science

Formula E Races to a More Sustainable Future

António Félix da Costa grew up watching his two brothers race cars, and, ever since his oldest brother took him on a racetrack, he knew it was the choice for him. 
"It drives me really," da Costa explained. "You know, it's the thing that makes me get out of bed in the morning. It's something I'm good at, probably the only thing that I'm very good at. And, you know, so I put all my energy, my time, my passion into it."
Da Costa races for DS Techeetah as one of its Formula E drivers, and was the Formula E 2019-2020 season champion. The all-electric car competition joined the FIA World Championship series in 2020, the same governing body that oversees Formula 1. 
These cars go fast, up to 173 miles per hour, but they're also sending a sustainable message that the future can be electric. 
"I'm not against having races with petrol cars and putting that as a show, but for us on the day-to-day, going from A to B on the streets, why do we need 700 horsepower, V12 cars, you know, polluting the world?" he said. 

Formula E Grows

Formula E started in 2014 and has continued to grow. In its seventh season, it visited eight cities during its 15 rounds. Next season, it will expand to 16 races across 12 cities and four continents. The cars are mostly identical to each other, except for the proprietary technology in the back, including the powertrains and software, which have been improving.
"We're running with a lot more power than we did from season one," explained Michael Andretti, owner of Andretti Motorsports. "We're going over twice as far of a distance. So that's what's been pretty amazing."
The evolution has been remarkable, said DS Techeetah Formula E team lead Mark Preston.
"I think at the beginning, most people thought we really thought we were crazy," Preston said. "'You can't race an electric car' to now when we've got new powertrains and new jobs coming up in a couple of years that will take us another step in terms of performance." 

Hotbed of Testing

What's more, the technology eventually transfers to the road. 
"There's things that we're doing here that's going to end up on your road car," Andretti said. "It's no different than in other types of racing where the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] use it as a testbed to develop new things, new technologies." 
Porsche, for example, has committed to a CO2-neutral balance sheet by 2030, meaning most of its cars will be electric. Its Formula E cars will help develop that technology. 
"Electric cars are part of sustainability and sustainability is really important to Porsche," said Porsche Formula E director factory motorsport Pascal Zurlinden. "We use [Formula E] as a label to develop the new technology for the future."

Rethinking Race Strategy

But driving an electric race car requires a different kind of strategy. Because the batteries recharge during the race, you have to learn how to conserve energy, said Porsche Formula E driver André Lotterer. 
"We all have the same battery capacity and the same power output," he pointed out. "But if you drive flat out in a race, you won't make it to the end. So we need to save like 20 or 30 percent of the energy in coasting and in regenning." 
Though it's a different kind of race, it's still fun. Plus it highlights an important cause, the environment.
"This is the first time in my career that we can do this, in such a strong way and do something for the planet, which is very meaningful," Lotterer said. "I think we all have the responsibility to do our share for that."
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