Confounding convention by beating Renault & Audi with their twin motor concept, Trent Price found out from DS Virgin Racing team principal Alex Tai about how they plan to keep the pressure on their rivals.
Despite being one of the heavier cars on the Formula E grid, the DSV-01 is extremely well-balanced. Has managing the delivery of torque been a contributing factor to DS Virgin Racing’s up-turn in performance from Beijing to Buenos Aires?
I think the defining factors have been out determination to look at all factors to help us with car dynamics. Certainly the car is heavier than the minimum weigh, but I don’t think we’re the only car as there are many other teams that are overweight. But certainly the team has challenges in setting the car up.
The engineering team have done a great job of managing that. Yes, delivery of torque is important but there are many other factors; damping, brakes which affect the handling of the car and have given us the ability to provide a car that Sam and Jean-Eric can drive.
Sebastien Buemi’s pace at Buenos Aires was pretty ominous. Is consistency and exerting the maximum pressure on your competitors in qualifying your best approach to staying in the championship hunt?
We must keep pressure everywhere. Not just in qualifying – which is critically important – but through every session. I think that’s one of the defining factors and exciting things about Formula E. Everything happens in one day and you have to be at 110% for every single session; whether that’s free practice, qualifying, super-pole or the race.
We will keep applying pressure throughout the entire day – and off racing days – and hope that our competitors – whether Renault or Audi – will make mistakes. If we make less mistakes and keep that pressure applied, we will get the results.
Will you look to be extracting hidden performance? Will the remaining track configurations suit the strengths of the car?
We’ve been searching pretty hard for performance, so I don’t know if there’s much performance hiding anywhere (laughs). But we’re still keeping our engineers on it and I think we’re relying on the talents of our two exceptional drivers to give us the performance that we want.
There are some tracks that we’re approaching that do suit us and there are others that don’t suit us as well. I don’t want to give away too much as we approach the remaining half of the season but certainly there opportunities for us.
Williams Advanced Engineering’s Gary Ekerold has been fairly pragmatic in saying the 2016 regulations have stretched the design brief intended for their batteries. After issues in Putrajaya, your thermal and energy management has been exemplary. What solutions were found?
It’s a case of applying the time and understanding the equipment that you have and how to get the best from it, plus also how to protect from some of the areas where there are very few limits or margins left.
The battery we run right at its limit, so understanding where those limits are and how you approach it; e.g. how the battery’s thermal energy will relay in certain areas and managing that. So yes, I think (along with other teams) we’re managing our energy and our temperatures very well.
Remember this gets down to interpretation of how the driver applies. You can tell a driver to be cautious, but really he must be able to relay all these various parts of information on the track. So as much as we engineer it, it’s also down to the interpretation of the driver at the same time to deliver the battery efficiency we’re looking for.
The arrival of Jaguar next season must be a welcome prospect from a manufacturer perspective. Do you think manufacturers will step up when they see they can be competitive on the fraction of a Formula One budget?
First of all competition is good for anyone. The reason that Virgin Atlantic is good across the Atlantic is because British Airways and American Airlines are there. Competition will drive improvements amongst those competitors and will provide a better customer experience and a better technical solution, because if you want to compete and win you have to keep improving all the time. We welcome competition, it’s great. If we were winning everything all the time I’m sure there are people in my team that would like that, but I’m very much like there to be tight competition. That’s what makes the sport enthralling.
In terms of the budget cap I think it’s a wonderful thing. Every company must be conscious of the amount of money they spend on advertising or messaging. Certainly the budgets of Formula E are a fraction of other series – for example Formula One. It doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of Formula One, but it is restrictive to the brands that are able to enter it and the return on investment is certainly not as great as can be achieved in Formula E. So it’s a great business decision coming into Formula E and I think that’s why you’re finding many original equipment manufacturers of cars are doing so.
Read the full feature interview in the current issue of eRacing Magazine