grassi.
“Here [in Formula E], the technology we are developing is actually on the road. [Audi] has two cars; the Vision GT and another Schaeffler car with the MGU that we raced in season two.
“This is the direct transfer of technology that manufacturers want; it’s proper R&D.
“What we cannot have is what we had in LMP1, where the costs completely overshot the return, then [teams] have to pull out because it’s too expensive and the manufacturers won’t join because they’re not willing to spend the money.”
With the likes of Porsche and Mercedes now committed to a future in Formula E, di Grassi says the championship has created a blueprint for success that other series should look at.
“There are other series that want to be professional series, development series, they should follow the same format, but it will be difficult unless you do it from scratch, it’s very difficult to achieve what Formula E has done.”
Image Credit: Formula E
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