Electric racing comes with new challenges as it takes energy efficiency to a whole new level. The car may not run out of juice, may not race too powerful and it needs to maximise the energy recovery whilst decelerating. During Formula E’s last event in Putrajaya, Dragon Racing driver Oriol Servia managed to start from first position and finished 7th. His team mate Jerome d’Ambrosio showed a strong performance in qualifying too, but it appeared that he exceeded the maximum power usage. The Belgian driver started from the back of the grid and managed to take 5th place home.
The role of a Dragon Racing Performance Engineer is a tough but exciting job explains Andrew Sayer:
Formula E is like nothing anyone has worked on before, and that’s what makes it such an interesting engineering project. The application of this technology is so new, the learning curve is very steep and we are making big gains at every event. As a performance engineer with Dragon, our first role is to optimise the use of the data and telemetry systems on the car so we can learn as much as we can in as short a space of time as possible. The race engineers require the chassis data in order to decide on set up changes with the driver, and we focus on energy management and recovery. The Power maps are equivalent to the engine mapping of a regular car, but we can do some really trick stuff with an electric motor that’s inconceivable with a normal engine. We mainly focus on energy efficiency as maximum power is capped by the FIA, and the ability to run faster for longer is more of an advantage in this series than single lap pace.
The other key factor is energy recovery or Re-gen. This is the ability of the car to recharge the battery whilst decelerating and again, we can write specific maps to increase the level, or change the balance of the car during the braking phase. One of these maps is directly linked to how hard the driver hits the brake pedal. No two drivers are the same, and they all want the car to react in different ways so we have 6 specific maps for each of them. These are constantly evolving as we develop new ideas on how to maximise our Re-gen or change the balance of the car. As well as this, the driver has an extra paddle on the back of the steering wheel that controls the level of regeneration he has. The best way to describe this would be that it literally is a hand brake and our drivers are using this, mid corner, to change the balance of the car at 150mph+!
The FE race weekend is the most challenging day of racing I’ve ever experienced. The sessions are so tightly packed and there is so much to do between them there is no time to stop. As soon as you have the data, you need to analyse it, and make decisions on power and Re-gen strategies for qualifying and the race. We work before the events on energy management strategies and then apply our ideas on track to evaluate their effectiveness. Sometimes we have to convince the drivers to try techniques in the car they wouldn’t do in any other type of race car and this can be a real challenge. We are lucky at Dragon with Oriol’s Engineering background and Jerome’s F1 experience that we have two drivers that can cope with the demands we place on them, whilst they are racing wheel to wheel. During the race, the performance engineer calls the strategy which is a huge part of Formula E. We are on the radio to the driver advising him on how and where to save or use the energy we have allocated for the race. This has made for some really good racing so far this year with different drivers running different strategies and it’s where the team can make a big difference in the race result.
This really is the best job in Motorsport at the moment from an engineers point of view. Working with one of the top teams and with our driver line up, we are in a great position for winning races this year and hopefully contenders for the championship.
Source: Dragon Racing